As the now-faltering presidential campaign of erstwhile GOP front-runner Gov. Rick Perry illustrates, the topic of immigration can be deadly for Republicans. The reason is quite simple: the party’s elites and its grassroots have diametrically opposed positions.
For the business elites and libertarian or neoconservative intellectuals who dominate the GOP fund-raising and policy apparatus, immigration constitutes an almost unalloyed good, being seen as beneficial to America and our national prosperity, and even a fulfillment of their ideological imperatives. Meanwhile, the rightwing activists who populate the Republican base and dominate its primaries are the most vehemently anti-immigrant segment of American society. This unusual juxtaposition of polar opposites often leads to interesting political fireworks, just as might occur in the parallel situation of a militantly pro-Life party run by dedicated abortionists.
For example, within the confines of establishment Texas politics, the policy of providing in-state college tuition to illegal residents was hardly controversial, given that it had received near-unanimous support within the overwhelmingly Republican Legislature. Thus, Perry felt perfectly safe in claiming that those who criticized his position “did not have a heart,” and in doing so during a nationally televised debate. But such allegedly “heartless” sentiments are overwhelmingly popular among the conservative activists in the primary states who control Perry’s fate, and his immediate collapse in the polls led to a rapid apology, though one which may be insufficient to salvage his candidacy.
Two weeks ago, Perry’s momentum seemed almost unstoppable and if his campaign now collapses, his political tombstone will bear the single word “Immigration”…
This complex political framework is why I found the response of National Review to my recent immigration article so intriguing.
Eighteen months ago, when I published a much more narrowly-focused analysis of Hispanic crime rates, the result was an enormous burst of heated discussion throughout all corners of the ideological Internet, a debate whose echoes even reached into the decidedly bland pages of the printed edition of USA Today. But the sole neutral ground in this raucous and often angry debate—filled with praise and insults—was the mainstream conservative media, led by NR, which almost totally ignored the topic. Given nearly two-decades of bloody purges and counter-purges over that fatal topic, the very nervous silence of mainstream conservative journalists which I encountered was hardly surprising, though perhaps a bit disappointing.
Therefore, I fully expected my latest immigration article to likely meet with a similar wall of official conservative media silence, given that the policy issues and prescriptions it raised were vastly more controversial than merely an objective analysis of quantititive crime data. Instead, within just days after the release of my piece, Reihan Salam, NR’s chief domestic policy analyst, began a remarkable five-part series on my piece, written in a very thoughtful and detailed manner, and which directly excerpted numerous paragraphs of my own text to better present my own position. I provide the links below, so that readers can judge for themselves:
- “Ron Unz on Immigration, Part I: Thoughts on Paleoconservatism”
Reihan Salam, NRO/The Agenda,September 24, 2011 11:18 A.M.
- “Ron Unz on Immigration, Part II: The Immigration Enforcement Dilemma”
Reihan Salam, NRO/The Agenda,September 24, 2011 11:48 A.M.
- “Ron Unz on Immigration, Part III: What’s the Matter with California?”
Reihan Salam, NRO/The Agenda, September 24, 2011 12:18 P.M.
- “Ron Unz on Immigration, Part IV: Strange Bedfellows”
Reihan Salam, NRO/The Agenda,September 26, 2011 2:05 P.M.
- “Ron Unz on Immigration, Part V: Repatriation”
Reihan Salam, NRO/The Agenda,September 27, 2011 5:02 P.M.
Another excellent indication of the ideological contours of this issue came in a column by libertarian economist Bryan Caplan, who declared my article “one of the most bizarrely mixed bags” he’d ever read, very much appreciating some of my pro-immigrant sentiments, but being horrified at my economic analysis and my support for a higher minimum wage:
- “Unz on Immigration: A Bizarrely Mixed Bag”
Bryan Caplan, Econlog, September 27, 2011
Finally, an editor of a local Lancaster, PA newspaper wrote a long column very supportive of my arguments, providing a perspective perhaps different from that of the DC/NYC elites:
- “Higher wages, lower immigration?”
Gil Smart, Lancaster Online, September 23, 2011