January 31, 2009
The relentlessly harsh Republican campaign against immigrants has always hidden a streak of racialist extremism. Now after several high-water years, the Republican tide has gone out, leaving exposed the nativism of fringe right-wingers clinging to what they hope will be a wedge issue.
Last week at the National Press Club in Washington, a group seeking to speak for the future of the Republican Party declared that its November defeats in Congressional races stemmed not from having been too hard on foreigners, but too soft.
The group, the American Cause, released a report arguing that anti-immigration absolutism was still the solution for the party’s deep electoral woes, actual voting results notwithstanding. Rather than “pander to pro-amnesty Hispanics and swing voters,” as President Bush and Karl Rove once tried to do, the report’s author, Marcus Epstein, urged Republicans to double down on their efforts to run on schemes to seal the border and drive immigrants out.
This is nonsense, of course. For years Americans have rejected the cruelty of enforcement-only regimes and Latino-bashing, in opinion surveys and at the polls. In House and Senate races in 2008 and 2006, “anti- amnesty” hard-liners consistently lost to candidates who proposed comprehensive reform solutions. The wedge did not work for single-issue xenophobes like Lou Barletta, the mayor of Hazleton, Pa., or the former Arizona Congressman J. D. Hayworth. Nor did it help any of the Republican presidential candidates trying to defeat the party’s best-known voice of immigration moderation, John McCain, for the nomination.
Americans want immigration solved, and they realize that mass deportations will not do that. When you add the unprecedented engagement of growing numbers of Latino voters in 2008, it becomes clear that the nativist path is the path to permanent political irrelevance. Unless you can find a way to get rid of all the Latinos.What was perhaps more notable than the report itself was the team that delivered it. It included Bay Buchanan, former adviser to Representative Tom Tancredo and sister of Pat, who founded the American Cause and wrote “State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America.” She was joined by James Pinkerton, an essayist and Fox News contributor who, as an aide to the first President Bush, took credit for the racist Willie Horton ads run against Michael Dukakis.
So far, so foul. But even more telling was the presence of Peter Brimelow, a former Forbes editor and founder of Vdare.com, an extremist anti-immigration Web site. It is named for Virginia Dare, the first white baby born in the English colonies, which tells you most of what you need to know. The site is worth a visit. There you can read Mr. Brimelow’s and Mr. Buchanan’s musings about racial dilution and the perils facing white people, and gems like this from Mr. Epstein:
“Diversity can be good in moderation — if what is being brought in is desirable. Most Americans don’t mind a little ethnic food, some Asian math whizzes, or a few Mariachi dancers — as long as these trends do not overwhelm the dominant culture.”
It is easy to mock white-supremacist views as pathetic and to assume that nativism in the age of Obama is on the way out. The country has, of course, made considerable progress since the days of Know-Nothings and the Klan. But racism has a nasty habit of never going away, no matter how much we may want it to, and thus the perpetual need for vigilance.
It is all around us. Much was made of the Republican mailing of the parody song “Barack the Magic Negro,” but the same notorious CD included “The Star Spanglish Banner,” a puerile bit of Latino-baiting. It is easily found on YouTube. Google the words “Bill O’Reilly” and “white, Christian male power structure” for another YouTube taste of the Fox News host assailing the immigration views of “the far left” (including The Times) as racially traitorous.And it takes only a cursory look at a worsening economic climate and grim national mood to realize that history is always threatening to repeat itself. Last week on Long Island, the authorities in Suffolk County unsealed new indictments against a group of teenage boys accused in a murderous attack against an Ecuadorean immigrant, Marcelo Lucero. Since that crime last year, many more victims have come forward with stories of assaults in or near the same town, Patchogue. The police in that suburb seem to have made a habit of ignoring a long and escalating trail of attacks against immigrant men, until the hatred rose up and spilled over one night, fatally.