Commentary Magazine


Topic: immigration

Did Perry Just Boost His 2016 Chances?

Few Republicans have been more consistent or louder in their opposition to President Obama than Texas Governor Rick Perry. But if Perry’s ability to seize the spotlight as the focal point of opposition to the president’s policies in the wake of the border crisis has suddenly thrust him back into the conversation about 2016, he can thank the man who currently works in the Oval Office.

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Few Republicans have been more consistent or louder in their opposition to President Obama than Texas Governor Rick Perry. But if Perry’s ability to seize the spotlight as the focal point of opposition to the president’s policies in the wake of the border crisis has suddenly thrust him back into the conversation about 2016, he can thank the man who currently works in the Oval Office.

Perry has made no secret of his desire for another run at the White House that would, if nothing else, create a different epitaph for a heretofore-brilliant political career. Nobody wants to exit the stage as a laughingstock, which is the only word that adequately describes his performance on the stump and especially in the numerous debates that shaped the prelude to the 2012 GOP primaries. His gaffes, bizarre memory lapses (Perry’s picture should appear in the dictionary next to the word “oops”), and general lack of readiness for prime time doomed him after he appeared to be the frontrunner in the first weeks after his entry in to the race. But while you never get a second chance to make a first impression, the ongoing drama along the Rio Grande has afforded Perry an opportunity to recast his image.

The debacle along the border with Mexico is a nightmare for the Obama administration for two reasons.

One is that it’s obvious that Republicans have a point when they charge that the president’s statements about immigration reform directly caused the surge of illegals, including a vast number of unaccompanied minors that must now be housed and fed by the federal government. Immigration reform is necessary but conservatives who feared that promises about letting illegals stay or even get a path to citizenship would set off another wave of undocumented aliens heading to the U.S. were right. And though criticisms of efforts to legalize the so-called “dreamers”—people who entered this country without permission as children—seemed churlish, the arrival of all those minors from Central America in Texas undermines arguments for that reform.

The other problem is that rather than embrace his responsibility to deal with this debacle, President Obama has chosen avoidance and a characteristic emphasis on partisan politics. Most of the criticism about his behavior has centered on his refusal to visit the border even though he was headed to political fundraisers in Texas this week. This raised comparisons to President Bush’s flyby over New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. But the president’s refusal to be accountable for the problem and his insistence on vain efforts to shift the public’s focus back to Republican opposition to immigration reform with partisan dog-and-pony shows have only made things worse.

But Obama’s peril was Perry’s opportunity and the Texas governor seized on the bad optics to become the most visible Republican in the debate this week. He demanded that Obama visit the border but then got a face-to-face meeting with the president instead. At that meeting, he emerged looking like the more serious of the two leaders as Obama joked and evaded while Perry stayed on message and sounded constructive.

Thus, at a time when no one has emerged as a true frontrunner in the 2016 GOP race, Perry was able to use a national concern to edge his way from the margins of the contest back to the center ring.

One good week doesn’t make a campaign, but his ability to use the bully pulpit of his position to become the leading GOP voice critiquing administration failures was impressive. It’s the sort of thing that will remind Republicans of why they thought he was a credible presidential candidate before he opened his mouth at the debates and made a fool of himself. This will allow Perry to underline his claims that his bad performance in the fall of 2011 was due to the aftermath of back surgery and inexperience on the national stage rather than unsuitability for high office.

It’s also ironic that Perry would boost his comeback by latching onto immigration as his key issue since it was on that point that Mitt Romney slaughtered him. While Romney was the putative moderate in the race and handicapped by his Massachusetts health-care bill that helped inspire ObamaCare, he was able to shift to the right on immigration and make Perry look squishy because of his support for in-state tuition rates for dreamers.

Can Perry really catapult himself into the first tier of GOP candidates on the strength of his border standoff with Obama? Maybe. Perry can’t help but be better than he was last time and it’s possible that a more focused and professional campaign will create a whole new image for him. But Republicans are right to be skeptical. He’ll be up against a new and probably even tougher bunch of opponents next time and Perry’s weaknesses on the stump were not illusions. While presidential candidates—especially Republicans—often improve on their second try for the office, that usually happens after being the runner-up or at least having a decent showing. They rarely shoot to the top after such a disastrous first run.

Perry remains a long shot for 2016 who is just as likely to be eclipsed by fellow Texan Ted Cruz or the host of promising new GOP candidates. But what happened this week did change the country’s impression of the governor. For the moment at least, Perry has emerged from the shadow of “oops.”

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Obama’s Psychological Tapestry

We’re facing a humanitarian crisis on our southern border, caused in very large part by the president’s June 2012 order halting the deportation of young illegal immigrants. (The number of children who have surged across the border in the last eight months is ten times what it was in 2012.) And what is the president’s response? “Barack Obama goes after Republicans on immigration,” according to a Politico headline. Over at hotair.com Noah Rothman does a nice job documenting the president’s blame shifting. And an exasperated House Speaker John Boehner said on Thursday, “He’s been president for five-and-a-half years. When’s he going to take responsibility for something?”

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We’re facing a humanitarian crisis on our southern border, caused in very large part by the president’s June 2012 order halting the deportation of young illegal immigrants. (The number of children who have surged across the border in the last eight months is ten times what it was in 2012.) And what is the president’s response? “Barack Obama goes after Republicans on immigration,” according to a Politico headline. Over at hotair.com Noah Rothman does a nice job documenting the president’s blame shifting. And an exasperated House Speaker John Boehner said on Thursday, “He’s been president for five-and-a-half years. When’s he going to take responsibility for something?”

It looks very much like the answer is never. And the reason may well lie in Mr. Obama’s psychological makeup. Let me explain what I mean.

Early on with Mr. Obama, I assumed his chronic finger pointing was simply cynical. It may be that in part, but it seems to me to be more than that. It’s one thread in a larger psychological tapestry.

The president is a man who has a grandiose sense of himself, a very strong sense of entitlement, and is, even for a politician, unusually prickly and self-pitying. He is blind to the damage he’s doing and the failures he’s amassed. His self-conception–pragmatic, empirical, non-ideological, self-reflective, willing to listen to and work with others, intellectually honest, competent at governing–is at odds with reality. Mr. Obama is constantly projecting his own weaknesses onto his political opponents. There are never any honest differences with Obama; he is always impugning the motives of his critics–they put “party ahead of country”–while presenting his own motives as being as pure as the new-driven snow. And whatever goes wrong on his watch is always the result of someone or something else. There’s a kind of impressive consistency to Obama’s blame game. It never rests, and it applies to every conceivable circumstance.

Mr. Obama also has the habit of increasing his mockery of his political opponents as his own ineptness is exposed. Which explains why so often these days Obama’s public remarks are the equivalent of playground taunts. Ridicule and sarcasm are vehicles for Obama to vent his frustrations and externalize his failures. (It’s cheaper than weekly therapy sessions.)

What all these things in combination result in is an inability to adjust to circumstances and self-correct. There’s a marked rigidity, a lack of cognitive flexibility, in Mr. Obama. He has to be right, he is always right, and so (for example) the president can declare earlier this year–with a straight face–that the Affordable Care Act is “is working the way it should.”

Some of Obama’s personality traits and emotional characteristics were fairly obvious early on; others have emerged front and center during the course of his presidency. In some ways, the most comparable modern president to Obama is Richard Nixon. That is to say, Nixon’s presidency was powerfully defined by, and ultimately undone by, Nixon’s psychological flaws, including his paranoia and insecurities.

Mr. Obama’s personality profile is quite different, and in some important respects healthier, than was Nixon’s. But not in every respect. Mr. Nixon, for example, was less prone to create and live in a make believe world than Mr. Obama. (It’s impossible to imagine Nixon believing, as Obama does, that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s lightning-like seizure of Crimea and destabilization of Ukraine, combined with Russia’s major new presence in the Middle East, were evidence of Putin acting “out of weakness, not out of strength.”) And vanity, which helps explain Obama’s adamantine approach, was not nearly as much of an issue for Nixon.

Every presidency ends differently, and Obama’s will not end like Nixon’s did. But it will not end well. And as happened with Nixon, people will look back at the Obama presidency and see just how much Mr. Obama’s psychological landscape–how he sees himself and how he sees the world–contributed to his undoing.

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The Immigrant Family Unification Ruse

According to the Migration Policy Institute, “family unification” accounts for the largest number of applicants seeking “lawful permanent residence” in the United States. And the League of Women Voters notes that “Since 1965, between 50 and 70 percent of U.S. immigrant visas distributed annually have been allotted to close family members of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.” And here is the State Department explaining eligibility and procedures for family reunification.

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According to the Migration Policy Institute, “family unification” accounts for the largest number of applicants seeking “lawful permanent residence” in the United States. And the League of Women Voters notes that “Since 1965, between 50 and 70 percent of U.S. immigrant visas distributed annually have been allotted to close family members of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.” And here is the State Department explaining eligibility and procedures for family reunification.

One of the reasons why so many citizens of Latin American countries are now sending their unaccompanied children illegally and at great danger is the belief that not only will they be able to stay in the United States should they successfully cross the border, but once here, they will also be regularized and able to sponsor for humanitarian reasons family members’ entrance into the United States.

All sides of the immigration debate can agree that the current crisis along the Mexican border is reflective of a broken system, and activists in both the Democratic and Republican parties want to fix the problem, although they disagree starkly in how they would do this.

I wrote before about the lessons reformers can learn from Australia, whose transparent but no-nonsense policy discourages economic migrants who would risk their lives with human smugglers who prey on the desperate. Perhaps the first of these lessons should be to dispense with family unification visas. After all, there are two ways to unify families: One is to bring them into the United States, but the other is to simply tell the immigrant to hop a flight back to the country in which their extended family resides.

There are real reasons why the United States should encourage immigration: It infuses new blood into U.S. society. Legal immigrants can bring skills and investment that benefits the United States economy rather than acts as a drain upon it. The United States was founded as a beacon of liberty, and so it should pride itself on standing up for those who face persecution for their political or religious beliefs.

