Jon Meacham Misuses a Reagan Anniversary to Preach the Gospel of Open Borders

By Jerry Kammer on January 18, 2019

Last week, on the 30th anniversary of President Ronald Reagan's farewell address to the nation, journalist Jon Meacham appeared on both the New York Times op-ed page and MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program to lament the stark contrast between the smiling, open-borders Reagan and the snarling, tight-borders Donald Trump.

Meacham acerbically observed that Reagan's words in 1989, written by acclaimed speechwriter Peggy Noonan, "are as different in spirit and in substance from Mr. Trump's as words could be and still be rendered in the same tongue." He quoted the speech's eloquently sentimental vision of America as "a city upon a hill", a place of shelter where, "If there had to be city walls, the walls had doors, and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here."

Meacham, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, has emerged as a philosopher king in the world of the open-borders cosmopolitans who manage most of the national media operations that are not named Fox. His vision is bright and inclusive.

It is admirable in its good intentions, but like many sweeping policy proposals from ideologues, it is a formula for overreach and excess. It is also blind to evidence that controlled borders and limited regulation make sense. Some of that evidence comes from Reagan himself.

Consider, for example, Reagan's comments when he signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986. In a ceremony at the Oval Office, he hailed the new law's effort to balance the compassion and pragmatism of amnesty with a tough program to stop future illegal immigration by shutting off the job magnet.

Here are some pertinent excerpts from Reagan's prepared remarks:

In 1981 this administration asked the Congress to pass a comprehensive legislative package, including employer sanctions, other measures to increase enforcement of the immigration laws, and legalization. The act provides these three essential components. The employer sanctions program is the keystone and major element. It will remove the incentive for illegal immigration by eliminating the job opportunities which draw illegal aliens here.

And this:

Our objective is only to establish a reasonable, fair, orderly, and secure system of immigration into this country and not to discriminate in any way against particular nations or people.

And this:

It has truly been a bipartisan effort, with this administration and the allies of immigration reform in the Congress, of both parties, working together to accomplish these critically important reforms. Future generations of Americans will be thankful for our efforts to humanely regain control of our borders and thereby preserve the value of one of the most sacred possessions of our people: American citizenship.

Meacham's pronouncements in the New York Times or on "Morning Joe" included none of these explicitly exclusive observations. Painful though it is for open-borders liberals, control inevitably involves setting limits, and limits are by definition exclusive.

"Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski loved what she heard in Meacham's version of Reagan's immigration vision. She was aghast at the moral chasm between what she called Reagan's invocation of "the American spirit ... of goodness and inclusion and love" and the churlishness of Donald Trump.

Jon Meacham gives voice to the potent mix of sentiment and commerce that has long fueled the left-right coalition for expansive immigration. It combines the moralistic certainty of liberals who see unauthorized immigrants as a vulnerable group who must be protected with the let-her-rip mania for growth of Cato Institute libertarians and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

In a 2012 essay for PBS, Meacham urged understanding that "we've always grown stronger the more widely we've opened our arms. ... If you shut doors, you may think you're securing yourself, but in fact you're locking yourself in, foreclosing possibilities and limiting growth."

When I read such musings, I marvel at the moral self-satisfaction and the utopian remove from the reality that immigration, particularly when it involves large numbers of poorly educated people, can be disruptive. The disruptions seldom reach the social strata occupied by those who appear on "Morning Joe". But here are some questions for their consideration:

Just how wide should we open our arms? How many green cards should we issue each year? We've doubled the number to a million since the 1970s, as immigration has become the principal motor of our population growth from 200 million to 325 million. Should we double them again, so that in a few decades more we will be able to welcome the 500 millionth American? The U.S. green card is the world's most coveted document; should we expand the supply to meet the demand?

Should we close our eyes and believe that, in the end, the love and inclusion we take will be equal to the green cards that we make?