Multicultural Racism or Real Immigration Reform? Thomas L. Friedman’s Curious Times Op-Ed

By Stephen Steinlight on February 20, 2009

Starting with its full-throttle campaign on behalf of open-borders immigration policy dating back to its uncritical endorsement of the Immigration Act of 1965, the New York Times has been the chief organ of disinformation in America on immigration and immigration policy. Moreover, it has the dubious distinction of creating the template for much of mainstream media coverage of the subject: don’t be confused by the facts; write every article as a stealth editorial; keep the public in the dark with regard to key legislation; run phony push polls to misrepresent American opinion; and label opponents bigoted nativists. Even seeing its confident predictions proven hopelessly wrong hasn’t chastened the paper: it guaranteed Congress and the public that the 1965 law would not increase immigration – which it did almost immediately.

In the last few years it has published more editorial Jeremiads on immigration than any other “newspaper of record” in the nation. Examples abound, but classics of a genre bordering on self-caricature include: “Humanity v. Hazelton” (July 28, 2007), “The Misery Strategy,” (August 9, 2007), “The Immigration Wilderness,” (November 23, 2007), and “The Nativists Are Restless,” (February 1, 2009).

While most op-ed pieces adhere to the same line, there have been notable exceptions by Paul Krugman and Nicholas Kristof, who have raised serious questions about the impact of massive immigration by the uneducated and unskilled on the working poor, working class, and survival of the social safety net in a post-industrial, knowledge-based U.S. economy.

Enter columnist Thomas L. Friedman. On February 11, in a piece titled “Open-Door Bailout,” he finally waded into the issue, and the water proved too deep. For a man who sees himself as having unearthed more subterranean roots of causation about REALLY BIG STUFF than any other living mortal it’s a wonder he didn’t latch on to this issue sooner. One read through his op-ed suggests why he’s avoided it up to now: his inconsistent ideas are all over the map, combining trendy multiculturalism with more than a dose of the wine of old-fashioned racism in new bottles, not to mention an approach to immigration that signals a profound break with current U.S. policy, amounting to a complete rejection of the one the New York Times has sacralized. Unpacking all of this requires one to read between the lines because Friedman baits and switches: his ostensible call for increased immigration is, in fact, utterly disingenuous. He doesn’t want more immigration; he wants immigration of a very different kind.

Friedman tells us a story, real or imagined. A “brainy Indian friend” has suggested “half-tongue-in-cheek” (placing the argument in the mouth of a second, perhaps fictive, party and asserting it’s half in jest are cop-outs) that America’s economic meltdown could be halted by greatly increased immigration by Indians, Koreans, and Chinese. In our brave new multicultural world presumably it’s okay to be racist so long as the preferred groups aren’t white. Friedman (or his “brainy Indian friend”) are arguing for more immigration by what used to be called the “model minorities,” East and South Asians, who unlike America’s own minorities apparently possess the human, social, and economic capital to become exemplars of the Protestant Ethic. Of course, arguing certain nationalities inherently possess these superior traits is the essence of racism, the flipside of the Nordicism of historical restrictionism and contemporary Buchananism. Though Friedman does make a passing genuflection for immigration by the world’s “best and brightest,” it’s clear who he thinks they are.

But surely the most radical element of Friedman’s piece is his gigantic if implicit break with the New York Times editorial board’s position on immigration. Friedman isn’t promoting increased immigration per se, already by far the highest in U.S. history. He presumably understands that chain immigration (a.k.a. extended family unification), the principal engine driving the immigration system, will only result in vastly increased immigration consisting mainly of uneducated, unskilled, and impoverished Hispanics. In place of that system, he’s promoting a different, new immigration policy emphasizing individual merit, albeit culturally determined.

Were Friedman’s scheme accompanied by a genuinely level global playing field (talented Irish and Czechs ought to be able to apply), in addition to a reduction in our overall stratospheric level of immigration, it would represent a real improvement over current immigration that brings millions of uneducated and unskilled people into a post-industrial, knowledge-based economy.