It should not, however, allow its generosity to be abused. Cohesive, coherent families are important, but travel need not be one way. If immigrants want to visit parents, children, siblings, or cousins, perhaps it’s time to point out that flights leave daily for every Central American capital and many other cities, and that the cost of a ticket is far less than the cost of transferring whole families from these lands into the United States.

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Does Immigration Crisis Merit Australian Solution?

Australia has long been a destination for illegal immigration (aborigines might date the problem back even farther) because of its stability, freedom, and wealth. Over the past few decades, Iraqis, Kurds, Afghans, Pakistanis, Iranian, and Indochinese often contracted with unscrupulous traffickers to be smuggled in horrendous conditions and unsafe vessels to the shores of Australia, where they would immediately claim asylum. Many drowned en route.

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Australia has long been a destination for illegal immigration (aborigines might date the problem back even farther) because of its stability, freedom, and wealth. Over the past few decades, Iraqis, Kurds, Afghans, Pakistanis, Iranian, and Indochinese often contracted with unscrupulous traffickers to be smuggled in horrendous conditions and unsafe vessels to the shores of Australia, where they would immediately claim asylum. Many drowned en route.

As illegal immigration increased, a bipartisan array of Australian politicians banded together and, in 1992, passed a Migration Amendment Act. It called for the mandatory detention of all illegal immigrants (as well as those who arrived illegally and overstayed their visas). Because the costs of detention can be high, the Act also authorized the Australian government to assign “detention debts” to those processed to reimburse the cost of their detention. When possible, the Australian government issues “bridging visas” to those in Australia illegally but who are not considered flight risks. This legalizes their stay until their status is resolved or they are ordered to depart.

The Australian government reserved special treatment for those who sought actively to bypass border controls, such as those who arrived by boat. Much more detailed information can be found here.

As illegal immigration increased after 2001, the Howard government initiated a policy of off-shore processing, the so-called “Pacific Solution.” First, the Australian government changed the law so that arrival in territories of Australia like Christmas Island, Ashmore and Cartier Islands, and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands no longer translated into a right to migrate onward to Australia proper. Those who arrived in these islands, or who were intercepted at sea, were instead transferred to other facilities outside Australia, such as in Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. The Australian government provided substantial aid to both countries in order to play host to the migrants. While human-rights groups have criticized the detention camp in Nauru, its substandard physical condition should not mean condemnation of off-shore processing and placement. Rather, if the camp is problematic, the solution is simply to improve the camp. As word spreads to illegal migrants that they cannot sponsor the visas of family members under a reunion policy, nor will they even make it to Australia proper, then the incentive to risk their lives at sea decreases. The Australians even maintain an online status sheet which shows at regular intervals the numbers of migrants intercepted at sea and transferred to detention facilities outside Australia.

President Obama does not want a fence, and is unwilling to enforce the border. Immigration is fuel to American society, but illegal immigration makes a mockery of the process and undercuts integration into society. The result of the current lack of enforcement is a humanitarian tragedy with the worst in society preying on migrant children, a public health nightmare, and a breakdown of law and order.

Perhaps until Congress can find a solution to the problem of illegal aliens or undocumented migrants or whatever the politically correct phrase du jour is, it might be worthwhile to look toward our allies Down Under to find an interim model that actually works. And, I hear Guam is nice this time of year and so is Wake Island, and perhaps regional states like Haiti would take illegal immigrants in exchange for greater foreign assistance.

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Cantor’s Loss and the Search for a Unified Field Theory

There’s no question that the defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was a significant, even unprecedented, political event. As the Washington Post put it, “Historians said that no House leader of Cantor’s rank had ever been defeated in a primary.”

It’s not surprising, then, that there’s been an avalanche of commentary attempting to explain why Mr. Cantor was defeated. Some have argued it was because of his stand on immigration. Others said the majority leader was too closely identified with Wall Street and the GOP “establishment.” Still others argued that Cantor had lost touch with his constituents. Ron Fournier suggests that Cantor’s defeat may signal a “populist revolution.” Mr. Cantor’s pollster, John McLaughlin, says the race was decided by Democratic voters.

Each of these things may well have contributed to the outcome of the race. Or perhaps only some of them. Here’s the thing, though: We’ll never really know, given the limited post-election data we have to examine; and we certainly won’t know how much weight to give (if any at all) to Cantor’s stance on immigration v. the perception that he’s too closely tied with business interests v. the sense among some of his constituents that he had grown aloof.

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There’s no question that the defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was a significant, even unprecedented, political event. As the Washington Post put it, “Historians said that no House leader of Cantor’s rank had ever been defeated in a primary.”

It’s not surprising, then, that there’s been an avalanche of commentary attempting to explain why Mr. Cantor was defeated. Some have argued it was because of his stand on immigration. Others said the majority leader was too closely identified with Wall Street and the GOP “establishment.” Still others argued that Cantor had lost touch with his constituents. Ron Fournier suggests that Cantor’s defeat may signal a “populist revolution.” Mr. Cantor’s pollster, John McLaughlin, says the race was decided by Democratic voters.

Each of these things may well have contributed to the outcome of the race. Or perhaps only some of them. Here’s the thing, though: We’ll never really know, given the limited post-election data we have to examine; and we certainly won’t know how much weight to give (if any at all) to Cantor’s stance on immigration v. the perception that he’s too closely tied with business interests v. the sense among some of his constituents that he had grown aloof.

This will not, of course, keep political commentators from instantly and authoritatively interpreting the outcome of the race, often in ways that advance their own pre-existing views. (If you’re a critic of “comprehensive immigration reform,” for example, you’re probably more likely to interpret Cantor’s loss as a result of him holding views at odds with your own.) What I’ve learned over the years is that what will soon emerge is a perceived wisdom, which may be largely baseless but will nevertheless be important. Important because lessons that are incomplete or wrong, when internalized, still influence how people act.

So let’s assume for the sake of the argument that Cantor’s stance on immigration was a contributing but not an overriding factor in his loss. Yet if the post-election “narrative” is that his approach on illegal immigration cost Cantor his seat–if that is seen as the dominant issue–that is what other Republicans will take away from the race. And they will adjust to what they think reality is, whether or not it happens to be true.

There’s a natural human tendency to interpret things in life, including in political life, in somewhat superficial ways. Nuances and subtleties give way to simplistic explanations. That happens a lot in politics; and I imagine it’ll be amplified in this instance. Because the bigger the event, the greater the temptation to produce a Unified Field Theory. Such theories can often be interesting and creative; but usually they are mistaken. And that actually matters.

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The Mann/Ornstein Thesis Is Even Worse Than It Looks

In 2012, When Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein published their book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, primarily blaming Republicans for congressional gridlock, they began a campaign of writing op-eds laying out their thesis in various political publications. The two complained, however, that none of the political talk shows wanted to have them on to sell the book. As they told the Washington Post:

“Not a single one of the Sunday shows has indicated an interest, and I do find it curious,” Ornstein told me, adding that the Op ed (sic) had well over 200,000 Facebook recommends and has been viral for weeks. “This is a level of attention for a book that we haven’t received before. You would think it would attract some attention from the Sunday shows.’

Over 200,00 Facebook recommendations and still no takers on the Sunday shows! But in fact it wasn’t so strange. The thesis they laid out in column after column was just plain wrong, and unambiguously so. It might have sold books and fooled the occasional liberal commentator, but those who worked in Washington had at least a basic knowledge of congressional politics, which was all that was needed to know Mann and Ornstein were peddling nonsense on stilts.

In the last couple of weeks, we got additional reminders of that. First came the revelation that Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, after having effectively dismantled the filibuster, was removing yet one more way for the minority party to have any participation in the legislating process: blocking amendments on a bipartisan bill. Reid’s well-established role in perpetuating congressional gridlock is easy enough to disregard for partisans fully committed to their own blissful ignorance.

Enter Thomas Mann. On Monday he published a long piece at the Atlantic in which he continued pushing his long-debunked thesis. Unfortunately for Mann, today we received yet another indication–this time from President Obama himself–that the talks shows that ignored Mann and Ornstein were doing their viewers a favor. This time the subject was immigration reform.

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In 2012, When Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein published their book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, primarily blaming Republicans for congressional gridlock, they began a campaign of writing op-eds laying out their thesis in various political publications. The two complained, however, that none of the political talk shows wanted to have them on to sell the book. As they told the Washington Post:

“Not a single one of the Sunday shows has indicated an interest, and I do find it curious,” Ornstein told me, adding that the Op ed (sic) had well over 200,000 Facebook recommends and has been viral for weeks. “This is a level of attention for a book that we haven’t received before. You would think it would attract some attention from the Sunday shows.’

Over 200,00 Facebook recommendations and still no takers on the Sunday shows! But in fact it wasn’t so strange. The thesis they laid out in column after column was just plain wrong, and unambiguously so. It might have sold books and fooled the occasional liberal commentator, but those who worked in Washington had at least a basic knowledge of congressional politics, which was all that was needed to know Mann and Ornstein were peddling nonsense on stilts.

In the last couple of weeks, we got additional reminders of that. First came the revelation that Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, after having effectively dismantled the filibuster, was removing yet one more way for the minority party to have any participation in the legislating process: blocking amendments on a bipartisan bill. Reid’s well-established role in perpetuating congressional gridlock is easy enough to disregard for partisans fully committed to their own blissful ignorance.

Enter Thomas Mann. On Monday he published a long piece at the Atlantic in which he continued pushing his long-debunked thesis. Unfortunately for Mann, today we received yet another indication–this time from President Obama himself–that the talks shows that ignored Mann and Ornstein were doing their viewers a favor. This time the subject was immigration reform.

Today’s edition of the New York Times reports that President Obama “has directed the secretary of Homeland Security to delay until after the summer a deportation enforcement review that officials feared would anger House Republicans and doom any lingering hopes for an immigration overhaul in Congress this year, officials said Tuesday night.” The president was contemplating, once again, taking executive action that would preempt Congress on immigration.

