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May 04, 2006

Immigration and the Identity Argument

It’s rather extraordinary to watch the anti-immigration folks squirm around looking for the best language to obfuscate their deepest anxieties about undocumented workers. On the day of the march, Lou Dobbs and Dana Rohrabacher were falling all over themselves remind Larry King and the rest of us that even illegal immigrants were truly wojnderful people, Salt-o-the-Earth. It’s just economics, stupid. Dana and Lou (who apparently once picked beans with folks too poor to buy blond hair dye) are just sticking up for poor real Americans who can’t find work in the fields.

On this score, Kevin Drum catches Brad Carson in a little inconsistency. Today, Carson argues that “the vast majority of those who oppose illegal immigration do so on sound public policy grounds. Illegal immigration is seen rightly as a threat to their economic livelihood.” In 2004, however, Carson acknowledged that, for the vast majority of Oklahomans “transcendent cultural concerns are more important than universal health care or raising the minimum wage.” Drum goes on to conclude:

That's exactly right. There's probably some genuine job-based animus toward illegal immigrants in the construction industry, but elsewhere you barely need to scratch the surface to figure out that anti-immigrant anxiety mostly seems to revolve around crime, gangs, culture, language, social services, and bizarrely trumped up fears of reconquista. Can we stop kidding ourselves about this?

If we don’t take at face value the economic/services argument advanced with increasing frequency by immigration opponents, then there are two alternative explanations for this shift. One, of course, is fear that they might be tarred as racist xenophobes—itself an indication that the cultural/identity argument is being morally discredited. Another possibility, however, is more intriguing. It may be that the sea of American flags visible during the May Day marches has neutralized some of those cultural fears—an indication, that is, that those arguments are being logically discredited.

Posted by stevemack at 12:53 PM | Comments (6340) | TrackBack

May 02, 2006

Immigration and the Flag

It seems odd that the day after over a million people took to the streets in cities across the nation the blogosphere has remained largely silent. Yesterday the hot topic was the “Colbert Controversy,” today . . .? There are exceptions, of course, Daily Kos provides a surprisingly neutral roundup of MSM reporting. But most seem to have missed the news completely.

I wonder if it’s fear of the dreaded backlash. That all this will backfire and undermine Democratic hopes for November appears to be the working assumption among many, but not all. One challenge to that assessment comes from Pete Ross at Donkey Rising:

“The nation-wide "Day Without Immigrants" demonstrations were a stunning success by at least one measure --- creating a stronger awareness of the enormous potential of Latino political empowerment. This is undoubtedly good news for Dems, who have received healthy majorities of votes cast by Latinos in recent elections, and stand to benefit even more in November.”

It might also be deep uncertainty about what the politics should be. Consider this from Skerry & Fernqandes at TNR Online:

“When it comes to immigration, the only surprise is surprise itself. There is little in the biography of any particular politician--not party, not ideology, not geography, not even family history--that can readily predict his or her stance on controlling America's borders. (Besides Rohrabacher, the other major opponent of immigration in Congress is a man named Tancredo.) On this issue, the talking points have not yet been written and the focus groups have not yet focused. Immigration policy is for people who love their politics raw and unscripted. It is as if debates over immigration constitute a vast thought-experiment, repeated test cases designed to tell Americans who they are and, more importantly, who they want to be.”

In the end, I believe, the politics of immigration come down to the politics of identity. It's no stretch to say that the single most important issue the marchers had to face was what flag they would fly. The implicit question was “do these folks want to join America, or reclaim it for an alien nation? By that standard, I believe, the demonstrations were a “political” success. The Stars & Stripes dominated the TV pictures—a point even made a few times on FOX. This means that in both a figurative and a psychological sense, would-be backlashers will need to direct their hate at the flag itself. Not an easy thing for many good folk in middle-red America to do.

Posted by stevemack at 06:16 AM | Comments (402)

"A Whitman for our Time."
- Jerome Loving,
"Stephen John Mack's The Pragmatic Whitman: Reimagining American Democracy, [is] The most thoroughly informed philosophical reading of Whitman to appear in decades. Mack develops the premise . . . That Whitman shares with John Dewey a vision of democracy as a 'civic religion' in America, a profoundly secularist and progressive perspective.

- M. Jimmie Killingsworth, Texas A & M University
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