First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
A Moderate Democrat's Open Letter to Republicans:
I'm writing this on the Monday before the New Hampshire primary. I don't know the outcome, but the news today is all about Obama drawing bigger crowds than Clinton, and about how Mitt Romney's tough stand on illegal immigration in the debate is swinging Republican voters strongly toward him and away from McCain and Huckabee.
Smart move, Mitt.
For the moment.
But in the long run, if illegal immigration becomes the main issue on which a Republican secures his party's nomination, it is a potential disaster -- for the Republican Party and for the country.
Why This Election Matters So Much
Every presidential election has been important -- even when our ancestors elected such forgettable presidents as Pierce and ... well, they're only forgettable if you don't know enough about what was at stake.
Because it's not just about whom we happen to elect. It's just as much about whom we choose not to elect.
What would have happened if Teddy Roosevelt had been president when the Germans sank the Lusitania? Or if Adlai Stevenson had been president in the 1950s instead of Eisenhower? Or if Nixon had been elected instead of Kennedy in 1960?
This year, though, is one of those pivotal elections that may well set America's future course for decades -- possibly forever. Like the election of 1860, the issues are vital and clear -- and the future almost impossible to read, except that really bad things might happen.
We are a nation at war, with the intellectual and media establishment -- the universities, most television, and most newspapers -- so passionate to stop the war that they seem willing to throw away any chance of victory as soon as possible, lest we win before they can secure our defeat.
The Democratic Party is going to nominate someone committed to that position -- ending the war immediately, without possibility of victory. All of its leading candidates are pledged to that position.
Of course, the last time we had a Democratic president he kept exactly none of his campaign pledges, and only began to govern at all effectively when he got a Republican majority in Congress. But we can't count on the eventual Democratic candidate to be quite that dishonest, unless of course we choose another Clinton.
The Republicans, therefore, remain our only hope of finding a president who will prosecute this war fully and effectively for the years remaining.
That means someone who will be moderate and judicious, using military force only when necessary to prevent Al-Qaeda, Taliban, or other extremist Muslims from gaining or keeping a power base from which to launch jihadist attacks against America or other Western countries.
Too aggressive, and our president will unite all of Islam against us, and then we will have a genuine World War III, for who can doubt that China and Russia would arm and train them to bring us down?
Too timid, and our president will signal our Islamicist enemies that we are back to the weakness of the Clinton years, and they can do what they want, using attacks on the West to boost their prestige and power in the Islamic world.
In other words, we need a president who is as resolute, careful, and moderate as George W. Bush has been (despite the obviously false claims of his enemies).
There are several candidates in the Republican race who might just be that president: Giuliani, Romney, and perhaps McCain (though moderation has never been his hallmark). Each has his virtues, each his problems.
I am a Democrat, and wish fervently that my party would nominate someone I could vote for. But the Lose-This-War-At-Any-Cost faction has so dominated the party for the past few years that no candidate can be nominated without promising to behave with complete irresponsibility in foreign affairs.
As attractive as Obama is in other ways -- for he is the only candidate I could seriously consider on the Democratic side -- his pledge to end the Iraq campaign without victory makes it impossible for me to vote for him ...
Unless the Republicans nominate someone under circumstances that make it impossible for a moderate like me to vote for him.
Here is the great irony: Even as President Bush's policies are leading us to victory in Iraq, which will certainly make the war a huge plus for the Republican Party, the Republican candidates are ignoring the war and beating each other up over an issue that could well destroy the Republican Party for years to come.
I speak, of course, of Mexican immigration into the United States.
For the emotional issues that the extremists on the issue emphasize have nothing to do with illegal immigrants and everything to do with the increasing number of brown-skinned, Spanish-speaking immigrants in our country -- regardless of whether they are here legally or not.
For instance, one of the greatest complaints against "illegal immigrants" is that they are refusing to learn English and are not assimilating. The scholarly in this camp invoke the example of ancient Rome, which invited large, coherent, undigested and unassimilable groups of Germans within the boundaries of the empire.
I could happily spend many pages pointing out why this is not the clearcut example they suppose it to be, but instead I will simply point out what should be obvious: First generation immigrants rarely become fluent in their new language.
Meanwhile, the second generation of legal Hispanic immigrant families is becoming fluent at about the normal rate. It's a non-issue. They're not stupid -- they know their lives will be better when they're fluent in English, and even better if they have no accent.
The illegals have far less chance to become fluent because they are, essentially, in hiding; the less contact they have with native-born English-speakers, the safer they are.
So keeping them illegal is also keeping them from learning English. Giving them legal status would make it far more likely that English would remain the dominant language in America.
Another of the big complaints against illegals is "they don't pay taxes."