Obama’s habit of using executive action has consistently undermined congressional lawmaking authority–the kind of thing that those who are truly concerned about a “broken Congress” would be up in arms about. Those obsessed with blaming Republicans for everything, however, have forgiven such action because they have chosen sides in a partisan battle. (Which is certainly their right, of course.) Obama did this once before: heading into his reelection, he torpedoed Marco Rubio’s bipartisan immigration reform with executive action to keep the issue alive for his party’s base.

And all indications were that he would do so again. His congressional allies such as Chuck Schumer were openly threatening Republicans that if they didn’t pass a bill the White House liked within a defined period, the president would take executive action again. Having killed immigration reform twice now (once as senator, to the chagrin of Ted Kennedy, and once as president), Obama seems hesitant to do so yet again.

But more than that, he’s also making clear that he understands that such executive action–and the threats that come with it, even implicit ones like the deportation review–only serve to further grind Congress to a halt and impede the business of legislating public policy. And so he’s backing off this time.

This argument may sound like it goes around in circles, but actually Mann’s latest contribution is quite revealing. While President Obama thinks the solution to partisan deadlock is to stop impeding bipartisan legislation and enable the two sides the space to find common ground–which they’ve already done on this issue–Mann thinks the solution is:

Perhaps more promising are approaches that focus directly on the parties as they exist within our constitutional system. One-party government seems an essential first step, one that can sustain itself in office long enough to put in place and begin to implement a credible governing program. The second is nudging the Republican Party back into being a genuinely conservative, not radical, party that aspires to win presidential as well as congressional elections over the long haul. The third is dampening the intense and unrelenting competition for control of Congress and the White House, which is itself an historical anomaly.

That’s right–one-party rule, which he makes clear would be the Democrats. During the time when the Democratic Party can do whatever it wants with no accountable check on power save the high court, Republicans would be “nudged” to … become more like Democrats. That would be followed by the “dampening” of electoral competition.

Welcome to the brave new world of Thomas Mann, where a balance of power is replaced by hundreds of immensely powerful lawmakers who agree with him. Maybe if he phrases it that way he’ll get those TV invitations he’s been waiting for.

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Anti-Semitism at Islamic Conference: a Wakeup Call for Europe?

What would it take for the Europeans to face up to the ever more belligerent degrees of anti-Semitism coming from parts of that continent’s Muslim population? Disturbing reports have emerged about certain anti-Jewish comments made by speakers at one of Europe’s most important Islamic conferences. Writing in Le Figaro Michele Tribalat recounted some of the statements made at the congress of the Union of Islamic Organizations in France, which convened in Paris on Wednesday. The most disturbing statements came from “guest of honor” Hani Ramadan, a prominent Muslim leader in Geneva and the brother of Tariq Ramadan.

Before the delegates Ramadan insisted in his speech that, “All the evil in the world originates from the Jews and the Zionist barbarism.” In his speech Ramadan listed places of conflict across the world and claimed that these wars are being driven by the “hand” of Zionism. Similarly, the audience was informed that Jews control the media and that in America and France no one can be elected to the presidency without first pandering to Jewish organizations. Ramadan was good enough to concede, however, that Europe’s “financial lobbies that practice usury…no longer rely only on Jews.”

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What would it take for the Europeans to face up to the ever more belligerent degrees of anti-Semitism coming from parts of that continent’s Muslim population? Disturbing reports have emerged about certain anti-Jewish comments made by speakers at one of Europe’s most important Islamic conferences. Writing in Le Figaro Michele Tribalat recounted some of the statements made at the congress of the Union of Islamic Organizations in France, which convened in Paris on Wednesday. The most disturbing statements came from “guest of honor” Hani Ramadan, a prominent Muslim leader in Geneva and the brother of Tariq Ramadan.

Before the delegates Ramadan insisted in his speech that, “All the evil in the world originates from the Jews and the Zionist barbarism.” In his speech Ramadan listed places of conflict across the world and claimed that these wars are being driven by the “hand” of Zionism. Similarly, the audience was informed that Jews control the media and that in America and France no one can be elected to the presidency without first pandering to Jewish organizations. Ramadan was good enough to concede, however, that Europe’s “financial lobbies that practice usury…no longer rely only on Jews.”

The fact that these statements could come from such an apparently prominent speaker at such an important Islamic conference surely says something about currents in the wider Muslim community. With such sentiments being bandied around from the podiums of high-profile Islamic conferences, is it any wonder that across Europe there has been such a rise in Muslim hate crime against Jews? In America, liberal Jews have often refused to a hear a word of it. They look at you with wary suspicion if you dare to suggest that Muslims have played a significant part in the upward trend of European anti-Semitism. Even after the harrowing 2012 shootings at a Jewish school in Toulouse and the uncovering of a number of similar anti-Jewish terror plots, many liberals in America seemed to assume that there must be some anti-Muslim prejudice at work on the part of anyone who tried to highlight this phenomenon.

Then last fall the European Union released its own comprehensive survey of anti-Semitism and the figures spoke for themselves. In France, 73 percent of those who reported having experienced anti-Semitism said that it came from what the survey termed “someone with a Muslim extremist view.” Just 22 percent said they had witnessed anti-Semitism from a “Christian extremist” and 27 percent said they had seen it coming from someone with a “right-wing political view.” For what its worth, 67 percent of those surveyed in France said they had heard anti-Semitism coming from someone on the left.

Such trends should hardly be surprising. In recent years Britain has had to deal with the phenomenon of anti-Jewish and hardline Saudi textbooks being used in Muslim education programs for young children. This culture of anti-Jewish education then seems to continue all the way up to the universities, with Muslim student associations still hosting radical preachers who express views no different from those voiced by Ramadan at Wednesday’s conference. Is it any wonder, then, if some members of the Islamic community are ready to believe the most hallucinatory and outlandish conspiracy theories about Jews? And as Ramadan was sure to explain to his audience, “Against these international schemes of Zionist power, there is only one rampart: Islam.”

Given the scale of mass immigration into Europe, the process of acculturation was never going to be immediate or even entirely smooth. Yet, it often appears as if European governments have done less than nothing to westernize immigrant communities, in many instances having even encouraged a certain separateness, just as the doctrines of multiculturalism stipulate. After the horrors of World War Two Europe embraced a kind of post-national cosmopolitan tolerance that forbade calling out bigotry when it emanated from ethnic minorities. As Ed West has written, “the irony is that, out of collective guilt for what happened to Europe’s Jews, Europe imported millions of people from some of the world’s most anti-Semitic countries, [and] made no attempt to counter these prejudices.”

No doubt Ramadan’s comments will make some headlines and provoke some mutters of condemnation and concern, just as the European Union’s recent anti-Semitism survey did. But how many more Toulouse-style terror attacks will Europe go through before it is ready to contemplate getting serious? Perhaps it is incapable of ever doing so. 

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Immigration Debate Is Just Getting Started

Nearly every question of how a Republican politician’s stand will affect the 2016 presidential primaries must be qualified with “it depends who else runs.” And so it is with Jeb Bush’s comments on immigration. Although conservatives have more objections to Bush than on immigration, other issues–such as the Common Core, for example–just don’t have the visibility the immigration issue does. Nor do those other issues have the legislative and policy relevance of immigration: the Senate, after all, did pass an immigration reform bill.

Additionally, immigration arguably played a greater role than any other specific issue in sifting wheat from chaff in the 2012 Republican primaries. There were other factors, but it seems clear that Rick Perry was at least damaged by his comments on immigration–that if you don’t support in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrations “I don’t think you have a heart.” Bush’s comment–that such migration is “an act of love”–has been compared to Perry’s, and it’s also similar to a far better phrased version of the argument put forth by Newt Gingrich, who put it in terms of separating families. And we got a preview of how Bush’s comments might be countered in a 2016 version of those debates from Ted Cruz, in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper:

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Nearly every question of how a Republican politician’s stand will affect the 2016 presidential primaries must be qualified with “it depends who else runs.” And so it is with Jeb Bush’s comments on immigration. Although conservatives have more objections to Bush than on immigration, other issues–such as the Common Core, for example–just don’t have the visibility the immigration issue does. Nor do those other issues have the legislative and policy relevance of immigration: the Senate, after all, did pass an immigration reform bill.

Additionally, immigration arguably played a greater role than any other specific issue in sifting wheat from chaff in the 2012 Republican primaries. There were other factors, but it seems clear that Rick Perry was at least damaged by his comments on immigration–that if you don’t support in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrations “I don’t think you have a heart.” Bush’s comment–that such migration is “an act of love”–has been compared to Perry’s, and it’s also similar to a far better phrased version of the argument put forth by Newt Gingrich, who put it in terms of separating families. And we got a preview of how Bush’s comments might be countered in a 2016 version of those debates from Ted Cruz, in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper:

“We need to be a nation that welcomes and celebrates legal immigrants, people who follow the rules, and come here according to the law,” said Cruz in response.

“Rule of law matters. And if you look at any sovereign nation, securing your border is critically important,” said the freshman lawmaker.

“We need to solve the problem to secure the borders and then improve and streamline legal immigration so people can come to America consistent with the rule of law,” said Cruz.

Cruz’s response is not particularly controversial, though it’s clear he’s less concerned about fixing America’s legal immigration system–which is an unholy mess–than about securing the border. Both are important: in the age of asymmetric warfare, it makes no sense to have an unsecured border; and the current restrictions and layers of red tape on immigration are artificially distorting the market for labor and creating a black market–as overregulation almost always does–to fill the demand.

More relevant to 2016 than this argument–which goes round and round, and round again–is what it indicates about the various actors involved. And it confirms the pattern we’ve seen from Ted Cruz on his strategy for the primary contest. Cruz has not taken to promoting major reform legislation or “owning” an issue such as it is. Instead, he moves with alacrity to position himself slightly closer to the party’s grassroots when such reform is proposed.

