Andy- Of course, Derb’s correspondent has a point. And yes, Derb does too when he says that the “open borders” people use the “nation of immigrants” language to fight for their position. But, the idea that Derb’s correspondent speaks for the authentic, real, America — which is a major implication in his email — is the real flapdoodle. I often pound my spoon on my high chair on the arrogance of East Coast elites. But the nation of immigrants story is hardly their sole property. The Irish and Italians of Boston, Rhode Island, Philly and New York don’t all spend their days rooting for France and doing the New York Times crossword puzzles. If, for the moment we take it as a given that the residents of the American middle are all descendants of Mayflower pilgrims, surely it’s not irrelevant that the most populous regions of the country think the “nation of immigrants” story is something to take pride in and something very real. Coastal ethnics are Americans too, right? The 10th generation Iowan is no more American than the first or second generation New Yorker, right? Deferring to their vision of America bespeaks an unwarranted deference for middle American flapdoodlery.
Second, but the real point is that Derb’s reader doesn’t speak for all of Middle America, at least when it comes to the nation of immigrants story (as to the actual public policy issues, he may be more representative). Visit the cities of the Midwest more often. St. Louis, St. Paul, Minneapolis, et al are hardly Petri dishes of undiluted Puritan stock. Chicago is hardly without its allegiance to the immigrant’s tale. Just ask the hundreds of thousands of Chicagoland Poles, Ukrainians, and Russians for starters. It’s no small irony that Ramesh Ponnuru comes from….Kansas. The “vast middle swath” of America is not peopled with 10th generation Americans who see the nation of immigrant story as alienating. The upper Midwest is full of Scandanavians, Germans and the like. Indeed, much of the Mid-western populism is not derived from Daughters of the American Revolution types but from the grandkids of Europeans not long off the boat.
Which Middle America is this guy talking about that sees the civil war as so central to its self-understanding? It’s not the Midwest or the Southwest, at least from my experience. If he means the South, he should say so, as there’s no shame in it. But it’s hardly shocking that Southerners would have a uniquely strong relationship to the Civil War. But the idea that for the rest of middle (read: “real”) America the nation of immigrants story is crowded out by the Civil War strikes me as nonsense. Having driven across this country more than a half-dozen times, it seems transparently obvious that not only is the “nation of immigrants” story still operative, but the nation of immigrants story is in fact true.
Now again, for the sake of argument, Derb may be 1,000% right on the merits of immigration policy. And he may be similarly correct that the “nation of immigrants” line has been hijacked by people with bad agendas. And I agree with Rick Brookhiser 100% that whatever the narratives and teams of the past may have been we have to do what is right for American now. But, spitting on the nation of immigrants story will not win any arguments for conservatives and will only cause the choir to nod. It’s as doomed to failure as the another tactic we see from time to time of attacking racial preferences by ridiculing the idea of equality. Those dogs won’t hunt in American politics –for good reason — and the sooner conservatives recognize that, the sooner they’ll make headway on these issues.