April 22, 2011

Messaging Republican Racism

“There you go again,” Ronald Reagan famously said to Jimmy Carter during a 1980 debate. The quip, which generated many laughs, quickly became part of American political lore as a witty response to tired, often recycled political boilerplate. It is in that spirit that I respond to an April 17 article by Mr. Ruben Navarrette Jr. posted at Pajamas Media (here) titled “A Roadmap on Immigration for 2012.”

Ruben Navarrette, for readers not familiar with his work, is very much a pro-immigration writer who can’t seem to stop accusing Republicans of racism for daring to suggest that immigration laws already on the books ought to be enforced. I’ve earlier responded to one of his articles (here) wherein he claimed that anyone who opposed illegal immigration must necessarily also oppose legal immigration and therefore, hate foreigners, and particularly “brown” people.

Mr. Navarrette’s theme, on first glance, would appear to be the relatively innocuous idea that Republicans ought to adopt “messaging” more pleasing to Latino ears for the 2012 election. Quoting Meg Whitman, who was defeated by Democrat Jerry “Governor Moonbeam” Brown in the recent race for California governor, Navarrette put forth the idea that Republicans should think and speak differently about immigration, taking credit for having championed that idea for years.

Put aside the lack of wisdom and honesty inherent in adopting the Obamian calculus of substituting “messaging” for truth, steadfast principles and effective public policy. Such is the worst and most deceptive form or pandering. The deeper themes of Mr. Navarette’s essay are easy to detect and are of a piece with much of his writing on immigration, particularly his stereotypical portrayal of Republicans, and even of Latinos. The most prominent themes here seem to be:

(1) All Latinos think alike on immigration-related issues and should therefore be approached as a monolithic class/voting block aligned with and beholden to the progressive left.

(2) Republicans are inherently anti-immigrant and particularly hostile toward Latinos. They just can’t help themselves.

(3) Republicans are irredeemably racist and nativist; it’s in their DNA.

(4) Republicans are dishonest and lack candor in dealing with immigration issues.

(5) The interests of labor unions and Latinos are inextricably intertwined.

Said Mr. Navarette:

"I think that Republicans have to figure out how to even talk about immigration without sounding like one of the characters from The Wizard of Oz. Most of the time, on this issue, Republicans either come across like the Scarecrow (no brain), the Tin Man (no heart), or the Cowardly Lion (no courage)."

Mr. Navarrette’s choice of the Scarecrow is particularly apt as he erects many Republican straw men to flail. But let’s allow Mr. Navarrette to extend his argument:

"No brain: Rather than think deeply about illegal immigration and how to control it, as well as how to fix the immigration system so more people can come to the United States legally, some Republicans merely recite bumper sticker slogans like 'Deport all illegals' or 'Seal the border.'"

The construction “some Republicans” is a rather lazy way to indict all for the unspecified and unsupported statements of a few, or the none. Presumably those Republicans who have suggested that our borders must first be effectively controlled before reasoned debate can take place are incapable of “deep” thought. While bumper stickers don’t allow much room for florid prose, they can express profound, even “deep” ideas. The bumper sticker sentiments obviously unappreciated by Mr. Navarrette are merely, for a substantial number of Americans--Latinos included--reflections of rational reality rather than expressions of racist animosity.

"No heart: Rather than see the current debate as simply an extension of a conversation that has been going on since the late 1770s when Benjamin Franklin warned that German immigrants would ruin the young nation, some Republicans still portray the immigrants of today as inferior or dangerous."

No doubt some Democrats wear tinfoil hats because they believe that George W. Bush is beaming mysterious Halliburton rays into their brains, but making that allegation is no more useful to the current debate than observing that Ben Franklin was somehow concerned about German immigrants in the 1700s. I’ve little doubt that some of the Founding Fathers made kindly statements about slavery, but referencing them does not establish an unbroken line of pro-slavery sentiment to contemporary Americans of any political party.

"No courage: Rather than admit the obvious – that illegal immigrants only come to the United States because there are U.S. employers here who hire them, some Republicans steer clear of proposing employer sanctions for fear of angering their supporters and benefactors in the business community."

I suspect it might be hard to find any Republican who fails to understand or who is unwilling to acknowledge the connection between US jobs and illegal immigration. And while Mr. Navarrette’s point that some Republicans don’t ardently advocate employer sanctions is likely true, a great many do, and more think controlling the border a necessary first step before any other facets of a potentially comprehensive immigration policy can be meaningfully discussed or enacted. Taking such issues out of logical order takes no courage, rather, it demonstrates a remarkable lack of logic and the ability to prioritize.

Mr. Navarrette’s concern for Republican fortunes might be touching were he not so apparently a doctrinaire man of the left. He raises many of the familiar tropes, suggesting that Republicans want to do away with the 14th Amendment to eliminate birthright citizenship (an issue ripe for sincere and reasoned debate), that they care about the security of only the southern border, and that they hate American workers, which hatred they demonstrate by “trying to weaken labor unions in states like Wisconsin,” labor union primacy being apparently a self-evident and undeniable good. I have obviously been laboring under the apparently false impression that working Americans who choose not be union members are also “American workers.” If Mr. Navarrette is to be believed, I am wrong.

His pre-summation could have been written by cutting and pasting from past columns. He can’t resist casting all Republicans in the worst possible--to a progressive--light:

"...Republicans can’t seem to talk about the immigration issue in a candid and honest way that eschews racism, acknowledges labor needs, and holds everyone accountable. The message is bad, and the tone is worse. It’s always us vs them, with Latinos on the “them” side."