There’s nothing objectionable about the strategy. Cruz is not required to churn out white papers or author major reform legislation, and if he does run for president he’ll do so anyway. It might not be on immigration, but in all likelihood a Cruz candidacy would include a tax plan at the very least. What the strategy is allowing Cruz to do is take the temperature of the party’s grassroots as the 2016 picture fills out.

Cruz has deployed the strategy against the candidate who would probably be his closest rival for grassroots voters, Rand Paul. When the Kentucky senator staged his famous filibuster over drones to the applause of conservatives (and a few non-conservatives as well), Cruz joined him on the chamber floor for the assist. But Paul’s response to the crisis in Ukraine was too tepid for Cruz, who staked out vague but more interventionist ground:

“I’m a big fan of Rand Paul. He and I are good friends. But I don’t agree with him on foreign policy,” Cruz said. “I think U.S. leadership is critical in the world. And I agree with him that we should be very reluctant to deploy military force abroad. But I think there is a vital role, just as Ronald Reagan did… The United States has a responsibility to defend our values.”

Cruz portrays the difference between him and Paul as a philosophical one, which is why, as I’ve argued in the past, foreign policy is likely to be a more prominent point of contention in the 2016 GOP primary season than it was in 2012. As Jeb Bush’s comments showed, the contentious domestic issue is likely to be immigration, which is why, no matter how stalled in the House immigration legislation remains, it’s an argument that will only get louder between now and 2016.

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Europe Tilts Right on Immigration

Last night riot police had to be dispatched to disperse angry crowds in some of the French towns where the far-right National Front has been voted into power. While FN leader Marine Le Pen claims to have gone to considerable lengths to rid her party of the open anti-Semitism and xenophobia that marred its image under her father’s leadership, many remain skeptical about how much of an integral change has really taken place within the FN.

Yet for the first time since 1995 Le Pen’s party has mayors back in office, having won control of 11 towns in the local elections held this weekend. Indeed, from having just 60 councilors the party has jumped to some 12,000 as of the latest elections. This surge may become a familiar pattern in Europe, for amidst worsening economic conditions throughout many European countries, observers acknowledge a revival of far-right and neo-fascist forces, most notably with parties such as Jobbik in Hungary or Golden Dawn in Greece.

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Last night riot police had to be dispatched to disperse angry crowds in some of the French towns where the far-right National Front has been voted into power. While FN leader Marine Le Pen claims to have gone to considerable lengths to rid her party of the open anti-Semitism and xenophobia that marred its image under her father’s leadership, many remain skeptical about how much of an integral change has really taken place within the FN.

Yet for the first time since 1995 Le Pen’s party has mayors back in office, having won control of 11 towns in the local elections held this weekend. Indeed, from having just 60 councilors the party has jumped to some 12,000 as of the latest elections. This surge may become a familiar pattern in Europe, for amidst worsening economic conditions throughout many European countries, observers acknowledge a revival of far-right and neo-fascist forces, most notably with parties such as Jobbik in Hungary or Golden Dawn in Greece.

In with this evident rise of nationalistic and anti-immigration parties some choose to include the improving fortunes of the United Kingdom Independence Party in Britain. Writing for the Gatestone Institute, Peter Martino draws a direct comparison between Le Pen’s FN and Nigel Farage’s UKIP, noting that in both cases these parties have been able to exploit growing public dissatisfaction with the liberal ruling elite and the lackluster politics of the governing class. While UKIP is certainly an expression of a populist conservative backlash, it would be wrong to group it in with the far-right parties on the march in mainland Europe.

As with the first time that Europe was convulsed by the rallying of far-right and fascist movements, the impetus has been primarily economic. No doubt today’s far-right parties feed on general dissatisfaction with the multiculturalist policies promoted by Europe’s metropolitan politicians, but much of the anti-immigrant animus is undoubtedly being driven by dizzying levels of unemployment. In France unemployment exceeds three million where just 40 percent of the population has work. Socialist France has not run a surplus since 1974; it is unsurprising, then, that President Hollande, with his 75 percent top tax rate, is disliked by a record three-quarters of voters.

The New Yorker’s Alexander Stille has implied that the weekend’s election results stem from a failure of Hollande’s party to reform its socialist ways. Yet in casting their votes for the National Front, those who did so were hardly going for a more free-market option. Just like the populist right-wing parties of the past, Le Pen claims that her party is neither left nor right. When it comes to economic matters the FN is both undeniably protectionist and essentially anti-capitalist. Le Pen has actually called for still higher state investment and backs government control over everything from energy to financial services. And like other far-right European parties, such as Austria’s Freedom Party, the French National Front is vocally hostile to globalization.

Peter Martino does give recognition to the differing stance that FN and UKIP take on economic matters, but this difference is far more fundamental than might be initially apparent. UKIP has increasingly been stressing itself as the party of liberty, perhaps seeking to imitate at least some of the sentiments popular in the Tea Party. Its primary quarrel with the EU appears to be a democracy-oriented one; that Brussels’s bureaucracy is draining sovereignty from the British parliament and its electorate. More so than even the Conservative party, UKIP is presenting itself as the party of private enterprise and small business. Many in both the UKIP leadership and the rank and file have taken to describing themselves as libertarian–although one gets the impression that they don’t quite understand the term in the same way that Americans do. In many respects UKIP is the most socially conservative political grouping in Britain, the only major party to take a stand against the recent implementation of gay marriage. 

While UKIP has voiced opposition to multicultualism, as well as to the political correctness that surrounds it, the party’s calls for reducing immigration levels seem not to be motivated by the xenophobia that its detractors allege. UKIP has won voters by condemning the mass flow of immigrants brought by the EU’s open border policy, but party spokespeople have emphasized that this isn’t a matter of race, claiming that they would much prefer to see highly skilled immigrants coming to Britain from other parts of the world than unskilled workers from Eastern and Southern Europe. Indeed, Farage has advocated leaving the EU on the grounds that Britain could then become more engaged with the global economy, a far cry from Le Pen’s protectionist anti-globalization.

Of course, both UKIP and the National Front expect significant wins in the upcoming EU elections, and both hope to expand their representation to their respective national parliaments at the first opportunity. Yet whereas anti-immigrant racism and anti-Semitism was very much the FN’s raison d’etre under Jean Marie Le Pen, it is not clear that this was ever the case for UKIP. As Martino also noted, UKIP refuses to ally with the FN so long as it has anti-Semites in its midst. Furthermore, in those instances where its own candidates have been exposed as racist they have been rapidly and unceremoniously ejected from the party. Across Europe the far-right may be benefiting from the economic difficulties currently marring the continent, but it would be wrong to throw Britain’s more liberty-oriented UKIP in with those parading neo-fascist tendencies.   

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Obama’s Priorities v. Those of the American People

President Obama has recently said that the trend of growing inequality is “certainly my highest priority.” He might be interested to know that it’s not the highest priority for the people he was voted to represent.

Not even close.

A new Gallup poll found the 10 most important issues facing the American people to be, in order, (1) unemployment/jobs; (2) economy in general; (3) government; (4) health care; (5) federal budget deficit/federal debt; (6) immigration/illegal aliens; (7) ethical/moral decline; (8) education; (9) lack of money; and (10) poverty/hunger/homelessness. Even among Democrats, income inequality doesn’t rate. Neither, by the way, does raising the minimum wage, climate change, and gun control–three other issues Mr. Obama has made central to his second-term agenda.

So why is the president talking about issues that the public has so little concern about?

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President Obama has recently said that the trend of growing inequality is “certainly my highest priority.” He might be interested to know that it’s not the highest priority for the people he was voted to represent.

Not even close.

A new Gallup poll found the 10 most important issues facing the American people to be, in order, (1) unemployment/jobs; (2) economy in general; (3) government; (4) health care; (5) federal budget deficit/federal debt; (6) immigration/illegal aliens; (7) ethical/moral decline; (8) education; (9) lack of money; and (10) poverty/hunger/homelessness. Even among Democrats, income inequality doesn’t rate. Neither, by the way, does raising the minimum wage, climate change, and gun control–three other issues Mr. Obama has made central to his second-term agenda.

So why is the president talking about issues that the public has so little concern about?

Part of the explanation, I suspect, is that Mr. Obama really believes in his (progressive) agenda and feels more liberated in his second term to pursue it. But I also imagine that the president has very little to say that’s helpful to him or his party about unemployment and jobs, the economy in general, health care, and the debt. So Mr. Obama is turning to other issues, hoping to shift the American people’s focus from what they care about to what he cares about.

This effort is turning out to be a bust. The public is tuning the president out and turning him off. His words are like white noise, and he increasingly looks to be a lame duck–one day impotent, the next day irrelevant, drifting along in a world of his own. 

Mr. Obama seems to think that as a second-term president, he can talk about what he darn well pleases. Maybe. We’ll see what the voters think about that in November, when they get their chance to render their judgment on his second term. 

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EU Shows Contempt for National Sovereignty, Democracy

Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, and so you might have thought that the outcome of a Swiss referendum would be none of Brussels’s business. Not so: the EU’s contempt for national sovereignty and the democratic process of individual states extends even to countries not locked into its project for a federalized Europe. Referendums usually turn out to be trouble for the EU; whenever the electorate of individual member states are given a say on adopting such things as the single currency or a treaty appropriating yet more powers from national parliaments to EU bureaucrats, they have a tiresome tendency of saying “no,” or “non” or “nee.” In which case the practice is usually to wait a few months before holding the referendum again and telling the voters to come back with the correct answer this time. For that reason, the people of Europe aren’t often asked their opinion on these matters.   

One aspect of the EU project that most Europeans seem to wish to give a resounding “no” to is the policy of open-border immigration. This is what the Swiss have voted against. Not that they want to have immigration stopped, but simply that they want to see it curbed and regulated in the coming years, as opposed to maintaining the current EU program of unrestricted immigration between European states. The problem here is that Switzerland has a number of trading agreements with the European Union, the price of which has been accepting Brussels’s enthusiasm for mass immigration.

