Commentary Magazine


Topic: Peter Robinson

Part 2: Immigration and the Golden State

In this post I continue my responses to Peter Robinson’s thought-provoking questions about the degree to which immigration has contributed to California’s current predicament (e.g., fiscal ruin, economic stagnation, political dysfunction). Peter’s second question concerns the political impact on the Republican party. He asks:

Q:  There’s plenty of evidence that, as Hispanics move into the middle class, they begin voting Republican, following the same pattern as previous immigrant groups. In California, though, the Hispanics that do indeed join the middle class are always hugely outnumbered as the influx of poor Mexicans continues — and, as these recent arrivals begin voting, they vote overwhelmingly Democratic. The state that gave us Reagan has now become dark blue. … With California out of play, the GOP stands at a permanent disadvantage in presidential politics.  Isn’t all that too high a price to pay for loose immigration policies?

Let’s break this down into legal and illegal immigration. No critic of lax efforts to cut down on voter fraud has been more ferocious than I. But, honestly, I don’t believe that there are huge numbers of illegal immigrants who flock to the polls. And if there were (as well as for other reasons, which I have amplified in other writings on Obama Justice Department), we need to clean house at the DOJ. One way to start would be to make sure the Department, contrary to the directions of Obama appointees, enforces Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires states to clean up their voter rolls.

But I think we’re principally talking about Hispanic citizens. Here, the GOP’s problem, I would suggest, is entirely one of its own making. If a party cannot connect with and make its case to a large segment of the electorate, which actually shares many of its fundamental values (e.g., family, the sanctity of life, economic opportunity), there is something wrong with the party. (Let Obama blame or write off voters.)

The argument that “We’ve tried, but nothing works” is a cop-out. (I’m not persuaded by the argument that John McCain’s inability to attract Hispanic voters in 2008 is proof of this. McCain essentially reversed course on immigration in the campaign. Moreover, McCain couldn’t even connect with New Englanders.) In Virginia,  now Gov. Bob McDonnell told me in late 2008 that Republicans had done a poor job of explaining that it is the illegal part they object to — not the immigrant part. And, in the 2009 campaign, he went to Hispanic communities explaining why conservative positions on education, family, low taxes, reasonable regulation, crime, etc. are good for them. If Republicans tried that over an extended period of time, continued to demonstrate that they are a diverse party (Marco Rubio and other Hispanic candidates and officials help in this regard), and tamped down on the over-the-top anti-immigrant rhetoric, they might improve their standing. “We don’t know that!” critics say. True, but why not give it a shot? (Given current polling data, this might be an opportune time to start.)

The question also touches on comprehensive immigration reform. If we legalize them all, the argument goes, then they will stream to the polls and the GOP will be toast. My response is two-fold: 1) see the preceding paragraph and 2) let’s consider what would happen if many of the current immigrants were legalized. For that discussion, let’s turn to Peter’s final question:

Q.  The 2.6 million immigrants in California illegally consume hundreds of millions of dollars worth of public services each year.  They pay sales taxes—but only sales taxes.  On balance, isn’t it likely that they represent an economic drag on the entire state?  “[T]he several million illegal aliens in the state,” Victor Davis Hanson wrote recently, “might make California’s meltdown a little bit more severe than, say, Montana’s or Utah’s.” Isn’t Victor on to something?

Victor is always on to something! But as I discussed in Part 1, the picture is a bit more complicated than anti-immigration activists would have us believe. The data is mixed regarding the net cost-benefits at the state level. Moreover, there are some illegal immigrants who pay more than sales tax. Do they pay property taxes? Do they, if they’ve managed to get on a payroll, pay Social Security taxes (perhaps under a phony Social Security card)? Some do. I think that saying they act as a drag on the state goes too far. The data cited here and in Part 1 suggest that while state expenditures might be stressed, the overall economy benefits tremendously by immigrants.

Still, I’ll concede that in the short run, new, poor immigrants may use more social services than they pay for in taxes, as compared to the rest of the population. But then — Peter sees this coming — let’s figure out how to naturalize the vast majority of them and get them to start paying all their taxes into the system. Am I arguing for “amnesty”? Amnesty is a free pass. I favor allowing otherwise law-abiding immigrants who want to pay a fine, contribute their share to taxes, and go through background checks and a waiting period to legalize their status. Then they can begin to contribute fully to the coffers of California and every other state.

Comprehensive immigration reform would also entail serious border enforcement, temporary worker rules, and employer verification measures. The constant stream of “poor Mexicans” then would slow down. Then we could get down to the business of discussing appropriate levels of legal immigration and an increase in visas for skilled workers.

I come back to Peter’s basic query: Is immigration (legal and not) a significant factor in California’s mess? In my view it isn’t, especially in comparison to Californians’ enormous self-inflicted wounds (e.g., state constitutional chaos, misguided reforms, public-employee union corruption and excess). Certainly, we should should address the issue. We might get around to it if Obama ever started treating immigration reform as a serious policy matter instead of a political football.

