This morning, the Boston Globe published the story of a Massachusetts State Representative, one John Binienda. It seems that Mr. Binienda will no longer meet with constituents accompanied by translators. He says it takes too much time — all meetings are essentially doubled, as everything said is said twice. He wants his constituents who have problems with English to come with a representative who will speak for them.
He is being lambasted by a group called “Neighbor to Neighbor,” a community-action group that provides the translation services at no charge. The group’s leader, one Harris Gruman, discussed his group’s position on a couple Boston talk shows.
While listening to him very calmly and reasonably explain why it is bad for Representative Binienda to ban translators and why they are so good, I found myself what was his REAL agenda in going after the Representative this way. The normal reasons — to keep his program alive and going through donations and grants — didn’t seem quite enough to justify his vehemence. Then I startet getting much more conspiracy-minded, and an idea started to bubble upwards.
One of the standard conservative lines of attack is that liberals like people kept dependent. For example, if immigrants aren’t pushed to learn English, then they are shut out of a great deal of the country’s society and economy. By assailing attempts to push English over other languages, the argument goes, the liberals are perpetuating a persistent underclass who will vote for liberals who will keep the largesse flowing.
But this wasn’t quite sinister enough for me. Representative Binienda’s banning of translators threatens to cut Neighbor to Neighbor, and similar programs, out of the picture entirely. As it is now, if one of his constituents finds themselves in a bit of a jam, who do they turn to for help? No, not their duly elected representative to the state legislature. They go to Neighbor To Neighbor, who takes them in hand and guides them through the process of seeking redress. In the process, though, NTN (I’m tired of typing it out) is doing all the work for him — they aren’t showing Pablo how to do this for himself. Instead of teaching him how to use the system for his own benefit next time, they’re inculcating him in getting used to going to NTN with his problems.
They are establishing themselves not as a way to help people deal with the government, but an essential part of the process. They are insinuating themselves into the relationship between the individual and the government. In effect, they are becoming yet another unofficial, unelected, unaccountable arm of the government. And when this group starts denouncing or praising candidates (such as Representative Binienda), those people they have been “helping” will listen. And when those voters start doing NTN’s bidding, candidates will find themselves kowtowing to NTN out of simple political self-preservation.
Yeah, this is all paranoid speculation, completely ungrounded in any solid evidence. I’m just thinking out loud here. But this strikes me as eminently possible, if not probable, and very well could be happening already. This is one of the ways special-interest groups develop their political power, and I think I see it happening now in Worcester, Massachusetts.
This could well be worth following. I’ll see what the Globe does with it.