"I think the Republicans have to be awfully careful about this issue as not being seen as obstructionist, not being seen as racist or anti-immigrant, but as being in the great American tradition of if you work hard and play by the rules...yes, you can get in line and you can have your path to being part of this country." – Todd Purdum, PBS's "Washington Week", January 31
I am happy to announce establishment of an annual award for "Outstanding Irony in the Service of Comprehensive Immigration Reform." I say with confidence that the above statement by journalist Todd Purdum – formerly of the New York Times and now of Politico and Vanity Fair – makes him this year's early favorite. The moral and civic dilemma at the heart of the immigration reform debate is about making special rules for those who haven't played by our immigration rules.
But that's not the only Purdum achievement in the field of immigration punditry. On that very same day, in an appearance on the Diane Rehm radio show, Purdum dished up another doozie. With this one he made a bid for the coveted award for "Elitist Nonsense in the Service of Comprehensive Immigration Reform," which I also just invented for the purposes of this blog.
This time, Purdum's problematic punditry was prompted by an observation from a caller from Indianapolis named Yancy. Yancy welcomed the fact that Republicans have "recently kind of opened the door" to some form of immigration reform, and he said it was reasonable to require a background check for those seeking legal status. But his main point was to contrast that requirement with the laxity of gun laws. "It seems ironic to me that they want to put this onus on something like not being deported and being able to go to college but not on the ability to buy multiple weapons from a local resident," he said.
Thus spoke Purdum, and we quote him at length to provide proper context:
Well, you know, throughout our history we just have this long strain of anti-immigrant feeling, coupled with, of course, "I lift my light beside the golden door" – the welcoming shores of America. And I think for the last 20 years or so we've been going through one of these really intense periods of anti-immigrant feeling. Perhaps one of the leading congressional opponents of immigration reform is Representative Steve King of Iowa. He comes from the Sioux City area. And the notion that his experience in terms of what immigrants do for the country or don't do for the country should have any relevance to the national debate is kind of preposterous because he doesn't have experience like in a place like California or New York or the big cities of our country where immigrants have changed the face of our life, for the better mostly. It's just a very odd reality."
So where did that come from? Yancy's complaint was about Republican gun control policy. He had praised Republican movement toward some form of legalization reform. And what pushed Purdum to the non-sequitur rant/sermonette about Steve King? And the assertion that it's preposterous to think that the congressman – the vice-chairman of the House Subcommittee on Immigration -- should have any relevance to the national debate?
Now I think Steve King has definitely made some offensive comments about illegal immigrants (for an example, google: Steve King cantaloupe calves). But the suggestion that you've got to be from California or New York to really understand the reality of immigration marks a new low in elitist smuggery. No wonder Paula from Toledo called in with this outraged assessment: "I think this is one of the most egregious examples of big-state bigotry I have ever heard," she said.
I can't wait for the Southern Poverty Law Center to rush to King's defense, righteous and wrathful with their famous battle cry: "Stop the Hate!!" Or maybe, "Hey, Hey! Ho, Ho! This Purdum dude has got to go!" Or, in poster size for the street protests: "Purdum = Absurdum!"
Unfortunately, Purdum's opinion is not an outlier in the world he inhabits. He is a prominent figure in the eastern media establishment, with a liberal sensibility refined during two decades of reporting for the New York Times. That sensibility is what prompted the paper's former public editor, Daniel Okrent, to observe that if you think Times reporters play it straight on social issues, "you've been reading the paper with your eyes closed."
Another important fact about the world of Todd Purdum is that he is married to Dee Dee Myers, the press secretary in the Clinton White House who became a consultant on "The West Wing" television series. In 2010 she joined other Clinton-era insiders who had formed a monetize-your-government-service business called the Glover Park Group.
Glover Park has been active on the immigration reform front, as we'll see in Part Two.