In this post I continue my responses to Peter Robinson’s thought-provoking questions about the degree to which immigration has contributed to California’s current predicament (e.g., fiscal ruin, economic stagnation, political dysfunction). Peter’s second question concerns the political impact on the Republican party. He asks:

Q:  There’s plenty of evidence that, as Hispanics move into the middle class, they begin voting Republican, following the same pattern as previous immigrant groups. In California, though, the Hispanics that do indeed join the middle class are always hugely outnumbered as the influx of poor Mexicans continues — and, as these recent arrivals begin voting, they vote overwhelmingly Democratic. The state that gave us Reagan has now become dark blue. … With California out of play, the GOP stands at a permanent disadvantage in presidential politics.  Isn’t all that too high a price to pay for loose immigration policies?

Let’s break this down into legal and illegal immigration. No critic of lax efforts to cut down on voter fraud has been more ferocious than I. But, honestly, I don’t believe that there are huge numbers of illegal immigrants who flock to the polls. And if there were (as well as for other reasons, which I have amplified in other writings on Obama Justice Department), we need to clean house at the DOJ. One way to start would be to make sure the Department, contrary to the directions of Obama appointees, enforces Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires states to clean up their voter rolls.

But I think we’re principally talking about Hispanic citizens. Here, the GOP’s problem, I would suggest, is entirely one of its own making. If a party cannot connect with and make its case to a large segment of the electorate, which actually shares many of its fundamental values (e.g., family, the sanctity of life, economic opportunity), there is something wrong with the party. (Let Obama blame or write off voters.)

The argument that “We’ve tried, but nothing works” is a cop-out. (I’m not persuaded by the argument that John McCain’s inability to attract Hispanic voters in 2008 is proof of this. McCain essentially reversed course on immigration in the campaign. Moreover, McCain couldn’t even connect with New Englanders.) In Virginia,  now Gov. Bob McDonnell told me in late 2008 that Republicans had done a poor job of explaining that it is the illegal part they object to — not the immigrant part. And, in the 2009 campaign, he went to Hispanic communities explaining why conservative positions on education, family, low taxes, reasonable regulation, crime, etc. are good for them. If Republicans tried that over an extended period of time, continued to demonstrate that they are a diverse party (Marco Rubio and other Hispanic candidates and officials help in this regard), and tamped down on the over-the-top anti-immigrant rhetoric, they might improve their standing. “We don’t know that!” critics say. True, but why not give it a shot? (Given current polling data, this might be an opportune time to start.)

The question also touches on comprehensive immigration reform. If we legalize them all, the argument goes, then they will stream to the polls and the GOP will be toast. My response is two-fold: 1) see the preceding paragraph and 2) let’s consider what would happen if many of the current immigrants were legalized. For that discussion, let’s turn to Peter’s final question:

Q.  The 2.6 million immigrants in California illegally consume hundreds of millions of dollars worth of public services each year.  They pay sales taxes—but only sales taxes.  On balance, isn’t it likely that they represent an economic drag on the entire state?  “[T]he several million illegal aliens in the state,” Victor Davis Hanson wrote recently, “might make California’s meltdown a little bit more severe than, say, Montana’s or Utah’s.” Isn’t Victor on to something?

Victor is always on to something! But as I discussed in Part 1, the picture is a bit more complicated than anti-immigration activists would have us believe. The data is mixed regarding the net cost-benefits at the state level. Moreover, there are some illegal immigrants who pay more than sales tax. Do they pay property taxes? Do they, if they’ve managed to get on a payroll, pay Social Security taxes (perhaps under a phony Social Security card)? Some do. I think that saying they act as a drag on the state goes too far. The data cited here and in Part 1 suggest that while state expenditures might be stressed, the overall economy benefits tremendously by immigrants.

Still, I’ll concede that in the short run, new, poor immigrants may use more social services than they pay for in taxes, as compared to the rest of the population. But then — Peter sees this coming — let’s figure out how to naturalize the vast majority of them and get them to start paying all their taxes into the system. Am I arguing for “amnesty”? Amnesty is a free pass. I favor allowing otherwise law-abiding immigrants who want to pay a fine, contribute their share to taxes, and go through background checks and a waiting period to legalize their status. Then they can begin to contribute fully to the coffers of California and every other state.

Comprehensive immigration reform would also entail serious border enforcement, temporary worker rules, and employer verification measures. The constant stream of “poor Mexicans” then would slow down. Then we could get down to the business of discussing appropriate levels of legal immigration and an increase in visas for skilled workers.

I come back to Peter’s basic query: Is immigration (legal and not) a significant factor in California’s mess? In my view it isn’t, especially in comparison to Californians’ enormous self-inflicted wounds (e.g., state constitutional chaos, misguided reforms, public-employee union corruption and excess). Certainly, we should should address the issue. We might get around to it if Obama ever started treating immigration reform as a serious policy matter instead of a political football.

Read Less

Immigration and the Golden State

I am delighted that my friend Peter Robinson has spent time pondering my latest piece for COMMENTARY, “California, There It Went.” I am immensely gratified by his kind words. He poses a series of questions on immigration and asks whether immigration, illegal immigration more specifically, isn’t a significant factor in California’s woeful condition.

I’ll start by summarizing where I stand on the more general topic: I am unabashedly pro-immigration. As Peter eloquently argued, the spiritual and economic life of America and its reputation as a beacon of freedom and opportunity depend on an influx of new immigrants to revitalize and replenish ourselves. (As Dan Senor and Saul Singer observe in Start Up Nation, immigrants are risk takers, entrepreneurial by their nature. A dynamic, modern society wants such people.)

