Wednesday, November 28, 2007


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 Right has framed the issue. (Have I heard this complaint before?)

By “smashed to aspic” I mean “silenced,” which, paradoxically, shows up on our blogs 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).”

Before I attempt to make my case, let me say that I have nothing against political strategy. In fact, I’m all fer it. What I don’t like is when we mistake or try to pass off political strategy for principled moral position and responsible leadership. (If there’s a national political malady, if any one thing underlies the rancor in Congress and abroad in the land, it may well be that we’re doing just that.)

When everything our politicians say or do in public is first filtered through the PR/framing/polling sieve, what comes out is pretty slim pickins' indeed. It’s merely the smallest amount of what works best for the biggest number of the worst informed people in the country. Even Trent Lott has seen that light, warning that “talk radio is running America.” And Lou Dobbs.

There are consequences besides lousy laws. On the long term, this eschewing of principled moral leadership in favor of cheap expediency guarantees that coming generations of Americans will be dumber than a gaggle of geese. Routinely given nothing tougher to chew than that thin gruel, our people will soon be intellectually incapable of anything other than grunting their assent to the crudest manipulation.

That, my dears, is the cheapest form of tyranny. Armies and gulags cost more. Unfortunately, a strong case can be made that we’re there now. After all, look how well we’re dealing with separation of church and state, the right of privacy, universal healthcare, immigration law reform, domestic spying and detention, torture, and the unprovoked occupation of foreign countries (oh, and the slaughter of a million of its citizens).

On the shorter term—as a matter of pure political leverage—when we progressives offer no substantive alternative, we create a policy vacuum that, in turn, creates a giant black hole into which our folks in the statehouses and the general electorate are sucked. In other words, there’s just no place for a moderate or progressive to go to for political support because we haven’t done the legwork or exerted the leadership to create that place.

In effect, we have created a situation that forces our own incumbents to veer hard to the Right because there’s no place else for them to go—as is happening here in Arizona. Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano recently signed an economically suicidal employer sanctions law in the name of “border control.” It was dumb, offensive, probably unconstitutional, and really enraged our Hispanic citizens. But this is a two-party country and the other side controls the political climate and the terms of the debate.

This sanitized, dumbed-down "debate" is no way to run a country, as we should know intimately by now. We should demand better, if not for ourselves, for our children. But I digress. Kind of.

Apart from Duke 1676’s proposal for immigration reform, which was retrieved from the bowels of Kos and made visible to the masses on Nov. 11, and the response by Stephen, and a few posts like this from Ian Welsh, for example, I haven’t seen much in the way of comprehensive policy discussion on prominent progressive blogs. (There’s plenty on immigration sites and blogs devoted to immigration, but I’m talking now about the leaders in the progressive blogosphere.)

I’d love to be proved wrong, but as of this writing, it’s my belief that leading Left/progressive bloggers have not stepped up on this issue. Maybe that’s too much to ask of them, given that the Democrats haven’t either, but judging from the intensity of the issue, I think it’s a fair criticism, though not one offered unkindly.

I’m not asking Kos and Digby and Jane Hamsher and other prime-time progressive bloggers to draft legislation. I'm not even asking them to do all the heavy lifting. But I am asking our front line to cough up at least some core principles, to create the forum in which focused and serious policy discussion can occur, and to give us leadership designed to pressure our party to act like the party of progressive Democrats. And that goes for the lead African American progressive bloggers, too. I’m just saying.

Let’s lay out what we want to see on, say: root causes like NAFTA; tax policies; regulation and transparency of detention and deportation; use of state and local police in immigration control; a path to citizenship for immigrant workers; mixed-status immigrant families; access to social safety nets; drivers’ licenses/identity cards; ways to estimate and meet employer demand for workers for low-status dirty jobs; wage floors and labor protections for both immigrant and native-born workers; national security considerations; border militarization; militarization a la Blackwater privatization; border fences; care at the border for immigrants at risk of death or severe disability; tying legalization to military or other public service; severing security policy from immigrant labor policy; severing low-skilled immigrant policy from high-skilled immigrant policy. How’s that for starters? (I’m sure I’m missing something.)

Anyway, in my next post, I’ll make my case about the state of progressive debate on immigration law reform. (And by the way, this isn’t about blame. It’s a call to action.) See what you think.

(*I'll be coming back later to add links. Right now I just want to get this up.)
(** Links added.)