Such statements are essentially self-refuting, but the only dichotomy most Republicans concerned with immigration issues see with reasonable unanimity is Americans--native born or naturalized--vs those illegally in the country. In other words, people whose mere presence on US soil renders them, by definition, in violation of American law. Race doesn’t enter into it. There is no racial component to a violation of immigration law. You’re either here legally or not. It is Mr. Navarrette who reflexively projects racial animus on those who do not agree with his policy wishes.

Helpfully, Mr. Navarette offers his suggestions for the 2012 Republican candidate’s pro-Latino messaging. However, his suggestions seem to indicate that he has been in suspended animation for decades, unaware of what Republicans--and others--have been doing and saying. One is almost tempted to think some of his suggestions something of a parody.

"(1) talk about how it’s unfair for illegal immigrants to jump the line when others have had to play by the rules and wait their turn;"

Where has Mr. Navarrette been? Any fair-minded American who supports the rule of law has been making this point for decades.

"(2) admit that Americans won’t do the jobs that illegal immigrants do at any price, and explain that this is why we need a guest worker program;"

Particularly considering the current state of the economy, this assertion may be just a bit suspect, but Republicans--John McCain comes to mind--have been proposing various guest work programs for years. It is no doubt true that many Republicans would oppose Senator McCain in this, but their opposition tends to be far more about details than the concept.

"(3) stress that some of the estimated 10.3 million illegal immigrants in the United States should have a pathway to earned legal status if they meet conditions, including returning to their home country to be processed for legal reentry;"

Again, this has been an integral part of many Republican, and Democrat, immigration proposals for many years.

"(4) call for harsh penalties for employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants and make sure they’re enforced since we’ll never fix this problem unless we attack it at the roots;"

Mr. Navarrette doesn’t know that this too has been repeatedly proposed?

"(5) promise a complete overhaul of the system by which immigrants can legally migrate to the United States so we can bring in more of them through the front door and do it a lot quicker than we do now; and"

Mr. Navarrette’s true agenda surfaces. Many Republicans would have a bit of a problem with this one, for no other reason than that without a positively controlled border, an overhaul of any kind is doomed to failure. There is also the small matter of debating how much legal immigration is a good thing. Bringing in more people much more quickly is not exactly a winning scheme, nor is it sane immigration policy for any political party. Americans do, after all, have the responsibility and authority to regulate immigration for the welfare of all Americans. No nation is morally required to admit anyone who violates the law by illegally crossing a border, southern or otherwise. To expect and allow less is to surrender national identity and sovereignty. Surely Mr. Navarrette doesn’t intend this?

"(6) condemn in no uncertain terms the racism and nativism that poison this debate and threaten to make the Republican Party obsolete before the end of the century."

Racism? Nativism? For thinking the rule of law a good thing? For expecting that the law should be fairly and uniformly enforced? For believing that American citizenship is valuable, something to be earned and cherished?

Mr. Navarrette concludes:

"This is the only roadmap for 2012 Republican presidential hopefuls to survive the pitfalls of the immigration debate. Every other path leads to the political margins and to eventual defeat."

Mr. Navarrette is correct, but only if all of his assumptions are correct. Only if all Latinos think and vote entirely alike and have little or no respect for national sovereignty. Only if all Latinos believe approximately half of Americans to be racist and nativist, dishonest and devoid of candor, and only if Mr. Navarrette’s straw man portrait of Republicans is entirely accurate.

In his essay “Ronald Reagan at 100,” Mr. Reagan’s former speechwriter Clark Judge writes:

"Former Reagan aide and speechwriter, now California congressman, Dana Rohrabacher, tells of a campaign stop involving a grade school class of blind children. After reporters had left for their bus, Reagan stayed behind and asked the teacher if the children would like to feel his face. The teacher said they would be thrilled. So for a few minutes, without publicity, the children got to "see" him in the only way they could."

Mr. Reagan didn’t care about the children’s race, and they didn’t care about his. Mr. Reagan was a success, a man who led American to success, not because he pandered to “activists” who would call him racist and nativist, not because he saw people as monolithic classes and voting blocks, but because he saw them as individuals and took the time to care for individuals, even blind children in a single classroom. He stood for the rule of law, American sovereignty and exceptionalism, and he believed in the inherent goodness of the American people. Mr. Reagan remains, in death as in life, the face of Republicans, of Americans. That, not Mr. Navarette’s prescription, is the path to the hearts of Latinos, to the hearts of all Americans and all those who sincerely wish to become Americans. It is these that all people of good will support and welcome. Many of them might even be Republicans.

Immigrants don’t come to America because of all of the faults Mr. Navarrette ascribes to its people, do they? If so, buying his prescription for Republican success will be America’s eventual dissolution.

Posted by MikeM at April 22, 2011 10:34 PM

Great post and additional ammo for a discussion I'm trying to have with my favourite liberal who has been steeped as an academician's wife for 34 years (slow work on the conversion, I'm a TEA Party Neo-Libertarian) and I had sent her the last half of Fred Thompson Warns Candidates About "The Narrative" and despite her reading it she reacted as hough she hadn't fittng the narrative. I was going to send her the link to this but the link doesn't work, casts a 404 error.

Posted by: RRRoark at April 23, 2011 09:50 PM

Dear RRRoark:

Thanks for your kind comments. It sometimes takes a day or so for the link to work properly. I'm not sure why that's the case, but give it a try on Sunday and I suspect it will work. Thanks again!

Posted by: mikemc at April 23, 2011 10:55 PM