Tamar Jacoby wrote during the height of the immigration-reform debate that “immigrants don’t just keep the economy going, they grow it, making us all richer and more productive.” She explained that “if there’d been no immigrants in the past decade, the U.S. economy would have grown by less than half as much as it did. Think about it: half as many new houses built, half as many businesses opened, half as many new jobs created, half as much new tax revenue collected—and much less economic vitality.”

In “Higher Immigration, Lower Crime” from the December 2009 issue of COMMENTARY, CATO’s Daniel Griswold wrote that immigrants are looking for a good job, not a drug deal. That said, the problem of illegal immigration and the burden it imposes on states like California is real. In Griswold’s earlier work on the subject, he explained that anti-immigration activists have exaggerated and distorted the burdens immigrants place on state governments:

The 1997 National Research Council study found that, although the fiscal impact of a typical immigrant and his or her descendants is strongly positive at the federal level, it is negative at the state and local level.

State and local fiscal costs, while real, must be weighed against the equally real and positive effect of immigration on the overall economy. Low-skilled immigrants allow important sectors of the U.S. economy, such as retail, cleaning, food preparation, construction, and other services, to expand to meet the needs of their customers. They help the economy produce a wider array of more affordably priced goods and services, raising the real wages of most Americans. By filling gaps in the U.S. labor market, such immigrants create investment opportunities and employment for native-born Americans. Immigrants are also consumers, increasing demand for American-made goods and services.

Griswold cites two studies, which “found that the increased economic activity created by lower-skilled, mostly Hispanic immigrants far exceeds the costs to state and local governments.” A 2006 study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found Hispanics “many of them undocumented immigrants, had indeed imposed a net cost on the state government of $61 million, but… had increased the state’s economy by $9 billion.” A Texas study concluded its 1.4 million undocumented immigrants imposed $504 million in costs to state and local governments in 2005 but “was dwarfed by the estimated positive impact on the state’s economy of $17.7 billion.”

Although I start, therefore, from the premise that immigrants are a net positive, that doesn’t mean there are not serious issues, especially for California. Peter smartly zeroes in on them. I’ll address the first here and the next two in a subsequent post. Peter asks:

No less a figure than  Harvard professor Samuel Huntington suggested that the Southwestern United  States, including, of course, southern California, runs the danger of  becoming culturally and linguistically more Mexican than American.   With Mexicans moving into the state while whites leave California for the interior of the country, is Huntington’s fear being borne out?

California isn’t there yet. California has the highest number of illegal immigrants in the country. But that still amounts to just 6.9 percent of the population. We are a very, very long way from seeing the culture become “more Mexican than American.” The schools, as rotten as they are, teach some facsimile of American history, American literature, etc., as the mainstays of their curriculum. (And to its credit, California was among the first to take a stab at doing away with bilingual education.) Pop culture, much of which emanates from California, is “American.” With 93 percent of the population made up of legal immigrants and citizens by birth, we’re not in any danger of getting “swamped” culturally.

This does, however, touch on a pet peeve of mine. Some of the concern that is referenced by Huntington relates to the impact of legal immigrants and those Hispanics born here. And that raises the question: what does “American” culture mean? Many anti-immigration activists assume American culture is fixed and that new immigrants will make us into something we aren’t. But that has never been what America is about. America wasn’t “fixed” in 1776, nor after the surge of immigration in the mid-1800s. It wasn’t set in stone after the huge influx of immigrants from Europe at the turn of the century. We evolve, we absorb, and we grow richer with each wave of immigrants.

However – and it’s a big “however” – we need to get real about assimilation. The reason immigration has been a positive factor is that each generation of immigrants learned English and learned to operate within, not apart, from American society. Tamar Jacoby, again: “We need more English classes. We need to guide newcomers toward becoming citizens. We need to help them help themselves – navigating the system, putting down roots, getting their kids to college, getting ahead.” (She also points to statistics indicating we’re doing better by objective measures of assimilation than many think.)

To answer Huntington, then, I’d rather improve our assimilation efforts than exclude and/or remove immigrants. That means not letting the leftist elites and professional ethnic-grievance mongers (both of whom encourage ethnic separatism) run the show. It means rejecting the argument that efforts to maintain our common language are “racist.”

But that’s only part of my answer. In Part 2, I’ll argue that the real answer to this and other concerns is comprehensive immigration reform.

I am delighted that my friend Peter Robinson has spent time pondering my latest piece for COMMENTARY, “California, There It Went.” I am immensely gratified by his kind words. He poses a series of questions on immigration and asks whether immigration, illegal immigration more specifically, isn’t a significant factor in California’s woeful condition.

I’ll start by summarizing where I stand on the more general topic: I am unabashedly pro-immigration. As Peter eloquently argued, the spiritual and economic life of America and its reputation as a beacon of freedom and opportunity depend on an influx of new immigrants to revitalize and replenish ourselves. (As Dan Senor and Saul Singer observe in Start Up Nation, immigrants are risk takers, entrepreneurial by their nature. A dynamic, modern society wants such people.)

