Thanks in large part to Governor Jan Brewer's bold action in signing SB 1070, immigration is shaping up as the issue of the 2010 election. More than the economy, more than terrorism, more even than the question of whether Obama was chased back into the oval office by a rat, a vole, or a trilobite, illegal immigration has become the arena in which the upcoming election will be fought.
The left cannot win that match. Illegal immigration violates too many fundamental precepts involving security, economics, and questions of national identity. Polling reveals an overwhelming public aversion to illegal immigration, with opposition reaching up to 70%. The Democrats might be better-advised to run on a platform calling for more child abuse.
No wonder the president was "thin-skinned" in his meeting with Republican senators yesterday, where following the meeting he suddenly announced more National Guard troops for the border, a move he never mentioned during the meeting itself.
But leftists can distort the debate by ignoring the central argument and instead playing the margins, as they so often do. They are past masters at changing the subject and directing debate into channels where they hold superiority. Consider how they distorted the public view of the War on Terror, playing on fears of government surveillance, Nazifying efforts to protect the country, and smearing the agents and officials attempting to implement a workable strategy. By refusing to acknowledge that the U.S. was at war, concentrating on ill-conceived areas of the national effort, and planting seeds of doubt and paranoia, the left undermined the entire anti-terror program. Today, nearly a decade after 9/11, America's anti-terror system consists of Janet Napolitano holding a microphone. Once the jihadis get past her, they pretty much have a clear shot at anything they like, as Fort Hood, Detroit, and Times Square have so clearly demonstrated.
A similar process is at work involving the illegals crisis. The attempt to bulldoze opposition through demos and marches has failed. Instead, the left, along with the captive legacy media, will hard-pedal questions vaguely related to the topic while by no means central to it. We will hear endless talk about "rights" (always the rights of illegals, never the rights of citizens), racism, and the government as an oppressive force unleashed against third-world victims. All contrary arguments, on the other hand, will be abstracted out of comprehension or flushed down the memory hole, in the same way that rancher Rob Krentz, murdered by an illegal on his own land, and Deputy Louie Puroll, shot by cross-border drug smugglers, have become nonpersons to the eastern media and liberal politicians.
They may not be able to win the debate, but they can fix it so they don't lose either, at the expense of the country as a whole. As for conservatives, we are often only too willing to stumble into the elephant trap laid out for us, losing public arguments you would think it impossible to fumble (see Paul, Rand).
So what are the proper tactics for debating the illegals question?
- First, analyze how the left will play it: how they will work to generate sympathy for illegals, impute racism to opponents, and to transform opposing arguments into bloodless abstractions. Identify the topics that the left wants to fight over and ignore them. They cannot become controversial if there's no controversy. And if there's no controversy, there's no impact. Keep in mind that not every damn fool thing the lefties bring up needs to be answered, and avoid the temptation to do so. We will only be playing the role that they have laid out for us.
- In particular, avoid becoming bogged down in racism. The topic has already come up, as it always does. Racism is the hole card of the left, and has served them well for fifty years and more. The latest example can be found in Salon. The first thing you'll notice about this piece is that it really has nothing to do with the illegals crisis; it is simply another run-through of the miseries of Jim Crow now a lifetime in the past. As such, it does not require an answer. The subject became fatigued many years ago, and it is unlikely to gain traction under current circumstances. If it does, a few anti-illegal comments from blacks -- who, after all, have more to lose in this situation than whites -- should lay it to rest.
- Avoid direct attacks on illegals. Last week Michelle Obama was speaking at a school in Silver Spring when a second-grade schoolgirl brought up the question of immigration in terms of "the right papers," which her mother, it seems, didn't have...
The scene leaps to mind complete in detail: the child's eyes growing wider as she realizes that she's said a Bad Thing. An expression of compassion settling on the First Lady's face. Her Secret Service detail biting their lips and looking away...
We're lucky that an ICE agent didn't take it upon himself to bust the family that very evening, as camera crews filmed the sobbing child and mother being dragged from the house. And all this just days before Felix Calderón arrived in D.C. Hmmm...
Anybody who thinks this incident was spontaneous requires a quick introductory course on contemporary image manipulation. The same can be said for the web page that appeared almost simultaneously, which claimed to feature mugshots of illegals picked up in Arizona: Marvin the Martian and Dora the Explorer. Curiously enough, Dora, who could pass as a Latina and looks to be of an age for second grade, was badly bruised, apparently having been beaten for "resisting arrest." (Marvin looked untouched, but of course he's got that ray gun...)
We cannot forget that the left is ready for this. From their point of view, illegal immigrants are the crowbar they intend to use to pull the American polity apart. They have been preparing for this for a long time. These people have succeeded in making Mao, Che Guevara, Castro, Stalin, Chávez, and all their goons look wholesome and attractive. Don't think for a minute they can't do the same thing for the illegals. Target illegals directly, and they will magically turn into the Holy Family fleeing Herod, with our side wearing Klan costumes that won't come off. For every direct attack, they will trot out a hundred weeping second-graders -- and believe you me, some of them will be bruised and bleeding. We cannot fall for this. The illegals themselves are the stick that we must ignore as we instead go for the hand that wields it.
