Monday, April 26, 2010

Arizona’s Gift, Immigration Reform Is Back

Before we go into the post proper, let me put my cards on the table. As a person who married into a Filipino family I do have my biases. Even before being sucked into the Pinoy orbit, my residency in San Diego, California made me very skeptical about present immigration policy. If you have been to the barren expanses of the Imperial Dessert and to the Chocolate Mountains, as I have, and think about humans trying to pass through the searing heat of summer or the brutal cold of winter in those areas, you will have a much better understanding of the lengths people will go to when they deeply desire the American dream.

I also acquired a worm's eye view of the process of immigration policy. I participated in the in the intricate dance that INS puts people through to obtain a green card for their spouses. Immigration policy is no longer theoretical for me, it is very personal. For me it is about family. It is about my family. Arizona is not going after some vague idea of illegal immigrants; they are going after my wife, definitely not cool.


Immigration reform is one of those long-game, short-game conundrums. If you accept that the House is gone, or at least the Donkeys holding on to rural voters is a bridge too far at present, then there really is no down side to going all-in on Immigration reform.

The Arizona legislature has handed the Democratic Party a huge gift. Seriously, the law just passed presents a golden opportunity for the Donkeys to really put the screws to the Elephant Party. They can and should dust off McCain-Kennedy and run with it--hard. Politically and message wise trumpeting the very name McCain-Kennedy is an opportunity to do unto the Republicans what they so often do unto Democrats; it is an epic Rat-Fuck.

This is a wedge issue that splits the Elephants in half. The Business types want a pool of cheap immigrant labor, they want their Bracero program back ( The social conservatives on the other hand want to deport the whole lot of undocumenteds. Immigration reform cleaves these two groups of the Republicans apart and sets them at each others' throats. There is an extra added bonus for partisan Democrats in watching Johnny Mac twist like a pretzel trying to explain why he hates the bill he submitted to Congress only two short years ago. Pass the popcorn Martha; this is going to be fun!!

More importantly seizing the issue will help the Democrats long term in swing states. Remember, part of Obama's crushing of the Johnny Mac was helped along by a swing in the Hispanic Vote. Bush Jr. and Rove had done a very credible job of appealing to the Spanish-speaking electorate. They targeted the large cohort of evangelicals in the Hispanic electorate which helped them to capture nearly half of the total Hispanic vote at large. But the mouth-breathers scotched that success in a large way. The Nativist crowd, lead by Tom Tancredo, vaporized all of the Bush-Rove gains. A disastrous 60/40 break in Hispanic voter registration for Democrats ensued. The Donkeys did not have to do much heavy lifting to get all those new voters; the voters were gifted by the bigoted troglodytes in the Republican Party.

With a little spade work the Democrats could get the type of loyalty from Hispanics that they enjoy among African-Americans. They could strip away every Hispanic cohort that is not the die-hard anti-Castro Cubans. They could even strip away second and third generation Cuban-Americans for whom the Castro brothers are nothing more than embarrassing obsession of the older generation. A swing-state majority could be cobbled together by joining African-Americans, Latinos and the smallish cohort of lonely liberal white Democrats. The Democrats can even capture moderates and independents by careful cultivation of the sense of fair play and decency that reside in many moderates and independents.

Swing States could become less purple and much bluer if Democrats return to their immigrant roots. It is not all that difficult for Democrats to reprise this role; perhaps this time without all the sleazy boss/machine politics that were part and parcel of the Democratic Party for much of the 20th Century.

Democrats need to think and think hard about these long-game scenarios. Demography is changing. The U.S. is becoming less white and much tanner. It is becoming much more urban and cosmopolitan. Trying to hold onto rural area of the nation may be a bridge too far for the Democratic Party. The future (and the past for that matter) of the Donkey Party is Urban and Suburban. Rural and Ex-Urban areas, places created and sustained by white flight are less happy hunting grounds for Democrats. Republican are masters of playing to their strengths, it is past time for the Democrats to do the same.

Immigration; and the acceptance of new people into the U.S. mosaic has been a bulwark of the Democratic Party since Al Smith. Dick Nixon knew this well, which is why he attacked that pillar of the Donkey Party by emphasizing divisive social issues that peeled off large chunks of the working class, immigrant base of the Democratic Party. These "wedge issues" helped to create the Republican ascendancy of the 80's and 90's. As noted before Democrats can baste the Republican gander in the sauce of wedge politics, immigration policy, just as easily. Turnabout is fair play.

On a higher note going all in on immigration does serve the better angles of our political nature. We are a nation of immigrants. My family is only two generations away from a boat that came from Italy at the turn of the century. My wife and her family are freshly minted Americans. One of the unintended ironies of wrong-wing immigrant bashing is having a man with the name of Wurzelbacher bitch about all those nasty immigrants flooding the nation. Lost on him and others is the fact that unless you are a member of one of the Native tribes, you are an interloper on these shores.

We are a nation of immigrants, our roots are shallow. We are the sons and daughters of gadflies, roustabouts, troublemakers, non-conformists, dreamers, castaways, cranks, misfits, Ne'er do wells, fools, mystics, obsessives, peasants, romantics, paupers and crazed maniacs. We are, and hopefully we will always be, a rather motley bunch. Members of the Democratic Party especially should embrace this notion. We are the party of immigrants, let us reclaim this proud tradition, let us fully embrace it; not merely because it is smart politics, and it is, but because it represents our best nature.