The Campaign Spot

Is Jeb Bush Too Enthusiastic About Immigration?

From the last Morning Jolt of the week:

The Single Toughest Critique of Jeb Bush, From the Critic You Never Expected

Who would have figured a devastating critique of Jeb Bush – one that he and his fans would vehemently deny, of course – would come from… David Frum?

Jeb Bush will tell you that, thanks to his marriage to his Mexican-born wife, he is bicultural. Here he is speaking at New York’s 92nd Street Y in November 2013:

I’m bicultural—maybe that’s more important than bilingual. For those who have those kinds of marriages, appreciating the culture of your spouse is the most powerful part of the relationship. Being able to share that culture and live in it has been one of the great joys of my life. We chose Miami to live because it is a bicultural city. It’s as American as any, but it has a flair to it that is related to this bicultural feeling. I wanted my children to grow up in a bicultural way.

While modestly disavowing bilingualism, Jeb Bush does speak Spanish readily. (His wife, reportedly, has not become equally comfortable in English.) His three children speak both English and Spanish…

Jeb Bush’s enthusiasm for immigration, even when the immigrants are unskilled, even if they break the law, goes so deep that he even sometimes ventures to suggest that the personal characteristics of immigrants are to be preferred over those of the native-born. Here for example is an informal Jeb Bush speaking to a friendly interviewer, National Review’s Jay Nordlinger, early in 2014. “If we’re going to grow at 4% a year, we have to have young, aspiring people be able to create dynamic activity. And we can’t do that with our existing demographics.”

Bush seems to have something more in mind than just the familiar (if overstated) claim that immigration can counter the aging of the population. He seems to think that there is some quality in the immigrants themselves that is more enterprising—more dynamic to use his favorite term—than native-born Americans. This is not only a positive judgment on the immigrants themselves. It is also a negative judgment on native-born Americans…

This belief is premised both on a positive judgment about immigrants—and on an implicit assessment of American society as it exists today. Jeb Bush delivered an elaborated form of that negative assessment in a 2013 speech to the Faith and Freedom conference in Washington DC:

Immigrants create far more businesses than native-born Americans over the last 20 years. Immigrants are more fertile, and they have more intact families. They bring a younger population. The one way that we can rebuild the demographic pyramid is to fix a broken immigration system to allow for people to come, to learn English, to play by our rules, to embrace our values, and to pursue their dreams in our country with a vengeance—to create more opportunities for all of us. This is a conservative idea. If we do this, we will rebuild our country in a way that will allow us to grow. If we don’t do it, we will be in decline—because the productivity of this country is dependent on young people that are able to work hard.

I am sure many native-born Americans will justifiably bristle at the implication that they’re somehow inferior to immigrants – that they don’t work as hard, they’re not as entrepreneurial, that they don’t keep their families as intact.

For many native-born Americans, the accusation that they’re not doing their jobs, not sufficiently hard-working, or not good citizens and neighbors or parents is a smear.

But.

But…

There may be a molecule or two of truth in here, no? Don’t many Americans take the blessings, rights, and freedoms of being born American for granted? Isn’t one of our most common laments that too many Americans embrace this philosophy of entitlement and whining victimhood, while we see legal immigrants coming here and working their butts off and being thankful for the opportunity to live the American dream?

This week ABC debuted a new sitcom, “Fresh Off the Boat”, about a Taiwanese family that moves from Washington to Orlando, Florida. One of the early plotlines is the mother’s frustration that the local school is too easy for her kids and she finds the teacher’s cloud-sticker, good-effort, everyone-gets-a-participation-trophy grading system insane. The joke is that Jessica Huang – “Tiger Mom” stereotype personified – wants to push her sons to achieve their best, and she finds herself beset by a culture that tolerates mediocrity and is terrified of setting high standards. We laugh because it’s an exaggeration… but we also laugh because it strikes a chord of truth.

Frum continues:

Both Jeb Bush and Barack Obama are men who have openly and publicly struggled with their ambivalence about their family inheritance. Both responded by leaving the place of their youth to create new identities for themselves: Barack Obama, as an organizer in the poor African-American neighborhoods of Chicago; Jeb Bush in Mexico, Venezuela, and at last in Cuban-influenced Miami. Both are men who have talked a great deal about the feeling of being “between two worlds”: Obama, in his famous autobiography; Bush, in his speeches. Both chose wives who would more deeply connect them to their new chosen identity. Both derived from their new identity a sharp critique of their nation as it is. Both have built their campaign for president upon a deep commitment to fundamental transformation of their nation into what they believe it should be.

Do any words send a bigger chill down a Republican’s spine these days more than “fundamentally transform”? 

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