State of the Union

The Blind Spot of Conservatism

About a third of the way through The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life, Rod Dreher paints a moving portrait of a community tending to one of its own:

The news hit the West Feliciana community like a cyclone. As the day wore on a hundred or more friends mobbed the hospital. Some offered to move in with the Lemings to care for the children while Ruthie fought [her cancer]. John Bickham told Paw that he would sell everything he had to pay for Ruthie’s medical bills if it came to that. At the middle school the teachers did their best to get through the day, but kept breaking down. All over town people prepared food and took it by the Leming house, which, this being Starhill, sat unlocked.

“We were surrounded by so much love,” Mam recalls. “It was the most horrible day of our lives, but we could feel the love of all these good people. There was nothing we could have wanted or needed that wasn’t done before we asked. And they were there. Do you know what that means? People were there.”

The inspiring collective response of this small Louisiana town seems to me a paradigmatic real-life example of the kind of civil society that Yuval Levin (as well as TAC’s Samuel Goldman) champions here as a Burkean rebuke to harsh conservative rhetoric about the “culture of dependency”:

We are all dependent on others. The question is whether we are dependent on people we know, and they on us—in ways that foster family and community, build habits of restraint and dignity, and instill in us responsibility and a sense of obligation—or we are dependent on distant, neutral, universal systems of benefits that help provide for our material wants without connecting us to any local and immediate nexus of care and obligation. It is not dependence per se, which is a universal fact of human life, but dependence without mutual obligation, that corrupts the soul. Such technocratic provision enables precisely the illusion of independence from the people around us and from the requirements of any moral code they might uphold. It is corrosive not because it instills a true sense of dependence but because it inspires a false sense of independence and so frees us from the sorts of moral habits of mutual obligation that alone can make us free.

I don’t want to speak for Rod here. Nor do I want to superimpose on The Little Way, a deeply personal meditation on social and family bonds, a polemical or partisan quality that it in fact mercifully avoids. But I don’t think I’m misreading Rod at all in saying that technocracy is not what enabled his particular illusion of independence. That illusion stemmed from the desires of his own heart: a desire to escape the stifling atmosphere of rural America and discover the wider world; to pursue a life of the mind; to experience, as the British playwright David Hare put it in his screenplay for The Hours, the “violent jolt” of life in the metropolis.

Our culture stokes this desire, and in no small way our economy depends on it. When politicians tirelessly invoke the “American Dream,” when we celebrate social mobility and “churn,” we are encouraging millions of young Rod Drehers to leave their Starhills and become “boomers,” as the poet Wendell Berry (via Wallace Stegner) describes those whose ambition compels them to leave home.

To make the point in the context of our ongoing clash over immigration, do we not at least unwittingly celebrate the dilution of communities when we hold up as heroes those who leave behind their friends and extended families to pursue employment in America? To borrow the simple phraseology of Rod’s mother, a young man who leaves a village in Latin America or South Asia is no longer there. Read More…

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How America Can Deal With Militant Islam

“I do not know the method of drawing up an indictment against a whole people,” said Edmund Burke of the rebellious Americans.

The same holds true of Islam, the majority faith of 49 nations from Morocco to Indonesia, a religion that 1.6 billion people profess.

Yet, some assertions appear true.

Islam is growing in militancy and intolerance, evolving again into a fighting faith, and spreading not only through proselytizing, but violence.

How to justify the charge of intolerance?

The Taliban blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas. The Sufi shrines of Timbuktu were blown up by Ansar Dine. In Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan, Christian converts face the death sentence.

In Nigeria, the Boko Haram attacks churches and kills Christians, as in Ethiopia and the Sudan, where the south seceded over the persecution.

Egyptian Copts are under siege. Assyrian and Chaldean Christians in Iraq have seen churches pillaged, priests murdered. In Indonesia, churches are being shut on the demand of Islamists. Sharia law is being demanded by militants across the Middle East, as Christianity is exterminated in its cradle.

Has Islam become again a fighting faith? Read More…

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Will the GOP Commit Suicide by Amnesty?

Marco Rubio at the Chamber of Commerce, March 2013 | Sarah_Elliott / Flickr
Marco Rubio at the Chamber of Commerce, March 2013 | Sarah_Elliott / Flickr

During President Eisenhower’s first term, 60 years ago, the United States faced an invasion across its southern border.

Illegal aliens had been coming since World War II. But, suddenly, the number was over 1 million. Crime was rising in Texas. The illegals were taking the jobs of U.S. farm workers.