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Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, and so you might have thought that the outcome of a Swiss referendum would be none of Brussels’s business. Not so: the EU’s contempt for national sovereignty and the democratic process of individual states extends even to countries not locked into its project for a federalized Europe. Referendums usually turn out to be trouble for the EU; whenever the electorate of individual member states are given a say on adopting such things as the single currency or a treaty appropriating yet more powers from national parliaments to EU bureaucrats, they have a tiresome tendency of saying “no,” or “non” or “nee.” In which case the practice is usually to wait a few months before holding the referendum again and telling the voters to come back with the correct answer this time. For that reason, the people of Europe aren’t often asked their opinion on these matters.   

One aspect of the EU project that most Europeans seem to wish to give a resounding “no” to is the policy of open-border immigration. This is what the Swiss have voted against. Not that they want to have immigration stopped, but simply that they want to see it curbed and regulated in the coming years, as opposed to maintaining the current EU program of unrestricted immigration between European states. The problem here is that Switzerland has a number of trading agreements with the European Union, the price of which has been accepting Brussels’s enthusiasm for mass immigration.

As punishment for daring to express an opinion out of line with reigning federalist doctrine, Eurocrats have been threatening all kinds of retaliation. Most prominently, the president of the European Parliament, Martin Shulz, has warned that Switzerland’s economic ties with the EU could be jeopardized if it decides to implement the will of its voters. Part of the reaction is no doubt out of fear that the Swiss vote could exacerbate existing sentiments in other European countries who would like a pause in the policy of unrestricted immigration. In Britain in particular, public pressure led government ministers to broach the idea of setting a cap on the number immigrants who could come to Britain–or at least claim welfare there–when Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU at the beginning of this year. Naturally, no such allowance was permitted by Brussels, which is curious, given that when Poland joined in 2004, Germany (usually such a staunch advocate of having a maximalist European superstate) defended its national interest and had immigration from Poland restricted.

The Swiss vote touches on two particularly sensitive issues for European federalists. First is the ardent belief in the abolition of nation-states through open-border policies, which by promoting mass migration ultimately deconstruct any sense of distinctive national identity between member countries. Second, and attached to this first program, comes the deep dislike of the democratic process for Europe in general and nation-states in particular. Democracy at the national level reinforces the idea that the elected parliaments of individual countries have a legitimate right to govern and claim sovereignty. More broadly, Eurocrats have a latent distrust of populism. They believe that they have divined the correct path for Europe’s shining future, a future that cannot be put at risk by the prejudices, petty interests, and backwardness of the public.

Switzerland’s citizens may think they know what immigration policy is best for their country. They’re wrong. This is another matter Brussels thinks it can decide for them.  

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Postscript to the Coca-Cola Ad

Yesterday I criticized Fox News’s Eric Bolling and talk show host Glenn Beck for their condemnation of the Coca-Cola ad that featured America the Beautiful being sung in seven languages.

One of the things that made the critical response to the ad so odd is that those who were featured in the ad weren’t illegal immigrants; they were legal immigrants. And still some on the right couldn’t contain their unhappiness. What many of us consider one of America’s great strengths, its immigrant population and ethnic and cultural diversity, makes some conservatives palpably uncomfortable. No wonder the Republican nominee in 2012 lost the non-white vote by 63 points. Maybe the goal is to get it to a 70-point margin. 

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Yesterday I criticized Fox News’s Eric Bolling and talk show host Glenn Beck for their condemnation of the Coca-Cola ad that featured America the Beautiful being sung in seven languages.

One of the things that made the critical response to the ad so odd is that those who were featured in the ad weren’t illegal immigrants; they were legal immigrants. And still some on the right couldn’t contain their unhappiness. What many of us consider one of America’s great strengths, its immigrant population and ethnic and cultural diversity, makes some conservatives palpably uncomfortable. No wonder the Republican nominee in 2012 lost the non-white vote by 63 points. Maybe the goal is to get it to a 70-point margin. 

It is worth pointing out that Mr. Bolling’s The Five colleague Dana Perino made this nice observation: “I would be very happy if every language in the world was singing America the Beautiful, because that means we have people focused on the best country on earth in history.” Greg Gutfeld added that he interpreted the ad “as a compliment to the United States. People know that we’re the best country in the world, which is why people want to come here.”

Which means that at least three of The Five (Bob Beckel being the other) disagreed with Bolling. Call it a welcome sign.

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A Disturbing Conservative Reaction to the Coke Ad

Several figures on the right–including Glenn Beck and Eric Bolling–had strongly negative reactions to this ad by Coca-Cola that aired during the Super Bowl.

The ad featured a rendition of “America the Beautiful” sung in seven different languages. It was intended to showcase the country’s “incredible diversity,” in the words of the soft drink company. That was simply too much for Beck. “So somebody tweeted last night and said, ‘Glenn, what did you think of the Coke ad?’” Beck said. “And I said, ‘Why did you need that to divide us politically?’ Because that’s all this ad is. It’s in your face, and if you don’t like it, if you’re offended by it, you’re a racist. If you do like it, you’re for immigration. You’re for progress. That’s all this is: to divide people.”

Fox News’s Bolling, while agreeing that “America is a melting pot,” said he thought Coke “used the wrong song” to demonstrate that point. “The problem here,” Bolling said, “and it’s not even bad if you have all the different cultures singing a song, showing America is a mix of different cultures, but don’t put it to ‘America the Beautiful.’ You used the wrong song. You ticked off a lot of Coke drinkers, you ticked off a lot of Americans.”

What a weird and disturbing reaction. The ad was hardly “in your face.” It was in fact an affirmation that people from different cultures and lands and tongues are drawn to America and can love her, not because it’s their native land but because it’s a special land. America is, in the words of Ben Wattenberg, the “first universal nation.” The Coke ad beautifully captures the spirit behind the phrase on the Seal of the United States: E pluribus unum, “Out of many, one.” 

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Several figures on the right–including Glenn Beck and Eric Bolling–had strongly negative reactions to this ad by Coca-Cola that aired during the Super Bowl.

The ad featured a rendition of “America the Beautiful” sung in seven different languages. It was intended to showcase the country’s “incredible diversity,” in the words of the soft drink company. That was simply too much for Beck. “So somebody tweeted last night and said, ‘Glenn, what did you think of the Coke ad?’” Beck said. “And I said, ‘Why did you need that to divide us politically?’ Because that’s all this ad is. It’s in your face, and if you don’t like it, if you’re offended by it, you’re a racist. If you do like it, you’re for immigration. You’re for progress. That’s all this is: to divide people.”

Fox News’s Bolling, while agreeing that “America is a melting pot,” said he thought Coke “used the wrong song” to demonstrate that point. “The problem here,” Bolling said, “and it’s not even bad if you have all the different cultures singing a song, showing America is a mix of different cultures, but don’t put it to ‘America the Beautiful.’ You used the wrong song. You ticked off a lot of Coke drinkers, you ticked off a lot of Americans.”

What a weird and disturbing reaction. The ad was hardly “in your face.” It was in fact an affirmation that people from different cultures and lands and tongues are drawn to America and can love her, not because it’s their native land but because it’s a special land. America is, in the words of Ben Wattenberg, the “first universal nation.” The Coke ad beautifully captures the spirit behind the phrase on the Seal of the United States: E pluribus unum, “Out of many, one.” 

This is something that not all that long ago nearly all conservatives would have understood. Yet today the ad by Coke is interpreted by some figures on the right as divisive and offensive, a Trojan Horse for immigration reform, as part of the Culture War. And the unmistakable message being sent by these individuals is that people of other cultures are aliens and threats and are therefore unwelcome. “Keep your mouths shut when it comes to our patriotic songs” is the message Messrs. Beck and Bolling are sending. What a brilliant way to appeal to a nation that is becoming increasingly diverse and multicultural.  

Such troubling views are not unknown in American history, of course. But what’s worth noting is that they are deeply at odds with the outlook and capacious spirit of Ronald Reagan. I don’t so much have in mind the fact that Reagan was an outspoken advocate for amnesty and that he signed legislation granting amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. What I’m referring to goes deeper than that. Reagan continually emphasized the great and vivifying diversity that immigrants brought to this country, and that flowed into and became as one with the national fabric. As he put it:

We have a statue in New York Harbor . . . of a woman holding a torch of welcome to those who enter our country to become Americans. She has greeted millions upon millions of immigrants to our country. She welcomes them still. She represents our open door. All of the immigrants who came to us brought their own music, literature, customs, and ideas. And the marvelous thing, a thing of which we’re proud, is they did not have to relinquish these things in order to fit in. In fact, what they brought to America became American. And this diversity has more than enriched us; it has literally shaped us.

So it has. And Reagan’s words remind us that his generous and welcoming attitude was worlds apart from what we see in the likes of Glenn Beck and Eric Bolling.   

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Is 2016 Behind Christie’s Immigration Flip?

Chris Christie has built his political career on his reputation as a straight shooter who never waffles, let alone flip-flops. But he’s set himself up for a barrage of abuse from some conservatives after his announcement during a gubernatorial debate earlier this week when he announced that he had changed his position on allowing illegal immigrants to get in-state tuition benefits at New Jersey public colleges. This is a clear departure from his past stands on this issue or on those involving any benefits for illegals. That pretty much guarantees that anti-immigration forces will be accusing him of being a second Mitt Romney should he jump into the 2016 presidential race. But, Christie who is clearly carving out a niche for himself in the center of his party on a variety of issues may not care.

Like his embrace of President Obama last fall in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Christie’s “evolution” on immigration is bound to infuriate many Republicans but it is also good politics in terms of his re-election. With a lead over his Democratic opponent that ranges from the mid- to the high 20’s, Christie has few worries in terms of his chances of getting a second term in Trenton. But the governor also understands that tilting more to the center on immigration probably suits his 2016 plans better than sticking to his previous position on the issue. Though the GOP roster of potential presidential candidates is crowded in terms of those competing for Tea Party and religious conservative voters, the field is wide open in terms of so-called moderates. Moreover, given the rapid growth in the number of Hispanic voters, he may also calculate that distancing himself from the anti-immigrant tone that has infected much of conservative discourse on the issue is exactly what he needs to solidify his image as the most electable Republican in terms of a general election.

