by Mike Kimel
I think it was sometime in the late 90s when I first heard someone say that Reagan could never be elected to anything at the time as a Republican. This was because the Republican Party had tacked so far to the right in a decade that many who worshipped Reagan would have found his actual policies to be hopelessly leftist. I doubt Mr. Reagan would have a place in his own Party today either.
I believe a similar effect exists for the Democrats. For example, this video shows a few clips of Diane Feinstein discussing immigration in the early 1990s. While Feinstein stated in one of the clips that her views were moderate, the reality is that California Democrats have generally been left of center at every point in my lifetime.
A decade later, the stance of Senate Democrats had not changed. In 2003 senator Hilary Clinton declared herself “adamantly against illegal immigrants.” In 2006, senator Barack Obama told us that “better fences and better security along our borders” would “help stem some of the tide of illegal immigration in this country.” Senator Bernie Sanders was viewed by labor unions as a reliable ally. He railed against any sort of “immigration bill… that will lower wages and is designed to increase corporate profits” and questioned the patriotism of companies that used foreign workers instead of hiring qualified Americans.
Academics weighed in on the topic too. In 2006, Paul Krugman wrote about the issue. He started off by noting that he wished that low wage migrants’ needs didn’t conflict with those of Americans, but that he had to admit they did. (He specifically discussed low wage migrants and not illegal immigrants, but there is a fair amount of overlap.). He noted that whatever benefits there are from low wage immigration, they accrue entirely to the immigrants themselves. As he noted, there is no marginal product generated by low wage immigrants left over to benefit the non immigrants. He also wrote that such immigrants depress wages, and cited figures from the National Research Council showing that low wage immigrants impose a fiscal burden on the country equal to about a quarter of a percent of the GDP. (Note: the miracle of compound growth works both ways.) He finished by stating that “you’d be hard pressed to find any set of assumptions under which Mexican immigrants are a net fiscal plus….”
Any one of those worthies might have added one more potential drawback of illegal immigration, which is the very fact that it is, or was at the time, illegal. By operating outside the system, illegal immigrants made it harder for authorities to monitor compliance across a range of issues from environmental regulations to workplace rules. Nor is it good for social cohesion. In any case, there were a fair number of reasons why the needs of illegal immigrants were incompatible with the needs of traditional labor.
Fast forward another decade, and the statements quoted above are viewed as racist by much of the Democratic establishment, probably to include the very people who said them in the first place. Only a deplorable person would say such things now.
This public change in the stance of he Party leaders came quickly and abruptly, without so much as an announcement that they, and we, have always been at war with Eurasia. The brighter of the followers realized that the guns were now pointed in a different direction and got with the program. But a substantial chunk of the party’s hoi polloi has not properly internalized the message. According to a Pew Poll, among those who considered themselves Democrats or who leaned Democrat around the time of the last Presidential election, only 46% thought it was an important or somewhat important goal to establish a way for people here illegally to stay legally. 41% thought it was important or somewhat important to increase deportations.
Despite these retrograde views, there is hope even for many of the laggards among the peasantry. After all, the suddenness in their leaders’ public stance covers over a long metamorphosis. That began with a gradual softening of opinions toward the undocumented as individuals. The very illegal-ness of the undocumented makes them another David being exploited by the Corporate Goliath. And that, in turn, made it easy, at least for a while, to paper over the fact that in general, illegal immigration harms the traditional constituency of the Party. But as demographics changed, the contradictions grew and came to the fore. A side had to picked. And it was that shift in demographics that made the decision easy for the Democratic leadership.
However, the change in demographics didn’t eliminate the conflict between the needs of old labor and the new workers. It didn’t change math, or statistics. And it didn’t change what those self-same leaders had previously said. Nor does it change the law that many of the leaders are, very literally, sworn to uphold.
It also begs a question. If these laws are so bad and so wrong, why not work to have them changed? There is, after all, a way to ensure that nobody will ever be an undocumented alien again. All it would take would be for everyone who is in the US, or would like to be in the US, to be declared a legal immigrant… or even a citizen. But this is not something anyone wants, most especially, perhaps, the illegal immigrants themselves. What they want is for their situation to be regularized and for their families to receive benefits. What they don’t want is more competition for jobs which would drive down their income, nor more families seeking benefits who might take more out of the system than they put in.
All of which leads to the second change the Party leaders have exhibited when it comes to this issue: the utter contempt they have for traditional labor interests today. People whose wages have been stagnant for decades, whose jobs are disappearing, and who believe that immigration laws should be enforced are, by definition, racist. They are the old, the past, the culturally blah, and fortunately, the soon-to-be replaced.
Why the vehemence? It is an old need, one discussed by Sinclair Lewis, but which Stalin used and abused in the old Soviet Union: the need for self-preservation. An expert or authority who publicly states a position but changes her stance out of expedience will always be on shaky ground. Any display of piety may be insufficient, any original thought may be blasphemy, all the more so for someone with what is now a tainted past.
There are, for our poor expert, only two safe positions. One is to parrot back the gospel, word for word. But the gospel is short and staying in the public eye (not to mention ahead of the mob) requires a lot of statements. Which leads to the second safe position: attacking enemies. The worst enemies for any ideology, of course, are the apostates and heretics. But even within apostasy and heresy, there are degrees. The worst of the worst are the traitors who don’t understand naskh. They don’t accept that truth can be abrogated. They refuse to abandon their long standing principles and to screw over old allies despite knowing that doing so was now in the best interests of their superiors. These people are deadly to any movement, for there can be no cause if the followers refuse to do the bidding of their leaders.
And new causes abound. There are a number of issues on which the Democratic Party has changed its position, not to say its principles, just in the last decade or so. If you cannot name a handful in the course of about a minute, you are not drinking the Kool-Aid. You are free-basing it.
In and of itself, of course, a change isn’t bad or good. On this issue – attitudes toward illegal immigration – for example, perhaps there is a good reason, a moral imperative why traditional labor should look forward to a simultaneous decrease in their earnings and a weakening of the government’s fiscal position (leading to either higher taxes, or fewer benefits, or both). Maybe the undocumented immigrants truly are more deserving than those who aren’t undocumented immigrants. But nobody has adequately explained that in a calm and collected way to the losers in this process. Nor has anyone explained why we would stop there. After all, there are plenty more people who would happily ignore the laws of the land to come here, but have been prevented from doing so by an accident of geography or circumstances. Are they less deserving than those who have already ignored the laws of the land?
All these changes in the position of the Democrats have been accompanied by one more change: a change in how the Party treats dissent. These days, where it holds positions that contradict past Democratic principles, the Party’s leadership will tolerate no questions, no contradictions, and no complaints. The Big Tent has been burned to the ground, its ashes have been scattered, and the ground on which it once stood has been salted. Those who believe in the old ways, whether because of respect for laws, or based on evidence, or even from self-interest are racist scum. That goes double if the racist scum refuse to vote for their former friends who now make a career out of denouncing them.