Under Gen. Joseph May Swing, the Immigration and Naturalization Service launched “Operation Wetback” and began rounding up and deporting Mexican border-crossers by ship and bus. By the end of Ike’s second term, illegal entries had fallen by 90 percent.

Eisenhower, who had tapped his nuclear hole card twice—first, to force the Chinese to agree to a truce in Korea, then to halt their shelling of the offshore islands in 1958—was a no-nonsense president.

Measured by population and gross national product, Eisenhower’s America was but half the size of today’s America. Yet, in the 1950s, we were in many ways a stronger and more self-confident country.

We had universal military service, and few complained. As for the deportation of the Mexicans, they had broken in, they did not belong here, and they were going back. End of discussion.

Contrast the rigorous response of Ike’s America to an invasion across our southern border to the hand-wringing moral paralysis of our political elite in dealing with 11-12 million illegal aliens in our midst. Read More…

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Two Cheers for Multiculturalism

Here a very local event foreshadows more profound consequences of changing American demographics and mores. The University of Pennsylvania student newspaper, edited by Jennifer Sun, has refused to publish a bigoted anti-Islam ad by the David Horowitz Freedom Center. The ads (which are meant to portray as representative of all Muslims some extreme instances of Muslim criminality) had been rejected by some student papers, accepted by others. I think it’s fairly obvious that no student paper in the current — say post-1960s — era would run a similar ad targeting any ethnic or religious group besides Muslims, one which seeks to take some instances of criminal behavior and make them stand for the group as whole. Sun issued a statement noting:

As a fellow student, I’ve been grateful for how diplomatic student leaders from the Muslim Students Association and PRISM [Penn's Interfaith Student group] have been when they approached us with their concerns. This advertisement hit hard, but the last intention we have is to insult or offend our fellow classmates.

Reading between the lines, it’s clear that critical cultural decisions at an Ivy League campus are being made by people who aren’t necessarily white Protestants, Catholics, or Jews, or indeed, African-American. The Ivy League has been diverse for a while, with many Asians; I’ve noted elsewhere that Students for Justice in Palestine groups are active in many elite campuses, where Muslim students often form a core contingent. But here the children of new immigrants are not just present, but assuming cultural leadership. This new America isn’t reflected yet in Congress, but it will be.

I can see potential pitfalls of course, but overall this seems a pretty favorable phenomenon. Bigotry against Islam has long been the only remaining socially acceptable form of American bigotry, and it played a big role in greasing the skids towards the disastrous Iraq war, as it does in the reflexive deference to Israel in the U.S. Congress.  White Protestants who could no longer publicly despise (as many of their ancestors did) Catholics, or blacks, or Jews, found they could hate Arabs and be sanctified by Bernard Lewis and Abe Foxman. Several trillion dollars and thousands of lives later, Americans may have begun to realize these attitudes come with a price. Look at Penn, and welcome the new day.

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Donald Trump Has a Point on Immigration

Donald Trump may be nearly the last person at CPAC from whom I would expect a sound idea. His recent contributions to public debate have in the main been noisy dog whistle appeals to racialism and xenophobia, couched in concerns about President Obama’s birth certificate. The impact of these has been nil, apart from making the country more partisan and any sort of governing “vital center” harder to reach. But I couldn’t resist clicking when confronted with Josh Marshall’s snarky headline on TPM: “Trump: Send us your white people.” 

While it was a important concern of mine during the 1990s, the immigration issue has largely ceased to interest me. Recently I’ve written about it mostly to suggest that multiculturalism may well play into paleoconservative foreign policy preferences–and that the neoconservatives may have shot themselves in the foot in their efforts to purge immigrations restrictionists (reformers, they used to be called) in the 1990s.

But if one watches the news, it’s difficult to ignore the GOP’s fumbling on the issue, the  seemingly complete inability of its leaders and spokesmen to find anything positive, forceful or compelling to say. One immigration restrictionist who plays a prominent role in the Washington debate told me recently that GOP congressmen and senators are like deer in the headlights, casting around blindly for the position that will do them the least political harm. And despite the apparent importance of the issue to their party, virtually none of them have done any homework to understand it.

Enter, in his characteristic way, Donald Trump. Anyone in the restaurant and hotel business, which Trump very much is, employs a lot immigrants. My surmise is his attention to immigration law is average for the sector: that is, he will do what he can get away with to hire the best people he can at the lowest wages. In his talk to CPAC he was blunt: the 11 million illegal immigrants who everyone talks about giving a path to legalization are mostly going to become Democrats. That didn’t stop him from saying–almost in a whisper, that of course “we’ve got to do the right thing”–which meant providing the illegals a path to a green card.