The exception is the criminal element, which has been too often overlooked. It is estimated that up to 10% of all illegal immigrants are felons, a number high enough to suggest deliberate dumping. The results are commensurate. According to William Bennett and Seth Leibsohn,
Illegal immigrants account for 16.5 percent of those sentenced for violent crimes; 18.5 percent of those sentenced for property crimes; 33.5 percent of those sentenced for the manufacture, sale, or transport of drugs; and 44.4 percent of those sentenced or forgery and fraud in the Phoenix area.
This is not something the left can answer. They have not had any workable defense against the accusation of being soft on criminals since Willie Horton politically destroyed Michael Dukakis in 1988. The left hated the Horton ad because it worked. It can easily be made to work again in the present context. Every criminal drifting across the border must be Hortonized. Local papers in the Southwest, and many others elsewhere, features endless stories of illegal criminality. (Take for example this charmer here, for whom I confess a sneaking fondness due to his philosophical attitude: "Sometimes we have control in our brains, but we make mistakes." Sartre said much the same thing...but lo and behold, what's this? A later report on the same clown reveals that he was deported at least nine times previous to this latest crime. This guy's the Professor Moriarty of the border-crossers.) For some reason, this material is absent from the national media. It must be collected, collated, and made available to all. A website would be a good start. Above all, any political or media attempt to excuse illegals must be tied directly to criminality. To speak for illegals is to speak for crime committed against fellow Americans. Hammer this continually, and the left will never get a chance to bring up anything else.
- Sympathy must be generated for the victims, meaning the actual victims -- the Americans living in the border areas and farther afield. Rob Krentz is not even a name to most people. That must be changed. There are people being robbed, assaulted, and injured daily by out-of-control border-crossers. Entire communities are under siege. The focus must be placed on them. These people must be given voice, their ordeal revealed to the entire country. (Has anyone considered a documentary?)
- The Mexican government has gotten a free ride on the illegals question for what amounts to generations. Every time a glance is cast in their direction, Mexico's rulers flop on their knees, clasp their hands to their chests and start quoting Diaz: "Poor Mexico -- so far from God, so near to the United States." Consequent flashes of Yanqui guilt soon forces attention elsewhere.
(Porfirio Diaz was Mexico's late 19th-early-20th-century president-for-life -- he ruled for nearly forty years, an epoch known as the "Porfiriate" -- who set the pattern of abject corruption that Mexico's leaders have followed ever since, along with the habit of blaming everything on the U.S.)
In truth, chronic and total corruption has been one of the major drivers of the illegal exodus. One of the reasons Mexico City is so overcrowded and polluted is that most of the country's major businesses are located there. Why? So that timely bribes can be paid to government officials. As a result, one of the world's treasure cities has been transformed into a pigsty while the rest of the country goes jobless.
Things were supposed to improve when the National Action Party (PAN) took over from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that has ruled the country from time immemorial. But all that really changed were the names on the checks. Like previous governments, Felipe Calderón's administration utilizes the illegals exodus as an escape valve. As long as the desperate and dissatisfied can flee across the border, no real reforms are necessary or expected. We would be doing Mexico a vast favor by shutting off that escape valve.
Calderón's attempt to interfere with U.S. policy has handed us a very effective club. He has personally injected himself into the controversy. Now he must be made to own it. If el presidente wants to moan about what American states are doing, then let him step up to the plate and inform us what action he intends to take. (Cue Diaz quote here...) The Mexican government can and should be attacked relentlessly, not only for their abuse of their relations with the U.S., but also for treatment of their own citizens.
- American politicians have also put a target on their backs. To sit patiently listening to a foreign leader attack an American state is bad enough; to then give him a standing ovation makes the blood boil. Seldom has Congress displayed such open contempt for the American people, and in the midst of a national climate thick with distrust and impatience with the political establishment. Our legislators seem to be patterning themselves after the incompetent staff of the Chernobyl reactor installation, who decided to shut down all safeguards and run the thing flat out to see when the roof would blow off.
We should give them their wish. The illegals can become the anvil upon which the hammer of generalized voter anger descends. Responsibility runs up and down the political staircase: Obama invited Calderón here and commiserated with him (I notice he didn't bow, though). Napolitano cut off funding to complete the "virtual fence" while doing nothing to arrange for a replacement. Reid is insisting on an amnesty bill within weeks to in hopes of saving his Senate seat. There's a price to be paid for this kind of thing. We need to see that all involved pay it.
- Finally, none of this can be left to the GOP, who will blow it. The message will never get across. Dull-normal Machiavellianism has become SOP in today's party, as we saw so clearly in the Scozzafava and Kirk fiascoes. Today's GOP cannot contemplate anything simple and straightforward without recomplicating it until in the end, it accomplishes the precise opposite of what was intended. Leave it to the Republicans, and we'll have John Cornyn standing at the border apologizing as they jump the fence or a state Republican committee deciding it's a good idea to run one for office (possibly the guy they picked up in Edmonds -- why not? He has a high media profile.). Anyone who thinks this is over the top is invited to reflect on the fact that Republicans were clapping for Calderón as well. The campaign against illegal immigration must be a grassroots effort, utilizing the political tools of the new millennium: the Internet and talk radio, and above all, the Tea Parties.
"This is not a problem, it is an opportunity." The illegals challenge is a superb chance to bring about serious and overdue reform...not only to solve a festering problem that has afflicted the country for far too long, but to clear out some superannuated Dems and punish a few RINOs while we're at it.
A smart strategy, intelligently worked-out media tactics, and a refusal to play the left's game will carry us across the finish line.
J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker and editor of the forthcoming Military Thinker.