The Corner

The Wrong Side

From a reader in response to today’s column :

You usually make a valid point even in columns where I disagree. In this one, you don’t, and it comes across as very silly.   You have blamed the victim here, and big time. How in the hell can someone be responsible when others intentionally distort their motivations and criticisms? Those who oppose the amnesty legislation didn’t “get on the wrong side.” They were placed there, as usually happens when a deliberate attempt is made to distract from the substance of an argument.   Finally, and this chaps me as well, most polls show almost as many Democrats (and presumably liberals as well) oppose this bill as do Republicans. The constant reference to “conservative opposition” is another distortion, although I realize that is unconscious on your part.

 Me:  I just disagree. Of course, conservatives can’t be blamed for all of the distortions coming from the left and the media. But there have been serious voices on the right — including at NR — against illegal and legal immigration. Because these voices care so much more about the issue, they’ve come to define the right  at times  — particularly with the help of   liberals and the press who love casting Buchanism (for want of a better term) as the true heart of the GOP. But I don’t think the opponents of legal immigration speak for most conservatives, as we saw last night with Tancredo getting slapped down in his opposition to legal immigration. I may be blaming the victim, but the victim deserves some blame.

But I don’t want to be misunderstood here. I don’t think advocates of a moratorium on legal immigration hold an illegitimate position. Indeed, I think that’s the position of several of my colleagues and I think there are fair arguments for some kind of time-out. My point, however, is that as a political proposition, coming across as the all-out anti-immigration party is not a winning move in American politics, for good reasons. All of Derb’s or Mark Krikorians arguments about the benefits of a moratorium and the like may  be 100% correct (though that’s not my position), but being right won’t change  the fact that getting on the wrong side of the American immigration story is a sure way to lose at the polls. That’s why, whatever the best policy may be, conservatives need to reframe the argument so they don’t come across as “anti-immigrant” (Just because political consultants often sound stupid when they talk about framing doesn’t mean it’s always stupid to cast your arguments in a favorable way).

Rick Brookhiser is right that immigration isn’t the flag, but for a lot of people it’s close. That’s why Republican candidates are smart to say good things about legal immigrants while casting illegal immigration as unfair to people playing by the rules  and as a law and order or national security issue more than an immigration issue. And that’s why calling for a moratorium on legal immigration is so problematic in  the context of fighting illegal immigration. It sends the signal that illegal immigration is a just a convenient hobby horse for conservatives who are really anti-immigration of all kinds. And, again, that’s not a winning (or right) place to be in my book. 

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