But then he said something else. He began talking about the difficulty of immigrating to the U.S. from Europe by the highly educated. Of course he used over the top examples–the brilliant student at Harvard, Wharton, etc, who wasn’t going to work as an illegal alien and couldn’t find a way to work here legally. Such people exist, but are a small relative number. But there’s an important point here, one that that Republicans should jump on. The immigration issue isn’t entirely what to do about the estimated 10-12 million illegal aliens living here “in the shadows.” That’s part of it. But the more important part–entirely ignored by the current GOP (and by Democrats as well, but since immigration is a GOP problem, their ignorance is more critical) is legal immigration.

Read More…

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The Minimum Wage, Immigration, and Affirmative Action

Earlier this week Washington Post Columnist Matt Miller published an excellent piece making the case for a large increase in the federal minimum wage, including arguments drawn from a wide range of prominent business and political figures, as well as mention of  my own recent New America article on that issue.

Given the importance of the topic, it is hardly unexpected that the column attracted some 600 comments.  But far more surprising was the overwhelmingly negative response of those readers.  Given that the Post is a centrist-liberal newspaper and Miller a centrist-liberal columnist, one suspects that the vast majority of the commenters were similarly of the centrist-liberal orientation.  But I suspect that most of their hostile remarks would have been indistinguishable from what would have greeted a similar suggestion posted on National Review or FoxNews or the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity; and therein lies a tale. Read More…

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The Flaw in Marco Rubio’s Immigration Jujitsu

Here’s a potential stumbling block for Sen. Marco Rubio’s strategy of whispering to the talk-radio right: If current immigration law, or what passes for it, is “de facto amnesty,” then the 11 or 12 million undocumented workers residing here illegally would have no incentive to “come out of the shadows” and take advantage of Rubio’s path to legal status.

Step back and recall the reason why many Republicans urgently want to tackle the immigration issue (other than to establish Rubio’s credentials as a reformer and policy wonk as preparation for a 2016 presidential run). Obviously, they want to improve the party’s image among Hispanics. Pace Mitt Romney, they would like to deliver a gift to a growing demographic.

To sell the plan to immigration restrictionists, however, Rubio must emphasize its punitive measures—its law-and-order litany of, as Romney-turned-Rubio booster Jennifer Rubin explains, monetary fines, back taxes, community service, and adverse treatment in the application for legal residence or citizenship.

At a certain level, this is how all large-scale legislative reforms work; you assemble a coalition by discretely highlighting the most appealing aspects of your proposal—access to medical care for the working poor, more customers for hospitals and insurers, lower costs (in theory!) for everyone, to use the Obamacare sales pitch as an example. If enough people think they’ll gain more than they lose, your reform stands a chance of becoming law. But Rubio appears to be playing this game to the point of internal contradiction. If he tells the likes of Mark Levin and Sean Hannity that current law is a better deal for undocumented workers, then what’s in it for undocumented workers? How would it tangibly improve their lives?

To be clear, I hope something like the Rubio-Bush-Obama framework eventually becomes law. While far from perfect, it’s better than the easily-flouted system currently in place. Maybe this PR flaw, as I see it, won’t matter much. At this point, it appears that both sides are hungry enough for a deal to ignore the dissonance of Rubio’s case for comprehensive reform.


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Marco Rubio and Mark Levin’s ‘Lightbulb’

HuffPo’s Jon Ward has an illuminating little item on Sen. Marco Rubio’s “charm offensive” into the fever swamps of the talk-radio right. The Flordia senator, Ward writes, called in to Mark Levin’s show to tout his immigration reform proposal. During the interview, Levin was “soft-spoken and receptive.” And after Rubio hung up, Levin was effusive:

He and I actually go back a ways. When he was at five percent in the polls, this was the first show to endorse Rubio against [Charlie] Crist, and I’m glad I did. You don’t have to agree with everything he said, but listen to him. He’s a thinker, he’s trying- he’s a problem solver. He’s a conservative. Like I said, you don’t have to agree with everything he said, but he even said, ‘Look I’m open to ideas, I’m open to suggestions, let’s advance our principles. It’s a problem, we’ve got to address this problem, and he’s right. We have de facto amnesty right now. When he said it, it set a light bulb off. Maybe I am a little slow. I said, ‘Well he’s right, we do have de facto amnesty.’ Which is exactly why Obama wants to really do nothing.