Well, duh. You can't pay taxes without a social security number. If we gave them legal status they'd have that number, and then they could pay taxes.
However, it's a non-issue for another reason: Most illegals are paid so little that their income never rises high enough for them to pay income tax!
But that's the only tax they don't pay. Illegals pay sales taxes as surely as everyone else does. Since almost all of them rent, they also pay property taxes the way all renters do -- they pay their landlord, and the landlord pays the property taxes out of their rent money.
So they are paying taxes, at exactly the same rate as any native born low-income Americans. Only the Mexican-haters want to deprive them of any of the benefits that they are, in fact, paying for.
In fact, I believe that illegal immigrants are, indirectly, paying a far higher tax rate than other low-income Americans. We don't call it a tax, but it amounts to the same thing: I refer to the sharp increase in buying power for all Americans because illegal immigrants work for subminimum wages, thus keeping prices in the stores lower for everyone.
If the illegals were all booted out at once, you'd see just how much they were putting in your pocket, because the cost of many goods and services would rise sharply, and you would have to choose which you could no longer afford. Just as surely as if the government had raised your taxes -- it'll come right out of your pockets.
The truth is that illegal immigrants, because they can be cheated and oppressed with impunity due to their lack of protection by the government (which they do pay taxes to support), are subsidizing for all Americans a higher lifestyle than we could otherwise afford.
I've heard some complain with resentment that the illegals don't want to be citizens, that they wave the Mexican flag and despise America.
First, I know for a fact that that is not the feeling of most Mexican immigrants, legal or not.
Second, why should illegal immigrants not feel greater allegiance to Mexico? America keeps telling them that they don't belong here, they aren't welcome, there's no road for them to have legal status and never will be.
We're forbidding them to fly the American flag. Change our law, and loyalty to America might start making sense to them.
This one is obvious: Because we declare all these illegal immigrants to be criminals and threaten to deport them if they're caught, they can't cooperate with the police to report the real criminals who hide among them and prey on them.
By treating all these illegal immigrants as criminals, threatening them with a draconian penalty, without hope of amnesty, we guarantee that crime will thrive among them because they can't take any action to get rid of it.
The illegal immigration problem is a completely circular one. Most of my Republican friends in the anti-illegal-immigrant camp are not bigots, but instead are genuinely concerned about the safety and security issue (i.e., are terrorists being smuggled in along with the illegal Mexican workers? Do the illegals include a disproportionate number of career criminals?).
I ask you, please, to look closely at the way our current immigration laws contribute to or cause all the problems that actually worry you.
If we converted the status of all our present illegal immigrants to legal immigrant or legal migrant worker status, then key changes would happen instantly:
1. All these immigrants or workers would come under the protection of laws they already are taxed to support: Minimum wage, health and safety laws, and so on.
2. These immigrants would now have an incentive to report the criminals who, after all, prey mostly on them.
3. Coming out of hiding, it would be far easier for these immigrants, and their children, to learn English and become full participants in American culture.
If we took any of these rational steps (which are called "amnesty" in tones that suggest it's a hideous disease) we could come far closer to a solution to all the problems that the anti-illegal-immigrant faction claims as their reasons for opposing amnesty.
Won't Amnesty Encourage More Illegal Immigration?
I laughed out loud when I heard Mitt Romney state that if you give amnesty to illegals, it will just encourage more illegal immigration.
Well, Mitt, what if we change the law so that Mexicans who are desperate to feed their families and improve their lives can come into our country legally?
Do you really think that if our doors stood open, providing a legal path to entry, any of these Mexicans would prefer to enter the U.S. illegally?
Do you think they would put themselves or their families at the mercy of the real criminals -- the heartless smugglers who don't care whether their cargo lives or dies?
So if you grant amnesty and make legal entry possible, you will not be encouraging illegal immigration in any way.
This argument therefore depends completely on a commitment to keeping Mexicans out. Anti-amnesty only matters if you are also Anti-Mexican-immigrant.
Please notice that the very same people who are most vehemently anti-amnesty -- the Pat Buchanan-style nativists -- are also most vehemently against opening the door to more legal immigration. It's not amnesty they hate, and not law-breaking ... it's Mexicans.
I know hundreds of Mexican and Latin-American people, and person for person, I think they all make better Americans than any of the bigots who want to bar them from this country.
America is America because our dream is open to the world. Those who would close that door, especially on the basis of race or language, are anti-Americans, as far as I'm concerned. They're certainly against the America that welcomed my despised, law-defying Puritan and, later, Mormon ancestors.
Do You Think Hispanic Voters Are Blind?
Here's why this whole anti-illegal-immigrant brouhaha amounts to political suicide for the Republican Party.
Hispanics aren't blind or deaf. They know who hates them, and they aren't going to vote for that party, ever.