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Chris Christie has built his political career on his reputation as a straight shooter who never waffles, let alone flip-flops. But he’s set himself up for a barrage of abuse from some conservatives after his announcement during a gubernatorial debate earlier this week when he announced that he had changed his position on allowing illegal immigrants to get in-state tuition benefits at New Jersey public colleges. This is a clear departure from his past stands on this issue or on those involving any benefits for illegals. That pretty much guarantees that anti-immigration forces will be accusing him of being a second Mitt Romney should he jump into the 2016 presidential race. But, Christie who is clearly carving out a niche for himself in the center of his party on a variety of issues may not care.

Like his embrace of President Obama last fall in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Christie’s “evolution” on immigration is bound to infuriate many Republicans but it is also good politics in terms of his re-election. With a lead over his Democratic opponent that ranges from the mid- to the high 20’s, Christie has few worries in terms of his chances of getting a second term in Trenton. But the governor also understands that tilting more to the center on immigration probably suits his 2016 plans better than sticking to his previous position on the issue. Though the GOP roster of potential presidential candidates is crowded in terms of those competing for Tea Party and religious conservative voters, the field is wide open in terms of so-called moderates. Moreover, given the rapid growth in the number of Hispanic voters, he may also calculate that distancing himself from the anti-immigrant tone that has infected much of conservative discourse on the issue is exactly what he needs to solidify his image as the most electable Republican in terms of a general election.

Christie’s excuse for his switch on the issue is economic. As Fox News reports, he gave the following rationale for his stand:

“What I always have said is that when economic times got better, that that would be one of the things that I would consider,” Christie said during the debate at Montclair State University, where he faced his opponent, Democrat Barbara Buono, who long has been an emphatic supporter of in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. “It’s time now — given that economic times are getting better and the state budget revenues are going up.”

But this disclaimer doesn’t quite walk back a lot of his previous rhetoric on the question of the treatment of illegal immigrants.

In 2011, Christie took issue with a comment by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a fellow Republican who, during the GOP primaries for the presidential election, said those who opposed giving undocumented immigrants some help to afford college were “heartless.”

Shortly after, Christie said at a meeting at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library: “I want every child who comes to New Jersey to be educated, but I don’t believe that for those people who came here illegally, we should be subsidizing with taxpayer money, through in-state tuition their education.”

He added: “And let me be very clear from my perspective: That is not a heartless position, that is a common sense position.”

Nor did he shy away from directly taking on the question of how this would apply in New Jersey, a state with a large Hispanic community as well as what is estimated to be one of the largest populations of illegals.

In an [2011] appearance in New Jersey, Christie addressed the issue and raised the state’s fiscal problems, but he also noted that he opposed to giving breaks to people who break immigration laws.

“I can’t favor that, because we need to have an immigration system where people follow the rules,” Christie said at the time, “and I can’t in a difficult time of budget constraints support the idea that we should be giving money in that regard to people who haven’t followed the rules, and take that money from people who have.”

This is consistent with his economic rationale as well as helping highlight his claim that New Jersey has prospered under his administration. But it is a clear departure from a stance in which he claimed that all immigrants must play by the same rules.

Nevertheless, Christie is hardly alone in his party when it comes to realizing that integrating illegals into the economy and society makes a lot more sense than pretending they can all be deported or putting up with a status quo in which they remain in the shadows outside of the mainstream economy. Legislation like the DREAM Act has become a litmus test for Hispanic voters. Moreover, given the increasingly strident tone of anti-immigration activists that may well taint the GOP for a generation, having party leaders like Christie start to move away from positions that can be identified with hostility to immigrants makes good political sense as well as good policy.

That still leaves Christie vulnerable to attacks from conservative rivals who will claim he has flipped on the position for political reasons rather than principle. The betting here is that he will handle it better than Romney simply because his abrasive personality and blunt approach to politics will enable him to represent the switch as a matter of common sense and will refrain from the apologetics and rhetorical twists and turns that undermined Romney’s ability to explain his positions.

But no matter how successful he is in selling this point, there seems little doubt that his decision to change his coat on immigration is one more sign that he has 2016 on his mind.

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Mexico’s Immigration Hypocrisy

Late last month, a train derailed in southern Mexico killing at least five passengers. The train is part of a line that often serves to bring Central American migrants north into Mexico. While the United States has trouble defending—or simply chooses not to defend—its southern border against illegal immigrants, it is not the only country into which illegal immigrants flow. The irony is, however, that while the Mexican government has long chided the United States for supposed illiberalism toward illegal migrants, the Mexican government itself imposes a no-nonsense crackdown on those illegally in Mexico.

Central American complaints about treatment in Mexico have a long history. Beginning in 1974, the Mexican penalty for illegal entry into Mexico was up to two years in prison, and Mexican authorities did not hesitate to impose it. Repeat offenders could be slapped with a ten-year prison sentence. While Mexico’s 2011 Migration Law issued some basic protections, the Mexican government’s attitude toward its own illegal migrant population remains draconian compared to that of the United States.

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Late last month, a train derailed in southern Mexico killing at least five passengers. The train is part of a line that often serves to bring Central American migrants north into Mexico. While the United States has trouble defending—or simply chooses not to defend—its southern border against illegal immigrants, it is not the only country into which illegal immigrants flow. The irony is, however, that while the Mexican government has long chided the United States for supposed illiberalism toward illegal migrants, the Mexican government itself imposes a no-nonsense crackdown on those illegally in Mexico.

Central American complaints about treatment in Mexico have a long history. Beginning in 1974, the Mexican penalty for illegal entry into Mexico was up to two years in prison, and Mexican authorities did not hesitate to impose it. Repeat offenders could be slapped with a ten-year prison sentence. While Mexico’s 2011 Migration Law issued some basic protections, the Mexican government’s attitude toward its own illegal migrant population remains draconian compared to that of the United States.

It’s all well and good to talk about immigration reform: I’m all for expanding legal immigration for those who add positively to the American economy—there’s no reason why we can’t seek strategic advantage from immigration and take advantage of other countries’ brain drains—though it seems nonsensical to accommodate illegal immigration, and cases like this seem truly bizarre. It is even more bizarre to take counsel to liberalize immigration policies from a country which believes its own national interest is to do the opposite.

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The Tea Party and Town Halls

Readers of today’s New York Times feature on the decline of congressional recess town hall meetings would gain much by going back about a year to the divergence of the Tea Party model and the Occupy Wall Street model of political participation. After May Day 2012, Mother Jones reporter Josh Harkinson broke from his self-described objectivity in covering the pseudoanarchist Occupy movement. Though he said he considered himself a reporter and not a pundit, he believed Occupy–which he greatly admired–was in desperate need of his advice. Hineni, came the response: Harkinson would tell Occupy how to succeed.

It’s unclear whether and how much Occupy was taking notes on Harkinson’s pronouncements, but the article was a telling example of a question that had dogged Occupy from the beginning: Could it be anything more than the vocalization of misdirected anger? The answer seemed to be a resounding no. But the heart of the question was really about a comparison with the Tea Party, which had channeled its outrage into constructive participation in the democratic process–something Occupy never did. Here is how Harkinson described the conundrum:

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Readers of today’s New York Times feature on the decline of congressional recess town hall meetings would gain much by going back about a year to the divergence of the Tea Party model and the Occupy Wall Street model of political participation. After May Day 2012, Mother Jones reporter Josh Harkinson broke from his self-described objectivity in covering the pseudoanarchist Occupy movement. Though he said he considered himself a reporter and not a pundit, he believed Occupy–which he greatly admired–was in desperate need of his advice. Hineni, came the response: Harkinson would tell Occupy how to succeed.

It’s unclear whether and how much Occupy was taking notes on Harkinson’s pronouncements, but the article was a telling example of a question that had dogged Occupy from the beginning: Could it be anything more than the vocalization of misdirected anger? The answer seemed to be a resounding no. But the heart of the question was really about a comparison with the Tea Party, which had channeled its outrage into constructive participation in the democratic process–something Occupy never did. Here is how Harkinson described the conundrum:

Though Occupy could support many sympathetic candidates in Democratic primaries, some pundits haven’t pushed the idea because they worry about a tea party effect on the left, with liberal Democrats losing to Republicans in the general election. Yet other than a third-party bid, with its potential for another Nader debacle, this may be the only way to command Washington’s attention.

There were always concerns within Occupy of being co-opted by the national Democratic Party, or of being suppressed by it in elections. Those same concerns were present for the Tea Party–some Tea Party candidates lost otherwise-winnable seats, others rocketed to conservative stardom after dispatching “establishment” candidates in primary contests and winning Senate and House seats.

But what Harkinson seemed to understand was that grassroots political movements don’t hang around and tread water; they sink or swim. The Tea Party and Occupy would not be permanent fixtures on the American political landscape if they never evolved beyond protest crowds. Occupy may not have wanted to “go legitimate,” so to speak (though they might say “go corporate”), but the only other option was to fade. And fade they did. Meanwhile, the Tea Party went to Washington.

Neither movement has nearly the grassroots excitement or momentum it once had, but for very different reasons. Occupy never evolved into anything concrete. The Tea Party became a major force in American politics. So when the Times reports on the relative lack of bustling town halls, the fact that Tea Partiers are no longer only on the outside of Congress looking in, and thus in need of ways to get Congress’s attention, has much to do with it.

There are other reasons as well. Conservative activists wondering where their representatives are have a point when they say some elected Republicans don’t want to face the crowds. It is a testament to the Tea Party’s effectiveness and the grassroots influence within the party that some Republicans fear any confrontation with energized and organized factions no longer consigned to the sidelines. It is also the case that on some key issues, the conservative base has already won the battle over public opinion. They and their representatives are generally on the same side when it comes to ObamaCare, which was the subject of many a town hall in the lead-up to its enactment. It’s true that there is an intramural disagreement over shutting down the government without an agreement to defund ObamaCare, but that is not the same as debating the passage of the bill itself.