The features of Rubio’s immigration plan — beef up border security; send undocumented workers to the “back of line” for legal status; set up some kind of employment verification system — are essentially the same as the Bush administration’s comprehensive reform proposal (which, in the interest of disclosure, I should note that I was in favor of, then as now). Mark Levin hated it. Initially, I thought Levin warmed to the Rubio-Bush framework because conservatives today are in a kind of political wilderness that made 2007 look like a vacation; accepting immigration reform, while a bitter pill, makes crude tactical sense.

But Ward, sharply, detects a different motivation at play in Levin’s mind:

The new construct will be that President Obama and Harry Reid, if they don’t agree with Rubio’s ideas on immigration reform, just want to retain “amnesty.” This is a significant shift, if Levin warms to it and the rest of talk radio follows suit. In the past, they have thrown the “amnesty” tag at just about anything that moved. Under this new construct, they would still be yelling about “amnesty,” but only in describing the Democratic plan for immigration reform, and not all plans except building a border fence.

The lesson here is that you can easily lasso paper tigers like Levin. The trick is to get them to redirect toward Obama the hatred they previously directed toward your impure legislative thoughts. Then a “lightbulb” will go off.

Well played, Marco Rubio. Well played.


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On Immigration, Rubio Recycles Bush

To salvage some sort of positive news from the fiscal cliff deal, in which taxes went up but spending didn’t go down, it was said that the real winner was George W. Bush—with 98 percent of his tax cuts having been made permanent. If that’s the case, then Bush 43 is winning again. This time, on immigration.

Rising Republican star Sen. Marco Rubio revealed the basic outline of his stepwise plan to reform immigration law. The central question of any such proposal, of course, is how it deals with the 12 million or so undocumented workers who live here illegally: if not deport them, what then?

Rubio’s plan, according to a Wall Street Journal interview, is as follows:

The special regime he envisions is a form of temporary limbo. “Assuming they haven’t violated any of the conditions of that status,” he says, the newly legalized person could apply for permanent residency, possibly leading to citizenship, after some years—but Mr. Rubio doesn’t specify how many years.

If that sounds familiar, it should. It was a central element of the Bush plan and its McCain-Kennedy congressional vehicle. The Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes wrote of the plan in 2006:

Earned citizenship would permit the 12 million immigrants living illegally in the Unites States to apply for citizenship. They would be required to work for six years, commit no crimes, pay back taxes, and learn English. Then and only then could they get in line to become citizens, a process that takes five years.

Fast forward to last year’s presidential campaign, and you find former Gov. Mitt Romney employing the same sort of rhetoric: secure the border first; let those here illegally come out of the shadows and apply for legal residence or citizenship; and send them to the “back of the line.”

What we’ve got here, then, is the nonrestrictionist Republican line on immigration since the mid-Aughts.

For the record, I happen to favor it. It’s realistic, humane, and mindful of the rule of law. But there’s nothing particularly new or creative about it. And if it’s indicative of the kind of policy entrepreneurship we can expect from Rubio in the future, color me unimpressed.

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Justice Delayed

Most Americans probably assume that once the wheels of government start turning there is a certain inevitability about the outcome, but that may not be true if there is an election coming up. Last week there appeared an interesting news item relating to Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

Menendez reportedly employed illegal immigrant and teenage sex offender Luis Abraham Sanchez Zavaleta as an unpaid intern in his Senate office. The Homeland Security Department (DHS) instructed federal agents not to arrest Sanchez, currently 18 years old and an immigrant from Peru, until after Election Day even though Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sought to detain him in early October. Several complaints by the ICE officers seeking to reverse the DHS decision were rejected.

According to the Associated Press article, “Menendez, D-N.J., who advocates aggressively for pro-immigration policies, was re-elected in November with 58 percent of the vote. He said his staff was notified about the case Monday, he personally learned about the case from AP’s reporting and knew nothing about whether DHS delayed the arrest. The senator said his staff asks interns whether they are in the country legally but cannot check to be sure… During discussions about when and where to arrest Sanchez, the U.S. reviewed Sanchez’s application for permission to stay in the country as part of President Barack Obama’s policy to allow up to 1.7 million young illegal immigrants avoid deportation and get permission to work for up to two years. As a sex offender, he would not have been eligible.”

Is it credible that a foreign-born intern working for a U.S. Senator would be hired without any background checks that would, inter alia, determine whether or not he or she was an American citizen? Or that office staff “cannot check to be sure” about immigration status? No. Apart from the imminence of an election, could there possibly have been any good reason why the arrest was deliberately and repeatedly delayed by someone in authority at DHS? No.

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