The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Uh-Oh. The Immigration Hawks Are Underwhelmed by the White House’s Proposal.

Mark Krikorian, who probably knows the details of immigration policy inside and out better than anyone, is not pleased with the White House’s offer on immigration reform.

The amnesty and chain migration components are fatally flawed. The fact that the amnesty would include a path to citizenship (i.e., the beneficiaries would eventually get green cards like regular immigrants) is fine with me – if you’re going to amnesty illegal aliens, just rip off the band-aid and get it over with. Instead, the issue is the size of the amnesty, or rather the universe of people who would be amnestied.

If – as the White House promised just days ago – the amnesty were confined to those who now actually have DACA work permits (or even those who had them but didn’t renew), administering the amnesty would be relatively straightforward. All those people are already in the DHS database, and even if they were all re-examined as part of the amnesty process (to weed out the fraudsters that snuck past Obama’s eagle-eyed DHS), it could still be done relatively quickly and with minimal disruption of the work of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the DHS component that deals with green cards, work permits, and the like.

But going beyond DACA beneficiaries to those who could have applied but didn’t is a different thing. It’s not just a difference in degree, but in kind. A whole new process will have to be set up for the 1 million additional people who would be expected to apply. The other work of USCIS would grind to a halt, delaying other legal immigration applications, as happened when DACA was originally implemented (and remember that Obama’s DACA amnesty was smaller than what Trump is proposing). In addition, there would be an opportunity cost, with USCIS unable to pursue many urgently needed administrative reforms.

This objection from Krikorian is why the details and fine print matter:

The outline says that no new applications for the visa lottery and the chain-migration categories would be accepted, limiting family immigration to spouses and minor children. Great! But it also provides for the continuation of those categories (and reallocation of the lottery visas) until the admission of all 4 million people on the current chain-migration waiting lists. This is the same gimmick that was in the Hagel-Martinez amnesty bill in 2007 – and the estimate at the time was that it would take 17 years before all those people got their green cards. In other words, legal immigration would not actually be reduced until after President Kamala Harris’s successor took office.

I’m one of those folks who is fine with a modest decrease in legal immigration, and who doesn’t think that amounts to “xenophobia” or “anti-immigrant policies.” (I recall arguing with Nick Gillespie on Twitter about this; he seemed to contend that wanting any reduction in immigration amounted to being “anti-immigrant.”) We accept roughly one million legal immigrants per year. That seems like a lot. Put another way, each year we welcome a population the size of San Jose, California or Austin, Texas.

What if we only accepted a Charlotte (840,000) or a Seattle (700,000) or a Baltimore (614,000)? Can anyone, with a straight face, contend that a policy change of allowing hundreds of thousands of people to legally immigrate is xenophobic?

Off to California . . . 

Good morning! I’m off to the Koch Seminar Network’s Winter Meeting in Indian Wells, California, where the Koch brothers and the good folks associated with their various organizations will assess the work ahead in 2018. Those groups include Americans for Prosperity, which focuses on tax and spending issues; the Libre Initiative, aimed at America’s Latino communities; Generation Opportunity, which focuses on Millennials; Concerned Veterans for America, which addresses veterans’ issues; and the arm founded last year, Stand Together, which endeavors to build social capital.

It should be strangely cheery; in 2016, Charles Koch described the choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as choosing between “cancer and a heart attack.” These men and their affiliated groups are better thought of as libertarian-leaning, and Trump-style populism just isn’t their thing. But the economy is roaring, regulations are being rescinded, and the president hasn’t started a trade war yet.

At last year’s meeting, there was general optimism about the Trump cabinet choices and tax cuts and reducing regulations. But the Koch groups strongly opposed the discussion of a potential “Border Adjustment Tax” — a tax on imports and a wariness about big infrastructure projects. Also, the first version of the so-called “Muslim ban” dropped during the conference, triggering confusion, protest and chaos in the country’s airports, and the group announced opposition to that policy. A few weeks later, the network made a big push for Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation in the Senate.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of last year’s meeting was the showcase of innovation — crowdsourced prosthetic hands for kids, telemedicine, entrepreneurial programs for incarcerated criminals to teach them skills for life after prison. I got to chat briefly with inventor Dean Kamen — you know him from the Segways you see zipping around — about his Slingshot device that can bring clean water to remote or dangerous areas. Politics and governance matter a lot, but creative problem-solving from great minds are what can really transform this country for the better.

The Strange, Forgotten History of Murphy Brown

They’re bringing back the old CBS sitcom Murphy Brown.