The other major issue subject to town halls in recent years has been immigration. The Times story makes note of this, but with one understated twist:

Immigration groups, like Alliance for Citizenship, which supports a plan like the Senate’s that would grant citizenship to the 11 million people here illegally, are almost exclusively targeting House Republicans, who now hold the key to passing any immigration overhaul legislation. The Democratic-controlled Senate has already approved one. One of the alliance’s targets this month has been Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, who has not announced any town halls but did participate in them in 2009.

Those pining for town halls on immigration are pro-immigration interest groups. They want to pressure Republicans to adopt, not oppose, immigration reform with a path to citizenship. It is only natural that the groups in support of legislation will usually be less impressive or vocal than those against. And in this instance, that’s better for Republicans than when it was the other way around in 2006.

Leading up to that year’s midterm elections Republicans held anti-immigration meetings, and the results–a dramatic drop in the GOP share of the Hispanic vote–may be nudging Republicans away from holding public meetings on immigration at all if they can help it. They could very well be reticent to open the floodgates by calling any town hall to discuss immigration, especially in deep-red districts.

Whether voters support or oppose a specific piece of immigration legislation, surely many of them understand how off-putting anti-immigration rallies can be. It’s one thing to angrily protest a bill like ObamaCare or tax cuts; but to fulminate in large public gatherings denouncing immigrants is much more personally offensive to those on the receiving end because of basic issues of identity. Republicans are wise to avoid such a spectacle. More generally, conservatives should understand that their success is a major factor in the decline of the town halls.

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Luke Russert, Journalist and Advocate

A new survey by the Pew Forum shows that Americans continue to hold the military in high regard, with more than three-quarters of U.S. adults (78 percent) saying that members of the armed services contribute “a lot” to society’s well-being.

At the same time, compared with the ratings four years ago, journalists have dropped the most in public esteem. The share of the public saying that journalists contribute a lot to society is down 10 percentage points, from 38 percent in 2009 to 28 percent in 2013. The drop is particularly pronounced among women (down 17 points). The decline in the perceived contribution of journalists cuts across partisan leanings, age and education level. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents as well as Republicans and Republican-leaning independents all are less likely to say journalists contribute a lot to society’s well-being today (down 8 points among Republicans/leaning Republicans and 10 points among Democrats/leaning Democrats).

I believe the public’s views toward both institutions–the military and the media–are warranted. And I suspect that public esteem for the press will continue to drop if there are more episodes like this one (h/t National Review Online) from NBC’s Capitol Hill correspondent Luke Russert.

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A new survey by the Pew Forum shows that Americans continue to hold the military in high regard, with more than three-quarters of U.S. adults (78 percent) saying that members of the armed services contribute “a lot” to society’s well-being.

At the same time, compared with the ratings four years ago, journalists have dropped the most in public esteem. The share of the public saying that journalists contribute a lot to society is down 10 percentage points, from 38 percent in 2009 to 28 percent in 2013. The drop is particularly pronounced among women (down 17 points). The decline in the perceived contribution of journalists cuts across partisan leanings, age and education level. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents as well as Republicans and Republican-leaning independents all are less likely to say journalists contribute a lot to society’s well-being today (down 8 points among Republicans/leaning Republicans and 10 points among Democrats/leaning Democrats).

I believe the public’s views toward both institutions–the military and the media–are warranted. And I suspect that public esteem for the press will continue to drop if there are more episodes like this one (h/t National Review Online) from NBC’s Capitol Hill correspondent Luke Russert.

Mr. Russert’s question was delivered in the form of commentary that was both tendentious and arrogant. For example, Russert decided to establish a premise before his question, telling Boehner, “it’s well known you guys got your rear ends handed to you in the Latino community in the 2012 election.” He made opposition to a pathway to citizenship seem unreasonable, saying, “Do you not risk putting Republicans at a disadvantage with the fastest-growing electoral voting group for another generation?” And as Boehner was attempting to move on after answering the question, Russert continued to press ahead, wondering if the GOP “brand” would be hurt with Hispanics and make it impossible to win future national elections with a party comprised of “all white folks.” It’s not simply what Russert said; it’s also the tone with which he said it. I say all this as someone who is actually somewhat sympathetic to the view being advocated by Russert.

(What Russert said was also ignorant, referring to Marco Rubio as the “presumptive 2016 nominee” for the Republican Party. Senator Rubio may or may not run for president, and he may or may not win. But it’s silly to state that he’s the “presumptive” nominee at this stage.)

Speaker Boehner responded to Russert’s questions by stating, “I didn’t know this was an opinion show.” But increasingly these days to be a journalist means to be an advocate. Why else do so many journalists get into the profession in the first place, if not to advance an ideology and a political agenda without having to go through the hassle of winning elections?

There’s certainly a place for opinion shows in journalism, but Russert is supposed to be a correspondent, not a person advocating a particular point of view. Yet increasingly that distinction is lost on journalists and young progressives like Luke Russert. His profession is suffering, and should suffer, as a result.

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Phyllis Schlafly and the Road to GOP Ruin

In a radio interview, longtime conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly said, “The Hispanics who come in like this are going to vote Democrat. And there is not the slightest bit of evidence that they are going to vote Republican.”

She added, “The people the Republicans should reach out to are the white votes — the white voters who didn’t vote in the last election. And there are millions of them. And I think when you have an establishment-run nomination system, they give us a series of losers, which they’ve given us with Dole, and McCain, and Romney and they give us people who don’t connect with the grassroots.”

Let’s deal with first things first: The notion that there’s “not the slightest bit of evidence” that Hispanics are going to vote Republican is quite wrong. George W. Bush won roughly 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004. As for the “series of losers” the “establishment-run nomination system” produced: Perhaps Schlafly believes the path to a GOP victory in 2012 would have been paved by GOP presidential nominee Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann. If so, she’s living on another planet. Mitt Romney won the Republican nomination because he won more Republican voters in more primary states than any of his competitors did.

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In a radio interview, longtime conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly said, “The Hispanics who come in like this are going to vote Democrat. And there is not the slightest bit of evidence that they are going to vote Republican.”

She added, “The people the Republicans should reach out to are the white votes — the white voters who didn’t vote in the last election. And there are millions of them. And I think when you have an establishment-run nomination system, they give us a series of losers, which they’ve given us with Dole, and McCain, and Romney and they give us people who don’t connect with the grassroots.”

Let’s deal with first things first: The notion that there’s “not the slightest bit of evidence” that Hispanics are going to vote Republican is quite wrong. George W. Bush won roughly 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004. As for the “series of losers” the “establishment-run nomination system” produced: Perhaps Schlafly believes the path to a GOP victory in 2012 would have been paved by GOP presidential nominee Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann. If so, she’s living on another planet. Mitt Romney won the Republican nomination because he won more Republican voters in more primary states than any of his competitors did.

But Ms. Schlafly’s comments provide a good opportunity to call attention to recent remarks by Henry Olsen of the American Enterprise Institute. Among the points made by Olsen:

  • The election was clearly decided by the non-white vote for the first time in American history. Seventy-two percent of the electorate in the 2012 election was white, according to the exit poll. That bloc includes people of many different ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds. But while there’s no monolithic white vote any more than there is a monolithic non-white vote, the racial differences are still stark.
  • Mitt Romney carried the white vote 59 percent to 39 percent, a 20 point lead. No candidate in American history had ever carried 59 percent of the white vote and lost the presidency. Governor Romney lost, by four points. He lost by four points because he lost the non-white vote by 63 points. (Among Hispanics, Romney lost 71 percent v. 27 percent.)
  • In every election since the 1996 election, like clockwork, the share of the non-white vote has gone up as a share of the total voters by 2 percent and the share of the white vote has gone down by 2 percent, much of that stemming from Hispanic population increases.
  • In 2016, if there is not a dramatic shrinkage in the African-American vote, a Republican candidate will need to get 60 percent of the white vote, plus a record high among African-Americans, plus a record high among Asians, plus a record high among Hispanics, plus a record high among those people who don’t classify themselves in any of those categories, or are American-Indian or Hawaiian or Aleut, to win a bare 50.1 percent of the vote.

Now these data points by themselves don’t mean Republicans should support the immigration reform legislation that is being crafted in the Senate. That legislation needs to be judged on its substantive merits. It’s also true that Mitt Romney did not appeal to white working class and blue-collar voters in anything like the numbers he needed to in order to win. But of course one can do both: appeal to rising immigrant groups and white working class voters. It’s not an either/or proposition.

In addition, the data points cited by Olsen do indicate that the strategy Ms. Schlafly is recommending–which is that Republicans should give up on Hispanic voters, who will never vote for Republicans anyway, and simply reach out to white voters–is a path to permanent political minority status. Republican presidential candidates are already doing fantastically well with white voters. The problem for the GOP is that they are a shrinking percentage of the electorate (from 89 percent of the electorate in 1976 to 72 percent in 2012).

As for the Schlafly mindset, Michael Gerson and I addressed it in our recent essay in COMMENTARY, when we wrote this:

Conservative critics of such [immigration] reforms sometimes express the conviction that Hispanic voters are inherently favorable to bigger government and thus more or less permanently immune to Republican appeals. It is a view that combines an off-putting sense of ideological superiority—apparently “those people” are not persuadable—with a pessimism about the drawing power of conservative ideals. Such attitudes are the prerogative of a sectarian faction. They are not an option for a political party, which cannot afford to lose the ambition to convince.

Phyllis Schlafly has lost the ambition to convince, which is just one reason why her counsel should be ignored. 

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Immigration Reform Proponents Try to Turn the Tide

Proponents of comprehensive immigration reform are looking to end the week with a bit more momentum in their favor than they began the week with. As I wrote on Wednesday, the Heritage Foundation study calling attention to the entitlement costs of immigration reform not only earned strong criticism from trusted Republican budget hawks, but also was unlikely to catch and keep the attention of partisans on both sides. Given the revelation that one of the study’s co-authors once wrote a racially charged thesis paper on the subject, it seems the “gang of eight” dodged that critique.