Tamar Jacoby wrote during the height of the immigration-reform debate that “immigrants don’t just keep the economy going, they grow it, making us all richer and more productive.” She explained that “if there’d been no immigrants in the past decade, the U.S. economy would have grown by less than half as much as it did. Think about it: half as many new houses built, half as many businesses opened, half as many new jobs created, half as much new tax revenue collected—and much less economic vitality.”

In “Higher Immigration, Lower Crime” from the December 2009 issue of COMMENTARY, CATO’s Daniel Griswold wrote that immigrants are looking for a good job, not a drug deal. That said, the problem of illegal immigration and the burden it imposes on states like California is real. In Griswold’s earlier work on the subject, he explained that anti-immigration activists have exaggerated and distorted the burdens immigrants place on state governments:

The 1997 National Research Council study found that, although the fiscal impact of a typical immigrant and his or her descendants is strongly positive at the federal level, it is negative at the state and local level.

State and local fiscal costs, while real, must be weighed against the equally real and positive effect of immigration on the overall economy. Low-skilled immigrants allow important sectors of the U.S. economy, such as retail, cleaning, food preparation, construction, and other services, to expand to meet the needs of their customers. They help the economy produce a wider array of more affordably priced goods and services, raising the real wages of most Americans. By filling gaps in the U.S. labor market, such immigrants create investment opportunities and employment for native-born Americans. Immigrants are also consumers, increasing demand for American-made goods and services.

Griswold cites two studies, which “found that the increased economic activity created by lower-skilled, mostly Hispanic immigrants far exceeds the costs to state and local governments.” A 2006 study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found Hispanics “many of them undocumented immigrants, had indeed imposed a net cost on the state government of $61 million, but… had increased the state’s economy by $9 billion.” A Texas study concluded its 1.4 million undocumented immigrants imposed $504 million in costs to state and local governments in 2005 but “was dwarfed by the estimated positive impact on the state’s economy of $17.7 billion.”

Although I start, therefore, from the premise that immigrants are a net positive, that doesn’t mean there are not serious issues, especially for California. Peter smartly zeroes in on them. I’ll address the first here and the next two in a subsequent post. Peter asks:

No less a figure than  Harvard professor Samuel Huntington suggested that the Southwestern United  States, including, of course, southern California, runs the danger of  becoming culturally and linguistically more Mexican than American.   With Mexicans moving into the state while whites leave California for the interior of the country, is Huntington’s fear being borne out?

California isn’t there yet. California has the highest number of illegal immigrants in the country. But that still amounts to just 6.9 percent of the population. We are a very, very long way from seeing the culture become “more Mexican than American.” The schools, as rotten as they are, teach some facsimile of American history, American literature, etc., as the mainstays of their curriculum. (And to its credit, California was among the first to take a stab at doing away with bilingual education.) Pop culture, much of which emanates from California, is “American.” With 93 percent of the population made up of legal immigrants and citizens by birth, we’re not in any danger of getting “swamped” culturally.

This does, however, touch on a pet peeve of mine. Some of the concern that is referenced by Huntington relates to the impact of legal immigrants and those Hispanics born here. And that raises the question: what does “American” culture mean? Many anti-immigration activists assume American culture is fixed and that new immigrants will make us into something we aren’t. But that has never been what America is about. America wasn’t “fixed” in 1776, nor after the surge of immigration in the mid-1800s. It wasn’t set in stone after the huge influx of immigrants from Europe at the turn of the century. We evolve, we absorb, and we grow richer with each wave of immigrants.

However – and it’s a big “however” – we need to get real about assimilation. The reason immigration has been a positive factor is that each generation of immigrants learned English and learned to operate within, not apart, from American society. Tamar Jacoby, again: “We need more English classes. We need to guide newcomers toward becoming citizens. We need to help them help themselves – navigating the system, putting down roots, getting their kids to college, getting ahead.” (She also points to statistics indicating we’re doing better by objective measures of assimilation than many think.)

To answer Huntington, then, I’d rather improve our assimilation efforts than exclude and/or remove immigrants. That means not letting the leftist elites and professional ethnic-grievance mongers (both of whom encourage ethnic separatism) run the show. It means rejecting the argument that efforts to maintain our common language are “racist.”

But that’s only part of my answer. In Part 2, I’ll argue that the real answer to this and other concerns is comprehensive immigration reform.

Read Less

The Speech: About As Good As We Could Expect

I see some disagreement on the right about Obama’s Iraq speech, with Peter Robinson and Jennifer Rubin condemning it and Bill Kristol and John Podhoretz praising it. For what it’s worth, I’m with Bill and John on this one. I thought that this speech was about as good as we could expect from an opponent of the Iraq war — and better than Obama has done in the past. He even (for the first time?) held out an olive branch to his predecessor:

This afternoon, I spoke to former President George W. Bush.  It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset.  Yet no one can doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security.

OK, he didn’t say, “Bush’s surge won the war, and I regret opposing it,” which is what many of my conservative compatriots are waiting to hear. But nor did he say, “I believe that Bush lied us into a war we shouldn’t have fought,” which is what his liberal base longs to hear. Considering how strongly he opposed Bush and the decision to go to war, this was a nice grace note.

