Thursday, November 29, 2007

MIA? Part II

My last post on progressive immigration policy, MIA?, began thus:

Have progressives have lost our way on the immigration issue? We don’t seem to have articulated, let alone stood as one in support of enlightened immigration law reform. We don’t even seem to have effectively exposed the myriad misconceptions that are currently running this dog and pony show, or to have begun to educate our base on the issues.

Nope, we seem either to have been smashed to aspic or thoroughly co-opted by the brilliant way in which Luntz, Rove, Tanton and the rest of the corporatist, xenophobic, nationalist, anti-Hispanic Far Right have framed the issue. (Have I heard this complaint before?)

By “smashed to aspic” I mean “silenced,” which, paradoxically, shows up as not showing up, as avoidance of or as skirting the issue. By “completely co-opted,” I mean “constrained to discussing immigration (a) within the rubrics established by the Right, (b) on terms designed to appease the Right, and (c) under the safer heading of partisan political strategy as contrasted with principled or enlightened policymaking.”
This is a continuation of that conversation. Here, I’m discussing what I perceive to be the characteristics of the progressive blogosphere’s immigration law reform debate.

1. Avoidance. It’s a relative term, so my perception is that, relative to the emphasis the Far Right gives to immigration and the intensity with which it is being editorialized and op-editorialized in the MSM, the issue has seen little more than a sprinkling of commentary from leading progressive blogs.

It’s reasonable to ask why, since immigration reform packages a whole big chunk of our traditional turf: anti-racism, justice, fair labor practice, fair trade, women, children, health care, social safety nets, multiculturalism, etc. One would expect a strong, virtually unified progressive voice on this issue, but it’s not there, leaving a giant black hole on the Left and a giant opportunity for the Far Right to frame, brand, and own the immigration issue--a coordinated effort begun in the 1980s by Tanton, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) , et al. (Note: Wittingly or not, CNN's Jack Cafferty just tonight quoted a CIS report as if it were, like, true.)

Perhaps one reason for our silence is that we progressives have been gaslighted. First, we too are side-tracked, misled, and derailed by Tanton, Buchanon, Dodd, Tancredo, et al. (It's out there. It doesn't matter if it's true or not.) Alas, this means that we haven't even done our own homework.

And we've been confounded. The word “illegal” has performed as expected. It has been a phenomenally effective wedge in our neighborhood, and a phenomenally effective mobilizing device on the Right and in the center. (There’s nothing people like more than feeling morally superior.)

But to be fair, the complexity of immigration law, the perceived clash of low-skilled immigrant workers’ and native-born workers’ interests, the huge discrepancies in the methodologies and assumptions used to study immigration, complex and hard-to-measure economic impact—all these things and more have given us pause. Way too much pause.

In this respect it’s as simple as the classic dilemma: The Right isn’t hampered by a fealty to truth and accuracy. Plus, it is tooled up to churn out sound bites like Fox pumps BS. Meanwhile, we go beyond concern for truth and accuracy. We agonize over nuance. We just don’t do soundbites, and when it takes weeks to research an issue thoroughly, we may issue drive-by opinions but not in-depth analysis. Besides, blogs don’t lend themselves to depth all that well.

2. Political strategy: We’ve pretty much limited our analysis to immigration as partisan strategy. From time to time, a flurry of posts appears on Firedoglake, Kos, Digby, or another influential blog, triggered mainly by a specific piece of legislation, a leaked or controversial political strategy, or a particularly egregious anti-immigrant action. Hence outraged reaction, the disclosure of Luntz’s proposal for framing immigration for the GOP, and a thoughtful diary about the “temporary worker program” that was included in Bush’s (defeated) “comprehensive immigration reform” bill this summer. As there and here, occasionally someone touches on a principle that could form the core of an alternative policy, or elucidates a Far Right shill's statistical distortions.

However important they are, these takes don’t adequately indicate what we stand for and why. Unless we say that, we can hardly expect America to take our view into account. What I’m asking for is something deeper than episodic outrage and political strategy analysis. I’m looking for serious dicussion of policy substance and its supporting rationale, something along the lines of this policy sketch.

Where in all this is the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party? And where is the Martin Luther King, Jr. wing of the African American community? We are talking about race-based economic fundamentals and about who will control America's future. The choice is between us and the corporatist plutocrats. To the extent that they divide us, they win.

3. Co-optation: Our conversation tends to be reactive, not proactive; defensive, and constrained by the Right’s talking points. For instance, the conversation on the blogosphere picked up a little bit recently on account of the convergence of four recent events: (1) party consultants’ thoroughly co-opted advice to the Democrats to go nativist on immigration law reform;(2) the ensuing thoroughly co-opted, abysmally stoopid, craven, and all but treasonous Democratic support for the SAVE Act of 2007, a nasty and dangerous piece of (privatized) border militarization, privatization, domestic policing powers and apparatus posing as immigration reform; and (3) the flap about NY Governor Spitzer’s proposal to give driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants.

As Digby and others point out, it's a mystery why the Democratic Party go nativist when the GOP strategy to use immigration as this cycle’s wedge bait, just bombed in VA? Why go that route when poll after poll after poll shows that the American people actually do not want a mean immigration policy? When reputable study after reputable study shows that the Far Right's spin on immigration is, well, bullshit.

Because the Democratic Party is co-opted. Behind its face is a looming corrupt and unprecedentedly greedy Corporate America. No big news. Our Democratic Party in Congress has been co-opted about everything. But there’s no reason why our blogs have to be.

So far, when we’re not avoiding the issue, our responses are formulated within the Far Right’s rhetorical box: illegal; amnesty; undercut wages; driver’s licenses. Surprising that we've fallen for that old trick, but here's a news flash: We won’t make a dent until we step out of that frame and discuss this on our own terms, in a distinctly American, not utterly reactionary (white European) way.

Immigration of low-skilled Mexican and Central American workers is about economic refugees. It is rooted in US, Mexican, and Central American plutocracies, in their and our tax policies, in colonialism and neo-colonialism (aka “free trade”), in Monsanto’s genetically engineered agriculture, in water privatization, in desperate poverty, equivalent need, and a Janus-headed US policy inviting with one hand and slamming back with the other. It is about the great realignment of wealth in the USA, turning us from the New Deal to the Screw Deal, and it is fundamentally about who we are and who we intend to be five, ten, thirty years from now.

Here’s the deal: We are not all Christians, or conservatives, or progressives, or Native Americans, or, or heterosexuals, or Republicans, or Democrats, but by virtue of one construct, we are all Americans. Our core values are specifically defined in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. As FDR did, we ought to let these principles govern how we analyze the immigration data, the needs, the competing interests, the objectives. That’s the only way we’ll make it possible for everyone to pull together in one positive direction.

What does that mean? For instance, it means that we would propose wage and workplace safeguards to ensure that corporatist profiteers don’t exploit immigrants and use their labor to undercut wages, and we won’t allow “deregulation” or tax policies or fear to pit native-born American workers against immigrant would-be American workers.

You see where I’m going with this? Can I get a witness? Better yet, will the people who know this issue propose progressive policy specifics on the leading progressive blogs--white, African-American, and Hispanic, and all?

Comments welcomed.

(*I'll be back to add links.)
(**Links added.)