Failure of Imagination

By Mark Krikorian on April 21, 2011

After I'd finished writing the piece that's at National Review Online today about the anti-climactic denouement of the open-borders smear campaign against immigration skeptics, it occurred to me that the whole sordid affair was the result of the other side's lack of imagination or empathy.

The goal of the campaign — the high point of which was the Southern Poverty Law Center's bogus designation of one of the national restrictionist organizations as a "hate group" — was to drive all immigration skeptics out of the public debate by labeling any skepticism about immigration as inherently racist. In other words, to make questioning mass immigration the same as questioning the desegregation of lunch counters. The smear campaign was developed at a series of meetings after the defeat of the 2007 amnesty out of despair at having failed so completely despite their holding the commanding heights of society and economy and politics. While I'm sure some of the principals saw it as a cynical move, I think many of the open-borders folks (including those on the right) were sincere because they are literally unable to conceive of any reason other than hate for favoring less immigration and tighter enforcement. It's not just that they think Jeff Sessions and Lamar Smith and Roy Beck and I are racists, but that there's no way we could be anything but racists.

Metaphorically speaking, they don't have to learn our language because everyone they know speaks theirs. On the other hand, restrictionists, as the underdog faction perpetually on the defensive, have no choice but to try to understand the concerns and thinking of the expansionists. Though immigration isn't a right-left issue, this phenomenon is probably more familiar to those on the right; conservatives at the most left-wing colleges, for instance, are often better prepared for intellectual combat than those from more conservative schools because they've been forced to engage and think through the arguments of their pervasive opponents rather than just dismiss them.

Such a failure of imagination is what led the open-borders folks into the dead end of their smear campaign. Instead of trying to craft an intellectual rationale for some version of the Dream Act, say, that took into account the genuine concerns of critics, the expansionists sputtered and pointed and yelled "Racist!", the result being they have no Dream Act and their hatemongering campaign has fizzled. Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of people.