On a more substantive issue, I was cheered to hear him say, “Our combat mission is ending, but our commitment to Iraq’s future is not.” He also said, however, “Consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year.” While it’s a good message to send that the U.S. will keep its commitments, he might have added that we will leave by the end of next year “unless an agreement is reached with the government of Iraq to extend our presence.” Such an agreement will be vital to safeguarding Iraq’s future, and I would hope that Obama recognizes that. Even if he does, there is a case to be made for not lobbying publicly for such an agreement, because it will encourage Iraqi obstinacy in the negotiations, which is what happened during the run-up to the existing U.S.-Iraq accord.

There was only a brief mention of Afghanistan, but what he said was pretty good. He did not speak of a troop-withdrawal deadline. Instead he said that “next August, we will begin a transition to Afghan responsibility. The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground, and our support for Afghanistan will endure.” That the drawdown will be “conditions based” rather than adhere to an artificial timeline means that our troops will have a fighting chance to get the job done.

Finally, like Bill Kristol, I liked the ending of the speech, in which he linked today’s soldiers “with an unbroken line of heroes that stretches from Lexington to Gettysburg; from Iwo Jima to Inchon; from Khe Sanh to Kandahar.” It wasn’t exactly Ronald Reagan’s 1984 “Boys of Pointe du Hoc” speech — a masterpiece of giving thanks to the men and women in uniform — but it was a nice conclusion to a nice speech.

However good the words, the hard part is still ahead of us in Iraq, where no government has yet been formed and everyone is nervous about the American troop withdrawal. Obama will have to get more involved in managing Iraq’s future than he has been to date.

I see some disagreement on the right about Obama’s Iraq speech, with Peter Robinson and Jennifer Rubin condemning it and Bill Kristol and John Podhoretz praising it. For what it’s worth, I’m with Bill and John on this one. I thought that this speech was about as good as we could expect from an opponent of the Iraq war — and better than Obama has done in the past. He even (for the first time?) held out an olive branch to his predecessor:

This afternoon, I spoke to former President George W. Bush.  It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset.  Yet no one can doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security.

OK, he didn’t say, “Bush’s surge won the war, and I regret opposing it,” which is what many of my conservative compatriots are waiting to hear. But nor did he say, “I believe that Bush lied us into a war we shouldn’t have fought,” which is what his liberal base longs to hear. Considering how strongly he opposed Bush and the decision to go to war, this was a nice grace note.

On a more substantive issue, I was cheered to hear him say, “Our combat mission is ending, but our commitment to Iraq’s future is not.” He also said, however, “Consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year.” While it’s a good message to send that the U.S. will keep its commitments, he might have added that we will leave by the end of next year “unless an agreement is reached with the government of Iraq to extend our presence.” Such an agreement will be vital to safeguarding Iraq’s future, and I would hope that Obama recognizes that. Even if he does, there is a case to be made for not lobbying publicly for such an agreement, because it will encourage Iraqi obstinacy in the negotiations, which is what happened during the run-up to the existing U.S.-Iraq accord.

There was only a brief mention of Afghanistan, but what he said was pretty good. He did not speak of a troop-withdrawal deadline. Instead he said that “next August, we will begin a transition to Afghan responsibility. The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground, and our support for Afghanistan will endure.” That the drawdown will be “conditions based” rather than adhere to an artificial timeline means that our troops will have a fighting chance to get the job done.

Finally, like Bill Kristol, I liked the ending of the speech, in which he linked today’s soldiers “with an unbroken line of heroes that stretches from Lexington to Gettysburg; from Iwo Jima to Inchon; from Khe Sanh to Kandahar.” It wasn’t exactly Ronald Reagan’s 1984 “Boys of Pointe du Hoc” speech — a masterpiece of giving thanks to the men and women in uniform — but it was a nice conclusion to a nice speech.

However good the words, the hard part is still ahead of us in Iraq, where no government has yet been formed and everyone is nervous about the American troop withdrawal. Obama will have to get more involved in managing Iraq’s future than he has been to date.

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What Would Reagan Have Thought?

Peter Robinson, former Reagan speechwriter and Hoover fellow, has a must-read column on the Gipper and immigration. It is a scholarly brief for the case that Reagan, while committed to law and order and defense of our borders, was unapologetically pro-immigration for both ideological and partisan reasons. As to the latter, Peter explains:

All his political life, Ronald Reagan wooed voters outside his base. Who were Reagan Democrats who gave him landslide victories in 1980 and 1984? Voters of German, Irish, Italian, Polish and other ethnic backgrounds — in a word, the children and grandchildren of immigrants who entered the country at points such as Ellis Island.

Today Reagan would have wooed not only Reagan Democrats but the children and grandchildren of immigrants who entered the country from Mexico. He would have done so as a matter of principle — as we have seen, he gloried in the country’s basic openness to immigrants — but he would also have recognized that Republicans face a math problem.

Whereas the proportion of the population composed of Americans of northern European descent—the traditional Republican base—is steadily shrinking, the proportion composed of Hispanics is rapidly expanding. The GOP will capture the support of some large fraction of Hispanics or it will become as irrelevant as the Federalists and the Whigs.

