Morton Kondracke and the Immigration-Industrial Complex

By Jerry Kammer, January 14, 2011

Ever since his days as a regular on the McLaughlin Group, Morton Kondracke struck me as a decent fellow. He was a little conservative for my tastes, but he came across as a fundamentally decent man.

Well, "Mor-tahn," as host John McLaughlin famously called him, did some damage to that impression yesterday. In his column for Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper where he is the executive editor, Kondracke declared that Arizona had been reduced to "a state of Minuteman vigilantism, death threats against politicians and judges, talk-radio demagoguery, and bullying of Latinos and rival politicians by 'America's toughest sheriff.'"

Kondracke called that descent into civic hell, plus the effort to alter the interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment's citizenship provision, "a high-water mark in the influence of the 'nativist lobby'" organized by retired Michigan ophthalmologist John Tanton. As members of that group, he named the Federation for American Immigration Reform, NumberUSA, and the Center for Immigration Studies.

Kondracke then pulled off a remarkable stunt of double-think contortion. Immediately after observing both that the three groups "have gained respectability," he added that "some investigations have tied Tanton to white-supremacist ideology as well."

For that damning piece of information, Kondracke provided no specifics. No mention of who conducted the investigations. No evidence to support the charge. Maybe he didn't want to reveal that those studies come from the likes of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Council of La Raza, and the Center for New Community.

If Kondracke identified these groups, he would face the journalistic obligation to note the work CIS done has to expose their campaigns of smear and character assassination. We described the campaign of the SPLC and the NCLR here, providing both context for and criticism of Tanton's work. We described the "Nativism Watch" campaign of the CNC here.

Kondracke has the right to his opinion about all of this. But as the editor of a Capitol Hill newspaper, he has the journalistic and ethical duty to disclose not only the sources of his disinformation, but also any apparent conflicts of interest in his attack on the "nativist lobby."

He should acknowledge, for example, that he has been the keynote speaker for at least one event sponsored by two leading organizations in the lobbying for immigration reforms that would greatly expand the nation's supply of low-cost labor.

As you can see here, Kondracke was the featured attraction last August at a $300-a-plate "dinner and summit" hosted in Seattle by Immigration Works and the Chamber of Commerce. These groups are big shots in the "skin-em, fry 'em, and eat 'em" immigration lobby. That is my name for those who demand that Congress provide them with an endless supply of immigrants willing to work for low wages, often under poor conditions, in a sweetheart deal that would provide a remarkable example of the fattest policy bouquet that Washington can provide for our business class.

By that I am referring to the scheme of privatizing profit and socializing loss. Normally we associate it with such scams as the 1980s deregulation of the savings and loan industry or the congressional moves that more recently enabled the buccaneers of Wall Street to drag us to the edge of financial abyss.

Those two scams were conjured by fraudulent promises that the American public would share in the fabulous wealth that would surely flow from the genius of entrepreneurs freed from the shackles of federal regulation.

Now we are called up to share the dream in a scheme of immigration reform that would provide a reserve army of immigrant workers to the command staff at the Chamber of Commerce. And if we ask about the fact that taxpayers will pick up the tab for the educational, social-service, and medical costs deriving from the fact that these laborers are also human beings, well then, we'll be told we're just nativist and anti-business and anti-immigrant.

Kondracke, whose column makes the absurd claim that the groups who dissent from this scam are "lavishly funded," is not likely to tell us how well he is funded for his appearances at events like the one in Seattle.

Kondracke has long been on the record as rejecting disclosures about his haul from such events. He made his position clear in comments published in a 1990 Washington Monthly article about the controversy involving the "speaking fees that have made celebrity journalism such a growth industry."

The article included this nugget:

Morton Kondracke, a New Republic writer and a regular performer on the "McLaughlin Group," scoffed at the honoraria debate in a TNR column. Kondracke, who refused to reveal his own earnings, condemned financial disclosure for journalists as "an exercise in voyeurism and an invasion of privacy."

Maybe Kondracke can use the voyeurism defense to avoid disclosing financial ties he might have to the Chamber of Commerce or Immigration Works. But he has no excuse for avoiding disclosure of the fact of that relationship. That is especially true when he uses his column to advance the project of smear and character assassination directed against organizations that try to inform the American public about the hidden costs of the immigration reform that business groups seek.

I doubt that Morton Kondracke knows much about nativism. But the foremost American scholar of nativism, the late historian John Higham, rejected the tactic of using the "nativist" label to tar those who express concerns about the surge of illegal immigration that began in the late twentieth century.

Higham wanted government action to stem the flow. He wrote, for example, that "the growth of the world's population and its increased mobility made regulatory action unavoidable. In the modern world free migration would result in excessive population displacement toward countries with high wages or political stability."

You can read more of Higham's thoughts about the Kondracke crowd here.