Additionally, the bipartisan group of senators trying to shepherd the legislation through the Senate may have avoided another common pitfall–one that sunk the 2007 reform legislation. At that time, then-Senator Obama went back on an agreement to oppose any “poison pill” amendments that would kill the bill, regardless of the merits of the amendments themselves. He cast a crucial vote in favor of just such an amendment, sinking the bill. But as the Hill reports, the gang of eight seems to have navigated the Judiciary Committee amendment process and come out intact:

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Proponents of comprehensive immigration reform are looking to end the week with a bit more momentum in their favor than they began the week with. As I wrote on Wednesday, the Heritage Foundation study calling attention to the entitlement costs of immigration reform not only earned strong criticism from trusted Republican budget hawks, but also was unlikely to catch and keep the attention of partisans on both sides. Given the revelation that one of the study’s co-authors once wrote a racially charged thesis paper on the subject, it seems the “gang of eight” dodged that critique.

Additionally, the bipartisan group of senators trying to shepherd the legislation through the Senate may have avoided another common pitfall–one that sunk the 2007 reform legislation. At that time, then-Senator Obama went back on an agreement to oppose any “poison pill” amendments that would kill the bill, regardless of the merits of the amendments themselves. He cast a crucial vote in favor of just such an amendment, sinking the bill. But as the Hill reports, the gang of eight seems to have navigated the Judiciary Committee amendment process and come out intact:

The Senate’s Gang of Eight fended off a slew of poison-pill amendments aimed at the immigration reform bill, building momentum for the legislation that has sparked strong opposition from conservatives.

Members of the gang touted the passage of a group of GOP-sponsored amendments they said had strengthened the bill and would help address the concerns of conservatives.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted down GOP-sponsored amendments to delay putting 11 million illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship and to dramatically increase the number of Border Patrol agents and surveillance vehicles.

The bill’s sponsors also dodged an effort from the left by Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) to halt Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano from deporting illegal immigrants to unsafe areas.

Whether any of these will constitute something of a pyrrhic victory remains to be seen. As the Hill notes, for example, the group fended off an attempt to make border security requirements even stricter. That is where the reform effort is most vulnerable–a fact that is unlikely to change as the bill progresses.

Additionally, a new Pew Research poll shows both the necessity and complexity of reforming the country’s immigration system, as the public sees it. Three-quarters of respondents said the system needs reform, with 35 percent in support of it being “completely rebuilt.” More Republicans than Democrats registered support for major changes to the immigration system, but both were above 70 percent. Pew asked this question of other policy areas as well: taxes, education, health care, Medicare, Social Security, and homeland security. None matched the public’s enthusiasm for major changes on immigration.

But aside from improving border security, respondents couldn’t agree much on what those major changes should consist of:

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted May 1-5 among 1,504 adults, finds that 73% say there should be a way for illegal immigrants already in the United States who meet certain requirements to stay here. But fewer than half (44%) favor allowing those here illegally to apply for U.S. citizenship, while 25% think permanent legal status is more appropriate….

When it comes to legal immigration, relatively few (31%) see current levels as satisfactory, but there is no consensus as to whether the level of legal immigration should be decreased (36%) or increased (25%)

The opposition to increased legal immigration is troubling here, but there are two reasons it might not be so harmful to reform efforts. First, on the issue of, in Pew’s wording, “Immigrants currently in the country illegally who meet certain requirements,” 73 percent of respondents said they should have “a way to stay legally”–either a path to full citizenship or at least permanent legal residency, though citizenship was the more popular answer by far. That there is such wide opposition to attempts to deport even those who came here illegally removes what might otherwise have been a significant obstacle to finding a consensus on immigration reform.

Second, the poll comes in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, which raised questions about border security, background checks, and whether the country was less able to integrate and assimilate immigrants than in the past. Though Rand Paul was misguided in questioning whether a Chechen family should be able to immigrate to America, he was no doubt not the only one beset by worry about the ease with which poisonous ideologies can cross borders in a globalized world. But as I wrote at the time, those seeking escape from war-torn, poorly or oppressively governed regions of the world are a fair representation of the American immigrant through history.

The poll also comes as the sluggish economy drags on and high unemployment and underemployment persist, heightening wage and job protectionism in the U.S. That sentiment will probably be as stubborn as the conditions that inspire it. Immigration reform proponents can argue (justifiably) that economic growth will follow immigration, but they will be met with the irony that many Americans want to see economic growth before they’re willing to back more immigration. The gang of eight may have more control over border security than job security, but both promise to be headaches for immigration reformers going forward.

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Does the Chechen Connection Matter?

Does the Chechen background of the accused Boston Marathon bombers have any practical relevance to American foreign or domestic policy in the wake of the attacks? The attempts to answer that question have produced a wave of stories over the past week. It is natural–and rational–to want to understand the motive behind an act of violence such as this. Motive, second only to means, is knowledge that usually has practical implications: if we know why the perpetrators did what they did, perhaps we can stop this from happening again. Unfortunately, in this case, Chechnya and the wider Caucasus conflict are unlikely to provide much direction.

As Jonathan noted on Friday, some opponents of comprehensive immigration reform are using the Boston bombing to call attention to the dangers of amnesty. But today Rand Paul entered the fray by asking why Chechens were able to immigrate at all. In a letter to Harry Reid, Paul writes: “Why did the current system allow two individuals to immigrate to the United States from the Chechen Republic in Russia, an area known as a hotbed of Islamic extremism, who then committed acts of terrorism? Were there any safeguards? Could this have been prevented? Does the immigration reform before us address this?”

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Does the Chechen background of the accused Boston Marathon bombers have any practical relevance to American foreign or domestic policy in the wake of the attacks? The attempts to answer that question have produced a wave of stories over the past week. It is natural–and rational–to want to understand the motive behind an act of violence such as this. Motive, second only to means, is knowledge that usually has practical implications: if we know why the perpetrators did what they did, perhaps we can stop this from happening again. Unfortunately, in this case, Chechnya and the wider Caucasus conflict are unlikely to provide much direction.

As Jonathan noted on Friday, some opponents of comprehensive immigration reform are using the Boston bombing to call attention to the dangers of amnesty. But today Rand Paul entered the fray by asking why Chechens were able to immigrate at all. In a letter to Harry Reid, Paul writes: “Why did the current system allow two individuals to immigrate to the United States from the Chechen Republic in Russia, an area known as a hotbed of Islamic extremism, who then committed acts of terrorism? Were there any safeguards? Could this have been prevented? Does the immigration reform before us address this?”

I think it’s safe to say no immigration reform proposal–and certainly no such proposal that could pass Congress–would seek to prohibit residents of Chechnya by definition from resettling in the United States, and for good reason. Additionally, the Tsarnaev boys came here as youth, so it’s highly unlikely they raised, or should have raised, any red flags.

But Paul did touch on another element of the Caucasus: it is the home of an influential recruiting, training, and communications center for a major jihadist group, the Caucasus Emirate. But the Emirate denied responsibility for the Boston attacks: “The Command of the Province of Dagestan indicates in this regard that the Caucasian Mujahideen are not fighting against the United States of America. We are at war with Russia, which is not only responsible for the occupation of the Caucasus, but also for heinous crimes against Muslims,” it stated.

That statement was carefully calibrated and is a fairly accurate portrait of where you might find Chechen or Dagestani Islamist terrorists–and where you probably won’t. Boston falls into the latter category. The Caucasus Emirate, led by Doku Umarov, has no compunction about employing brutal methods in its struggle, but the Emirate is not at war with the United States. That doesn’t mean Americans will never be the target of Chechen attacks; terrorists from the Caucasus have shown up outside Russian territory, but there doesn’t seem to have been any major Chechen presence in Afghanistan, and there is considerable doubt as to whether there has been any Chechen presence fighting the allies in Afghanistan at all.

The Syrian civil war is a more likely place to spot a Chechen militant, and indeed the Caucasus Emirate apparently admitted to the death of Rustam Gelayev in Syria in August. Gelayev was the son of Ruslan Gelayev, a Chechen commander killed in the Caucasus in 2004. Though the Emirate won’t expend serious time, energy, manpower, or money fighting so far from home, fighting in Syria does give them the ability to hit the hated Putin regime from another angle.

Will the Tsarnaevs’ Chechen connection lead to more anti-terror cooperation between the U.S. and Russia? Unlikely. Just as the Emirate tends to carry out operations of which it will brag, rather than deny, so the Russian authorities like to pretend the Caucasus Islamists don’t exist in order to minimize the perception of danger and to sell the line that Putin has pacified the conflict and brought true stability to Russia. Whatever cooperation between the U.S. and Russia was already taking place probably won’t be affected much one way or the other by the Boston bombing, especially with the impending American withdrawal from Afghanistan.

What about the area of diplomacy? Here some, including Amy Knight of the New York Review of Books, are concerned. As Knight phrases it:

Will the US government now turn a blind eye to Russia’s increasingly brutal crackdown on its own democratic opposition because of overriding concerns about national security, just as it did after 9/11? Will the Kremlin wager that it can get away with its hard-line approach now that, as a result of the Boston attacks, the Obama Administration needs its help in counter-terrorism efforts?

This is an interesting question for the president of the United States in the parallel universe from which Knight apparently filed her story, in which the Obama administration has not already ignored Putin’s crackdown on protesters and other human rights abuses in order to obtain some mythical national security cooperation. But as anyone who has followed the administration’s failed “reset” efforts knows, for the Obama administration to stop caring about Russian human rights abuses, it would have to start caring about those abuses in the first place.

If the Tsarnaev brothers were radicalized, that appears to have taken place here in the U.S. The Tsarnaevs’ background in the Caucasus is interesting biographical material, but it does not seem poised to provide many answers, nor nudge American policy, foreign or domestic, in a new direction.

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