There are those loud pundits — some themselves emigrants from Anglo countries — who reject all that. Our culture will be swamped! Americans will lose jobs! They will find a scrap of evidence here — ooh, look at the long line for applications at the poultry factory! — and horror stories there. And as they trumpet their opposition to immigration, they point to evidence that Hispanics remain wary of the Republican Party (well, yeah) and choose to ignore the fact that, with the exception of Jews, immigrant groups have historically become more conservative as they climbed the economic ladder.

The critics seem to want America to remain just as it is (with them safely inside the wall). But “America” is not and cannot be a static phenomenon. Quoting Reagan, Peter reminds us:

Describing America as “a shining city” in his 1989 farewell address, for example, he said, “[a]nd if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”

None of this is to excuse the unconscionable refusal to enforce our borders or the cries of “Racism!” that greet every effort to secure those borders. But “‘Senator,’ the sheriff says to Sen. McCain at the end of his advertisement, ‘you’re one of us.’ One white man to another white man — speaking the very words most likely to alienate every Hispanic voter who hears them.” And when John McCain stoops to such an ad, which — wink-wink, nod-nod — takes up the nativist line, it’s time to take stock of where we are heading and what message we are conveying to those who want a piece of the American dream.

Peter Robinson, former Reagan speechwriter and Hoover fellow, has a must-read column on the Gipper and immigration. It is a scholarly brief for the case that Reagan, while committed to law and order and defense of our borders, was unapologetically pro-immigration for both ideological and partisan reasons. As to the latter, Peter explains:

All his political life, Ronald Reagan wooed voters outside his base. Who were Reagan Democrats who gave him landslide victories in 1980 and 1984? Voters of German, Irish, Italian, Polish and other ethnic backgrounds — in a word, the children and grandchildren of immigrants who entered the country at points such as Ellis Island.

Today Reagan would have wooed not only Reagan Democrats but the children and grandchildren of immigrants who entered the country from Mexico. He would have done so as a matter of principle — as we have seen, he gloried in the country’s basic openness to immigrants — but he would also have recognized that Republicans face a math problem.

Whereas the proportion of the population composed of Americans of northern European descent—the traditional Republican base—is steadily shrinking, the proportion composed of Hispanics is rapidly expanding. The GOP will capture the support of some large fraction of Hispanics or it will become as irrelevant as the Federalists and the Whigs.

There are those loud pundits — some themselves emigrants from Anglo countries — who reject all that. Our culture will be swamped! Americans will lose jobs! They will find a scrap of evidence here — ooh, look at the long line for applications at the poultry factory! — and horror stories there. And as they trumpet their opposition to immigration, they point to evidence that Hispanics remain wary of the Republican Party (well, yeah) and choose to ignore the fact that, with the exception of Jews, immigrant groups have historically become more conservative as they climbed the economic ladder.

The critics seem to want America to remain just as it is (with them safely inside the wall). But “America” is not and cannot be a static phenomenon. Quoting Reagan, Peter reminds us:

Describing America as “a shining city” in his 1989 farewell address, for example, he said, “[a]nd if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”

None of this is to excuse the unconscionable refusal to enforce our borders or the cries of “Racism!” that greet every effort to secure those borders. But “‘Senator,’ the sheriff says to Sen. McCain at the end of his advertisement, ‘you’re one of us.’ One white man to another white man — speaking the very words most likely to alienate every Hispanic voter who hears them.” And when John McCain stoops to such an ad, which — wink-wink, nod-nod — takes up the nativist line, it’s time to take stock of where we are heading and what message we are conveying to those who want a piece of the American dream.

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Welcome, Ricochet

Peter Robinson (with whom I speak here) and Rob Long (author of, among many other things, one of the funniest books ever written about Hollywood, Conversations with My Agent) have just opened up their new group blog Ricochet for general viewing, and I have to say, as a veteran group blogger here and at National Review‘s The Corner, it’s a triumphant debut. Give it a look. There are also some very, very amusing podcasts featuring Rob, Peter, and Mark Steyn.

Peter Robinson (with whom I speak here) and Rob Long (author of, among many other things, one of the funniest books ever written about Hollywood, Conversations with My Agent) have just opened up their new group blog Ricochet for general viewing, and I have to say, as a veteran group blogger here and at National Review‘s The Corner, it’s a triumphant debut. Give it a look. There are also some very, very amusing podcasts featuring Rob, Peter, and Mark Steyn.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Another reason not to write sentences like: “The city is built on delineations and differentiations, and its particular beauty is owed to its artifice, to its rejection of stillness, to the almost anarchic spectacle of its many relations.” (You have contests started in your honor to guess who wrote such drivel.)

Another reason to doubt the efficacy of sanctions: “The federal government has awarded more than $107 billion in contract payments, grants and other benefits over the past decade to foreign and multinational American companies while they were doing business in Iran, despite Washington’s efforts to discourage investment there, records show. That includes nearly $15 billion paid to companies that defied American sanctions law by making large investments that helped Iran develop its vast oil and gas reserves.”

Another reason why the Israelis, one suspects, will eventually have to take matters into their own hands: “Iran is building a new rocket launch site with North Korean assistance, Israel Radio quoted IHS Jane’s as reporting overnight Friday. … The defense intelligence group said the appearance of the launcher suggests assistance from North Korea, and that it may be intended to launch the Simorgh, a long-range Iranian-made missile unveiled in early February and officially intended to be used as a space-launch vehicle (SLV). SLV’s can be converted to be used as long-range ballistic missiles for military purposes.”