Legal Hispanic-Americans are now about as big a voting bloc as African-Americans. And Republican behavior and rhetoric right now could not be better designed to guarantee that Hispanic voters will be every bit as much in the pocket of the Democratic Party as American Black voters now are.
Do you Republicans understand the demographics here? The Republican Party owns the White male vote right now -- if White males were the only voters, there would have been no Clinton years and Bush would have won in a landslide in both 2000 and 2004.
But White males are just another minority group. Furthermore, the Republican Party does not own them the way that the Democratic Party owns Blacks and is setting up to own Hispanics. Republicans aren't getting 90% of the White male vote. In fact, White males keep thinking that nobody owns them, and many of them swing back and forth between parties.
So when Republicans permanently alienate Hispanic voters the way they have alienated Black voters, they are getting relatively little in return.
(It's worth pointing out that once a group is completely owned by one party, that party only has to toss them a sop now and then -- politicians only keep their promises to swing groups. That's why Blacks, loyal to the Democratic Party, have so little to show for it.
(If Blacks ever cast even thirty percent of their votes for a Republican, the behavior of panicking White Democrats in Congress would change radically, as would the behavior of ecstatic White Republicans: Black voters would matter again.
(That's why careerist Black "leaders" are so eager to convince you that any Black Republican is a "race traitor," so you won't actually get uppity and consider unauthorized ideas and unapproved candidates.
(That's what it means to be "owned." Hispanics will find the same thing, in due time. Being owned by one party -- either of them -- means you have no party.)
Americans Are Ashamed of Bigotry
In the Republican primaries, this anti-illegal-immigration thing is playing big. Not because all Republicans are bigots -- that is far from the case. Most Republicans are not bigots.
But because the non-bigot Republicans are hearing anti-immigration nonsense from the same people who are talking sense about the war and taxes and other issues, they are not thinking things through. Neither are the party leaders.
This election will not be won by appealing to the hard-core anti-illegal-immigration voters. They will vote Republican no matter what.
This election will be won by whoever appeals most to the swing voters -- moderate Republicans, pro-defense Democrats, and independents who are generally disgusted with both parties -- groups that are far, far larger than either party's leadership seems to realize.
And whoever the Democratic candidate is, he will easily destroy any Republican candidate for whom illegal immigration has been a major issue.
Back in 1964, Lyndon Johnson ran a television spot that, while it was grossly unfair, had an enormous emotional impact on moderates and went a long way toward destroying Barry Goldwater's candidacy.
Goldwater was strongly anti-Communist and favored dramatic escalation in the then-nascent Vietnam War, with victory as a goal. Johnson -- who would go on to escalate the war, but without victory as a goal -- wanted to paint Goldwater as such a warmonger that it would lead to nuclear war between the USSR and the United States.
So after a sound bite from Johnson opposing escalation in the war, he showed a little girl sitting in a field, counting petals on a daisy. Then her voice was topped by a man counting down -- which every American recognized as the precursor to a launch. Three, two, one ... and a mushroom cloud arose behind her.
The ad ran only once. But its penetration into the public consciousness was complete. Everyone got the message. Goldwater lost in the biggest landslide in history up till then.
The Democratic "Nuclear" Ad
I know exactly the ad that the Democratic candidate will run to destroy the anti-amnesty Republican candidate -- Mitt Romney, let's say.
Here are the visuals: A couple of cute Mexican children, looking frightened, faces tear-streaked, dressed in ragged clothes, being dragged along by adult hands. We don't see the adults.
Then the camera angle widens and we watch as they are herded between rows of soldiers holding guns that are pointed at them. The guns terrify the children and they cry.
Then the camera pulls back and we see that these are American soldiers, and the children are being dragged by their terrified parents, and they are being forced into a huge refugee camp, tents and shacks and cardboard boxes and families sleeping in the open air.
Here is what you'll hear underneath this ad:
"Their parents committed a terrible crime. They dared to come illegally into a country where they could earn a better living. They didn't want to break the law. They just wanted their children to grow up with hope.
"Mitt Romney wants to take away that hope."
Now there's a sound bite of Romney saying that illegals will never get amnesty and must leave America.
The narration continues: "Millions of children who have never known any other home but America. Forced into refugee camps in a country that has no room for them, no work for their parents, no way to feed them."
Then you end with a picture of Romney at a banquet with lots of rich white people.
Crossfade to a picture of Barack Obama speaking to a crowd. "America is still a land of hope and opportunity. Reform immigration law, allow these hardworking parents into our country legally, so they can work to feed their families and help drive our economy."
Image: The Statue of Liberty. Brief superimposition of that refugee camp; then a thunking sound and the refugee camp disappears. "Obama in 2008" says the caption.
