Self-Criticism Sessions

By Mark Krikorian on November 6, 2008

From Ross Douthat's "whither conservatism" contributon at Slate:

Which means that the best thing, by far, for the American right would be for every sect within the conservative temple to spend some time in self-examination before it turns to flinging blame.
. . .
Or, again, anti-immigration hawks should ponder the fact that in the long run, the GOP cannot win without Hispanic votes, and recognize that the party's increasingly poor showing in the Southwest has a lot to do with the bile that some conservatives direct at illegal immigrants. But advocates of comprehensive immigration reform should recognize that they lack credibility with many voters who are motivated by concerns for law and order rather than by bigotry; that by nominating John McCain, the most pro-immigration figure among the primary contenders, the GOP gained exactly nothing with Hispanic voters; and that the party will need other ways to win Latinos than simply pandering to their ethnic loyalties.

Of course, to the extent that the GOP's erosion in the Southwest is related to immigration, it's mainly due to too much of it. Nonetheless, Ross's observation with regard to immigration hawks is not without merit. While some of the "bile" he refers to is really the product of media filtering and projection, it's not like it doesn't exist. In fact, too much of even the legitimate, non-bilious concern over immigration is based on the idea that today's immigrants are somehow inferior to your grandma from Sicily or your grampa from Lithuania. This is why I think there's political utility (as well as substantive truth) to the central point of my book: Today's immigrants are very similar to those of the past, but we have changed, our society so profoundly different because of modernization that mass immigration of any kind is no longer appropriate. This removes the onus from the foreigners and also allows us to place illegal immigration into a larger context rather than just gripe about lawbreaking (as bad as that is). In fact, with lower levels of legal immigration and tighter enforcement, we could afford to be a little more flexible about certain welfare programs or minor criminal convictions.

In short, a pro-immigrant policy of low immigration. It's not going to attract most immigrants, or most Hispanics, or most Hispanic immigrants, but it will attract some and cause others to be less intense in their support for the other side and, perhaps most importantly, reassure native-born voters that their concerns about immigration don't make them bad people.