Another reason not to get into 2012 prognostications: we don’t know who is running. “After the midterm election this November, the field of candidates for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 (or later) is going to get bigger and possibly better. The list is long: Mitch Daniels, John Kasich, Meg Whitman, Bobby Jindal, Haley Barbour, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, and Jim DeMint. And [Rick] Perry.”

Another reason for Democrats to be nervous: voters trust Republicans more on eight of ten issues, including the economy, health care, taxes, social security, and national security. “Republicans lead Democrats 46% to 41% in terms of voter trust on the economy. In early January 2009, just before President Obama took office, Democrats held a nine-point lead on this issue.”

Another reason to bemoan the state of higher education (or the intellectual and ethical training of those who partake of it). Peter Robinson on the U.C. Berkeley protests over budget cuts: “We have here the vocabulary of the peace movement, of the struggle for decent conditions for migrants and other exploited workers, and of the civil-rights movement. Yet what did the protesters demand? Peace? Human rights? No. Money. And for whom? For the downtrodden and oppressed? No. For themselves. At a time when one American in 10 is unemployed and historic deficits burden both the federal government and many of the states, the protesters attempted to game the political system. They engaged in a resource grab.”

Another reason to believe Secretary Robert Gates is the most valuable member of the administration, and Joe Biden is wrong on pretty much everything: “President Barack Obama has been clear. He wants no new nukes. Pentagon chief Robert Gates has been equally direct, advocating in recent years for a new generation of warheads. … The Obama administration is acutely aware of perceptions that the Nuclear Posture Review has divided senior officials—with Vice President Joe Biden viewed as heading up an arms-control focused camp, and Gates perceived as speaking for a military and nuclear establishment that favors more funding and new weapons programs.”

Another reason not to write sentences like: “The city is built on delineations and differentiations, and its particular beauty is owed to its artifice, to its rejection of stillness, to the almost anarchic spectacle of its many relations.” (You have contests started in your honor to guess who wrote such drivel.)

Another reason to doubt the efficacy of sanctions: “The federal government has awarded more than $107 billion in contract payments, grants and other benefits over the past decade to foreign and multinational American companies while they were doing business in Iran, despite Washington’s efforts to discourage investment there, records show. That includes nearly $15 billion paid to companies that defied American sanctions law by making large investments that helped Iran develop its vast oil and gas reserves.”

Another reason why the Israelis, one suspects, will eventually have to take matters into their own hands: “Iran is building a new rocket launch site with North Korean assistance, Israel Radio quoted IHS Jane’s as reporting overnight Friday. … The defense intelligence group said the appearance of the launcher suggests assistance from North Korea, and that it may be intended to launch the Simorgh, a long-range Iranian-made missile unveiled in early February and officially intended to be used as a space-launch vehicle (SLV). SLV’s can be converted to be used as long-range ballistic missiles for military purposes.”

Another reason not to get into 2012 prognostications: we don’t know who is running. “After the midterm election this November, the field of candidates for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 (or later) is going to get bigger and possibly better. The list is long: Mitch Daniels, John Kasich, Meg Whitman, Bobby Jindal, Haley Barbour, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, and Jim DeMint. And [Rick] Perry.”

Another reason for Democrats to be nervous: voters trust Republicans more on eight of ten issues, including the economy, health care, taxes, social security, and national security. “Republicans lead Democrats 46% to 41% in terms of voter trust on the economy. In early January 2009, just before President Obama took office, Democrats held a nine-point lead on this issue.”

Another reason to bemoan the state of higher education (or the intellectual and ethical training of those who partake of it). Peter Robinson on the U.C. Berkeley protests over budget cuts: “We have here the vocabulary of the peace movement, of the struggle for decent conditions for migrants and other exploited workers, and of the civil-rights movement. Yet what did the protesters demand? Peace? Human rights? No. Money. And for whom? For the downtrodden and oppressed? No. For themselves. At a time when one American in 10 is unemployed and historic deficits burden both the federal government and many of the states, the protesters attempted to game the political system. They engaged in a resource grab.”

Another reason to believe Secretary Robert Gates is the most valuable member of the administration, and Joe Biden is wrong on pretty much everything: “President Barack Obama has been clear. He wants no new nukes. Pentagon chief Robert Gates has been equally direct, advocating in recent years for a new generation of warheads. … The Obama administration is acutely aware of perceptions that the Nuclear Posture Review has divided senior officials—with Vice President Joe Biden viewed as heading up an arms-control focused camp, and Gates perceived as speaking for a military and nuclear establishment that favors more funding and new weapons programs.”

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Fixing Europe: God or Free Markets?

In an interview with Peter Robinson at NRO’s Corner, classicist Bruce Thornton explains why Europe’s fate is sealed by its demographic decline:

“[c]hildren are expensive. They require you to sacrifice your time and your interests and your own comfort. If your highest good is pleasure, if your highest good is a sophisticated life, then children
get in the way. Why would you spend so much money and so much energy on children if your highest good is simply material well-being? That’s sort of the spiritual dimension of the problem.”