Anti-Immigrant Candidates Don't Win
California and Texas and other states have had anti-immigrant candidates for years. They win some primaries, some local elections, but they rarely win big. (Nor did their precursors, the Know-Nothings, ever capture the presidency, even when they nominated a former president.)
Harping on illegal immigrants didn't help Tancredo become a viable candidate.
This issue is political suicide for the Republican Party. If a candidate wins the Republican nomination with this issue tied around his neck, he will lose the general election.
And with the Republicans firmly identified as the party of bigotry and cruelty, and with Blacks and Hispanics fully owned by the Democratic Party, Republicans will have as much chance in the next few elections as the Democrats did when they kept nominating William Jennings Bryan back around the turn of the last century.
Ordinarily, as a Democrat, I would simply chortle with delight at such self-defeating behavior by Republicans.
But right now, my party is behaving insanely on the issue of the war against Islamic Jihadists. If my party wins this election, they will feel fully vindicated in that nation-wrecking policy, and America, along with the rest of the world, will pay for such a mistake in blood and terror for decades to come.
It is vital for our nation's future that the anti-defense, anti-victory party lose this election.
So when I see the pro-victory party setting themselves up for defeat, practically forcing moderates and swing voters to vote for the Democratic candidate, it leads me to despair.
So to moderate, non-bigoted Republicans -- the vast majority of the Republican Party -- I plead: Think about the things I've said here.
Think about how to solve the illegal immigrant problem rationally -- not by expelling them from the country, not by depriving them of hope, but by combining immigration law reform with a reasonable amnesty program that does not force millions of people into refugee camps just across the border in Mexico.
Won't they just love showing those camps on European -- and Muslim -- television stations.
Who's going to pay for those refugee camps? We are, of course. Wouldn't it be cheaper to leave the illegal immigrants on the job and in their homes, while the law changes around them? It would certainly be better public relations.
President Bush and many in Congress already offered America an excellent compromise, a fair law, which would have solved most of the problems. If moderate Republicans -- like McCain and Giuliani have been in the past on this issue -- would join President Bush and moderate Democrats, we can pass a law that makes illegal immigration disappear as an issue before the next election.
The only people who don't want that outcome are the Mexican-hating bigots -- they would rather destroy the Republican Party than tolerate a change in the law that would allow more brown-skinned Spanish speakers a chance to become full-fledged English-speaking Americans.
But do they really speak for you? Please tell me it ain't so.
And to you, Mitt Romney, if you win in New Hampshire on the backs of hard-working, brave Mexicans who put their family's welfare ahead of obedience to a cruel and useless immigration law, then shame on you. Shame on you as an American. Shame on you as a Christian. Shame on you as the son of a man who stood for fairness and civil rights and tolerance back before it was popular to do so.
You lost in Iowa, Mitt Romney, because your opponent played to the bigotry of anti-Mormons. How can you turn around and campaign in New Hampshire by playing on the bigotry of anti-Mexicans?
I hope you lose in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney. I hope you realize that taking Tancredo's place as the leader of the xenophobic wing of the Republican Party is a losing proposition.
Then maybe you'll become again what I think you really want to be, at heart: A true moderate, a man who could preside over all the people of America -- even the ones who came here from Mexico under the wire, most of whom long to be citizens just like your ancestors and mine.
Only then will you deserve a shot at being president.
Just How Christian Are We?
Many Republicans are fond of saying that America is a Christian country. They claim to believe that we are all sinners, dependent on the mercy and forgiveness of Christ.
Which is why I'm baffled that so many of the same folks are grimly determined to deny any chance of amnesty -- a synonym for forgiveness or pardon -- to people whose crime is only a crime because a law we could easily change declares it so.
Americans may let themselves get hot under the collar about immigration, especially when demagogues exaggerate and misrepresent the "threat" of illegal immigrants.
But in the voting booth, most Americans consult their consciences. Most Americans will not vote for a candidate whose platform is built on hate and fear of strangers.
And if Obama is the Democratic candidate, and his Republican opponent is tied to an anti-Hispanic-immigrant platform, then the choice in that voting booth will be easy:
Elect the first man of color to the presidency, or elect a man whose plan is to expel millions of hard-working brown people and their innocent children from our country.
It will be a landslide.
And then, if Barack Obama keeps his promise and brings us to defeat in the war against terrorists, and the lunatic wing of the Democratic Party takes his victory as a vote for their insane anti-American foreign policy, where will our country be then?
Of course, I might be wrong, and you might win with an anti-Mexican-immigrant platform. But I would not find that reassuring.
I don't want to live under shari'a -- but I also don't want to live under a government that drives hard-working parents and their children out of our country at the point of a gun, all for the crime of doing what it took to feed their families.
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