It’s worth recalling that for the first few seasons, the show was, for its time, pretty funny and not liberal agitprop. It was a classic workplace sitcom with some pretty talented performers and some instantly recognizable characters: the neurotic, stressed executive producer Miles; the stuffy, slightly-stuck-up anchor Jim; the insecure, competitive Frank, and the bimbo-esque Corky. Almost every week, Murphy would have some new wildly dysfunctional secretary, guaranteed to be fired within a few days. When out of the workplace, Murphy was bedeviled by her philosophical and unmotivated house painter Eldin (played Robert Pastorelli, the pride of Edison, New Jersey). Yes, the dirty little secret was that this was an ensemble show, where Candice Bergen’s role as Murphy was to respond acerbically to the wackiness of the characters around her, the last sane woman in an insane world.

Sure, by being set in Washington and in the news business, the show was always nominally political, but it was usually an offhand joke about “Strom Thurmond” or the Supreme Court or something. As the Onion’s AV Club observed, “The way the writers just drop in names like “Pat Buchanan” and “Bella Abzug” (and for that matter, “Barry Manilow”) as automatic laugh-getters, regardless of the context, resembles nothing so much as a Johnny Carson monologue on an off night.” But it became primarily defined and remembered by the events of the 1992 presidential campaign.

After a few seasons, the creators felt the need to shake things up a bit and decided Murphy Brown would become pregnant after sleeping with her ex-husband, an underground radical who had no interest in becoming a father. Then in May 1992, Vice President Dan Quayle gave his infamous speech that included a reference to the show. This is the section that referred to the character:

However, marriage is a moral issue that requires cultural consensus, and the use of social sanctions. Bearing babies irresponsibly is, simply, wrong. Failure to support children one has fathered is wrong. We must be unequivocal about this.

It doesn’t help matters when prime time TV has Murphy Brown — a character who supposedly epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly paid, professional woman — mocking the importance of a father, by bearing a child alone, and calling it just another “lifestyle choice.”

Nothing in Quayle’s first paragraph is wrong. But in the second paragraph, the vice president didn’t quite describe the character’s situation and perspective right. While the ex-husband character should have been a better man, the storyline made clear he was not likely to ever become more responsible or less selfish. In some ways, the Murphy Brown character was making a radically conservative choice both for the time and for the implied moral lesson. In a circumstance where a significant percentage of “intelligent, highly paid, professional women” would have an abortion, Murphy Brown chose life.

With Quayle’s speech, the show now had an enemy, one that it and the rest of Hollywood and the media lashed at relentlessly and with relish. Quayle’s speech was written into the season premiere in the fall. Everyone who already thought Quayle was a bumbling fool laughed and contended he couldn’t tell fiction from reality and was somehow attacking single mothers.

But something strange happened after the controversy passed. After about a season, the character of the baby, Avery . . . more or less disappeared, with Murphy beginning scenes with a quick mention that Avery was with “the nanny” or “the sitter” or other circumstances off-screen. The show’s producers realized they didn’t want to turn the show into a working-mom family sitcom; the workplace comedy was their bread and butter. It was something of a strange vindication for Quayle; whether or not the fictional character Murphy Brown was ready for the responsibilities of parenthood, her writers and her audience were not.

Of course, in real life, you can’t hand-wave away a baby. And as time passed, Dan Quayle’s perspective changed from some laughable nonsense to . . . a much more widely-accepted truth. In 1993, The Atlantic shocked readers with a cover declaring, “Dan Quayle Was Right.”

According to a growing body of social-scientific evidence, children in families disrupted by divorce and out-of-wedlock birth do worse than children in intact families on several measures of well-being. Children in single-parent families are six times as likely to be poor. They are also likely to stay poor longer. Twenty-two percent of children in one-parent families will experience poverty during childhood for seven years or more, as compared with only two percent of children in two parent families. A 1988 survey by the National Center for Health Statistics found that children in single-parent families are two to three times as likely as children in two-parent families to have emotional and behavioral problems. They are also more likely to drop out of high school, to get pregnant as teenagers, to abuse drugs, and to be in trouble with the law. Compared with children in intact families, children from disrupted families are at a much higher risk for physical or sexual abuse.

None of this is contending that single parents are bad — the vast majority are heroic, and doing the best that they can in difficult circumstances. It’s just that parenting, like so many other actions in life, is easier when you have a partner.

Ironically, actress Candice Bergen relished the mockery of Quayle but . . . didn’t really disagree with his point. By 2012, Bergen declared, “I never have really said much about the whole episode, which was endless. But his speech was a perfectly intelligent speech about fathers not being dispensable and nobody agreed with that more than I did.”

Politics actually made Murphy Brown a worse, less funny, less enjoyable show; it will be interesting to see how political the new version is.

ADDENDA: Everyone should always listen to Ramesh, but Republicans in Congress should particularly listen to him right now and carefully read his suggestions for a legislative agenda for the coming year:

If Republicans in D.C. asked for my advice, I’d tell them that health care, immigration, middle-class taxes, and higher education are their most promising legislative issues for the year. (Come to think of it, I’m giving them that advice right now without their asking.) They might be able to do some good on these issues. Trying might also help them cut their election losses a little. Especially given that the less they are talking about legislation, the more they will be talking about Trump’s tweets.


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