Robinson elaborates: “There are so few children in Europe, in other words, because there are so few believers.” Well, possibly. These two factors are regularly mentioned as reasons: We Europeans are hedonistic, self-indulgent and pampered creatures. Having lost our faith in God, we seek instant gratification in the materialistic pleasures of a consumerist existence. We are thus unwilling to make sacrifices to raise children. Few would dispute that career, standards of living, high levels of education, women emancipation and the sexual revolution – some of the results of secularization – have led over the last three decades to a situation where youngsters tend to marry much later in life and have less children. And this, no doubt, largely applies to the urban, upper-middle-class segment in Europe—post-national, secular, globalized, trendy, and well-paid.

But there are other reasons, which came painfully to the fore in Italy’s electoral campaign this week, during a television blunder by center-right leader and prime minister-hopeful, Silvio Berlusconi. During a talk show, Berlusconi was asked by a young woman how young couples can hope to build a family given the precarious nature of their job situation. Berlusconi, jokingly, recommended that she should marry his son or someone from the same high income category.

Berlusconi’s suggestion to marry a millionaire might sound like Marie Antoinette suggesting that if French people had no bread they should eat brioche. To be fair, Berlusconi was joking – he went on to elaborate in much more serious ways.

Here is the problem: Given Europe’s labor markets, the nature and costs of Europe’s welfare systems and the standard cost of living in European countries, young people cannot afford to marry until much later in their adult life. If you are a European in your 20’s, it will be hard to find steady employment with reasonable pay. Due to high employer costs resulting from welfare legislation and labor laws (once hired on a regular contract, it is hard and costly to fire you), you are not likely to get anything but underpaid, short-term contracts. Read More

In an interview with Peter Robinson at NRO’s Corner, classicist Bruce Thornton explains why Europe’s fate is sealed by its demographic decline:

“[c]hildren are expensive. They require you to sacrifice your time and your interests and your own comfort. If your highest good is pleasure, if your highest good is a sophisticated life, then children
get in the way. Why would you spend so much money and so much energy on children if your highest good is simply material well-being? That’s sort of the spiritual dimension of the problem.”

Robinson elaborates: “There are so few children in Europe, in other words, because there are so few believers.” Well, possibly. These two factors are regularly mentioned as reasons: We Europeans are hedonistic, self-indulgent and pampered creatures. Having lost our faith in God, we seek instant gratification in the materialistic pleasures of a consumerist existence. We are thus unwilling to make sacrifices to raise children. Few would dispute that career, standards of living, high levels of education, women emancipation and the sexual revolution – some of the results of secularization – have led over the last three decades to a situation where youngsters tend to marry much later in life and have less children. And this, no doubt, largely applies to the urban, upper-middle-class segment in Europe—post-national, secular, globalized, trendy, and well-paid.

But there are other reasons, which came painfully to the fore in Italy’s electoral campaign this week, during a television blunder by center-right leader and prime minister-hopeful, Silvio Berlusconi. During a talk show, Berlusconi was asked by a young woman how young couples can hope to build a family given the precarious nature of their job situation. Berlusconi, jokingly, recommended that she should marry his son or someone from the same high income category.

Berlusconi’s suggestion to marry a millionaire might sound like Marie Antoinette suggesting that if French people had no bread they should eat brioche. To be fair, Berlusconi was joking – he went on to elaborate in much more serious ways.

Here is the problem: Given Europe’s labor markets, the nature and costs of Europe’s welfare systems and the standard cost of living in European countries, young people cannot afford to marry until much later in their adult life. If you are a European in your 20’s, it will be hard to find steady employment with reasonable pay. Due to high employer costs resulting from welfare legislation and labor laws (once hired on a regular contract, it is hard and costly to fire you), you are not likely to get anything but underpaid, short-term contracts.

The lack of economic stability for young adults has to do with the bias of a heavily regulated market, where legislation provides entrenched privileges for those who are already in but penalizes those newcomers who are still out. Without a reasonably paid job, you have little chance of getting a decent mortgage to buy a house, you will have no money to pay for much over and above rent and bills, and therefore there is little likelihood to get married and have those expensive kids. The aggregate burden of welfare impacts all sectors and the overall cost of living: Many European singles still live with their parents, and in some countries, like Italy, companies offer lower salaries precisely on the assumption that for a long time their employees will live at home with their parents and therefore minimize their costs. It’s less about God, then, and more about labor laws.

When Berlusconi tried to reform the labor market in Italy during his previous stint as Prime minister, the main author of the reform was gunned down by Red Brigades assassins – a painful reminder of the challenges a free-market economy still faces in Europe. No serious reform was eventually passed.

Adverse labor legislation prevents young couples from bringing children into the world – with or without a God – because though they may want to, they cannot afford it. It is not that young Europeans spend too much in the pursuit of pleasure. Rather, they cannot pay for the high costs of raising a family in Europe until much later in life. Bringing God back to Europe might contribute to a shift in those demographic trends – no doubt, Islamists would concur in principle even if they differ on which god to restore – but it seems just as effective to advocate a liberalization of the labor market. After all, it is simpler to legislate liberalization than to legislate faith. Allowing Europeans in their 20’s and just out of college to enter the job market more easily and with better rewards – even as they do so with more risks – would be more effective than relying on a return of God to Europe.

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