What Sen. Kennedy Didn't Say About Immigration Says a Lot About Liberals' Abandonment of the Working Class

By Jerry Kammer on October 7, 2016

Many Americans of both liberal and conservative persuasion view the enduring popularity of Donald Trump with bewildered dismay. Yesterday we pointed to two poignant statements that offer a partial explanation for this phenomenon. They described working-class despair rooted in a sense of abandonment by the rest of American society.

After writing yesterday's post, I came upon a quite different statement that is relevant here. It helps explain why many liberals are so concerned about the plight of immigrants — especially those in the country illegally — that they have abandoned their traditional identification with working-class Americans. It came from Sen. Edward Kennedy in 1982, when Congress was in the early stages of the long debate that culminated four years later with passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act.

Senator Kennedy, who died in 2009, explained why immigration reform was "one of the most complicated and difficult issues." I think it's important to note what he didn't say as well as what he did say.

Kennedy said the effort to reform immigration "involves human beings. It involves families. It involves loved ones, children, and the separation of those individuals." What Kennedy didn't say was that immigration reformers should also consider how the immigration of millions of low-skilled workers was affecting the working-class Americans with whom the newcomers competed.

Far from acknowledging that somber reality, Kennedy was a leader of the Democrats for whom, as liberal journalist Michael Lind wrote, "any suggestion that the arrival of almost a million legal immigrants a year has any effect on job opportunities and wages in the United States is said to be sinister, racist scapegoating."

Now Lind has amplified that concern in a brilliant essay in the September 26 issue of National Review titled "Cities without Nations".

Lind notes how young liberals at the Vox website have given a new dimension to the all-in-for-immigration sensibility by "rebranding old-fashioned libertarian arguments for free-market immigration and trade policies as 'progressive'."

As someone whose education on what it meant to be an American included a series of low-wage jobs in the 1960s and 1970s and whose concern for American workers has influenced my views on immigration, I have developed a vivid distaste for youngish liberal journos whose sensibility betrays a pampered ignorance of what it means to earn a living by the sweat of your brow.

Lind's essay includes this passage, which is fraught with political implications:

During an interview with Bernie Sanders, the founding editor of Vox, Ezra Klein, proposed "sharply raising the level of immigration we permit, even up to a level of open borders." The democratic socialist Sanders, speaking for traditional labor-liberals and nationalist conservatives as well, replied: "Open borders? ... That's a right-wing [libertarian] proposal, which says essentially there is no United States."


Sanders was voicing what the late immigration historian John Higham — another liberal contrarian — called "liberal nationalism." But sadly, as the senator from Vermont sought the Democratic presidential nomination, he felt compelled to compete with Hillary Clinton for the title of most congenial to illegal immigrants. And now Clinton, who as a senator declared she was "adamantly against illegal immigrants" because she understood their negative effects, has committed herself to the all-in crowd that used to be led by Edward Kennedy.



Topics: Politics