Monday, May 06, 2002
Another interesting piece from Peter Beinart, this one on why Le Pen won't happen here. His basic argument: Clinton tamed left-liberalism and Bush tamed Buchananism.
I think he's got a point. But note the things he praises Clinton for.
(1) He praises him for welfare reform, something The New Republic supported (to its credit) but that the entire liberal establishment - not just its left wing - excoriated. This was a basically Republican idea that Clinton adopted as campaign rhetoric and tried to avoid following through on until a GOP Congress forced his hand.
(2) He praises him for cracking down on crime, specifically by spending money on police and on more prisons. I'd give more credit to specific local initiatives than to Clinton on this score, but even so: building prisons and hiring cops are things the GOP usually favors. This is particularly true if you're talking about the leadership in urban areas where crime is the biggest problem.
(3) He points out that in Europe, "excessive regulation and high taxation have contributed to an unemployment rate that today exceeds 8 percent. Such widespread joblessness has not only made native-born Europeans fearful that immigrants will take their jobs; it has also contributed to epidemic levels of unemployment among immigrants themselves ." Which party is, on principle, opposed to excessive regulation and high taxation?
In other words, Clinton's "taming" of liberalism sounds an awful lot like repudiation of liberalism. Clinton prevented an anti-immigrant backlash a la Europe by signing the sorts of right-wing legislation that anti-immigrant parties in Europe might favor. The only way I can make this into a coherent argument in praise of Clinton is to say that he was Nixon in China: he moved the consensus of the country solidly rightward by enacting the agenda (or part of the agenda) of the opposing party. This is fairly faint praise. And it gets fainter when you realize that Beinart doesn't just think Clinton defanged anti-immigrant sentiment by symbolic bones tossed to the opposition. He thinks the opposition was right on all these points.
Beinart also gives credit to Bush for being philo-Hispanic, and for being one of the few Republicans strongly critical of Prop 187. He calls this a "historical accident," but I don't see it. The GOP has always had a strong pro-immigrant wing, as has the Democratic Party, and each has a nativist wing as well. In the GOP, corporate Republicans, supply-siders and Christians are all pro-immigrant in principle, while the nativist wing lurks around the precincts of the Old Right. Among the Democrats, liberals, service unions and corporate types are pro-immigrant while industrial unions and blacks are more nativist. So it's far from odd that the GOP would nominate a pro-immigrant governor. Look at Bush's opponents in 2000: McCain is as strongly pro-immigrant as Bush. (For that matter, so was Steve Forbes.)
What happened in 2000 was that the GOP decided that the party had been shooting itself in the foot by exclusionary rhetoric. They didn't want to change any of their core positions, but they wanted to sell them to the whole country, at least in principle. Hence the whole Ricky Martin thing at the convention and Bush's attempts to speak Spanish. But all this is basically window-dressing. The GOP wasn't solidly anti-immigrant in 1996 and it isn't solidly pro-immigrant now, and neither is the Democratic Party. There is no nativist party in America in part because neither party has made discussion of the issue verboten, taking a hard-edged position that some opinions are unmentionable. And this is a huge difference from Europe, where all mainstream parties have decided that immigration may not be discussed, ceding the whole question to the extremists. America has avoided the extremes of nativism because we have a healthier democracy.
And that brings us to the question of assimilation. Opposition to bi-lingual education, for example, is usually considered nativist; indeed, Beinart lumps the two together in his discussion of Bush, who has supported bi-lingual ed. But this is simply untrue. Ron Unz of English for the Children gets a great deal of his support from Hispanic parents who want to see their kids grow up to be fully capable Americans, not second-class citizens. And assimilation is, of course, essential to the continuing success of American democracy, as democracy depends upon a common language and shared culture within which both national and the balance of parochial interests may be freely debated. Besides crime and unemployment, the other spur to nativist sentiment is the sense by established citizens that their country is losing its character in a flood of newcomers. As Beinart admits that basically conservative solutions - balanced budgets, restraint in taxes and regulation, tough policing and sentencing, and a social-welfare system oriented towards work - were the key to the first two problems, I hope he will agree that efforts to maintain a common culture - through tough education standards, English immersion rather than bi-lingual ed, opposition to academic multiculturalism and bean-counting-style affirmative action - will be essential to combating the third.