June 11, 2007


The Company You Keep: In search of anti-Hispanic hostility (Linda Chavez, 6/11/07, National Review)

In 1991, William F. Buckley Jr. wrote a seminal piece for National Review entitled “In Search of Anti-Semitism,” which grappled with defining when mere difference of opinion on a policy issue — in this instance, U.S. Middle East policy — veers off toward ugly bigotry. It was a stunning essay and had significant moral reverberation throughout the conservative movement, as Joseph Sobran and Patrick Buchanan were the chief specimens he put under the microscope to determine when words — and the uses to which they are put — cross the line into anti-Semitism. And that is the question I think conservatives must deal with now in the nexus between the inflamed passions on immigration and our attitudes towards Hispanics in general and Hispanic immigrants in particular. When do some critics of illegal immigration — or, in certain cases, those who want to restrict legal immigration as well — employ arguments whose predictable result, if not deliberate intent, is to promote anti-Hispanic bigotry? In his 40,000-word examination, Buckley concluded that he found it “impossible to defend Pat Buchanan against the charge that what he did and said during the period under examination amounted to anti-Semitism, whatever it was that drove him to say and do it: most probably, an iconoclastic temperament.” Here I want to try to describe the danger of anti-Hispanic bias as I see it, at greater length than my original, syndicated column (which is limited to 600-700 words); and, I hope, with more sensitivity to the raw emotions on this issue. [...]

First, Americans are the most tolerant people in the world; those same surveys I used to describe racial/ethnic attitudes bear this out. A 1991 Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press poll, for example, shows that Americans are the most tolerant of those measured, with 13 percent disliking blacks, while the British came in second, with 21 percent disliking the Irish. And among Americans, whites appear to be more tolerant than other groups as well. But Hispanics (in those few surveys that include specific data) are quite similar to whites in their attitudes toward other groups. In a study of racial attitudes of American youth, by the liberal People for the American Way, Hispanics were even more likely than whites (59 to 54 percent) to say that from their experience “people of different races and ethnic groups tend to feel pretty comfortable dealing with each other.” And they are more likely than whites (55 to 46 percent) to say that “most of the people who suffer from poverty haven’t really tried hard enough to improve their own situation,” a particularly interesting finding given overall poverty rates among Hispanics, which are high, 22 percent.

Second, opposing the Senate bill, which is now in limbo — or indeed opposing higher levels of immigration — does not equate with being a racist, a nativist, or a xenophobe as many have interpreted my remarks to imply. I, too, have some problems with the legislation — which I’ve voiced publicly and privately to the White House. Granted, most of my problems have to do with the fact that I don’t want to see us go the way of Europe by inviting “guest workers” who will never become Americans; I would rather increase the number of permanent residents we admit and then aggressively work to assimilate them. Promoting assimilation has been the foundation of my entire public career, going back some 30 years now, even before I became a Republican or started to think of myself as a conservative.

And one can certainly be concerned about illegal immigration — as I am — without being a racist, nativist, or xenophobe. It is worth noting, however, that illegal immigration peaked in 2000 and is down now by about one third. The greatest increase in illegal immigration was from 1995 to 2000, when only two percent of Americans listed immigration as important in the Harris poll each year, which asked: “What do you think are the two most important issues for the government to address?” Something happened since then to cause immigration to become the single biggest domestic issue out there. Some have suggested it was 9/11 that brought the turnaround. Terrorism may explain anxiety about border security — I certainly share the fear that porous borders make it easy for terrorists and drug dealers, as well as gardeners and construction workers, to sneak in. But fear of terrorism doesn’t entirely explain why illegal immigration has become such a hot-button issue, even in the face of declining numbers of illegal aliens entering the country. (Many of us on the side of comprehensive reform argue that the best and most effective way to reduce illegal immigration is to allow workers to come legally, temporarily, or as permanent residents, so that we might focus our limited resources on intercepting jihadists and criminals.) If the actual numbers aren’t driving the issue, what is? I believe that the constant drumbeat on immigration — driven by talk radio, cable news, the Internet, and direct mail — has played a major role in raising anxiety on the issue. And some of the rhetoric has been irresponsible, to say the least.

Third, words do matter — or why all the fuss about my accusing some people of disliking Mexicans? I didn’t, by the way, suggest that, even among the less than ten percent of the population who fit this category, most want to string up Mexicans — only that they wish Mexicans would go back where they came from, including, apparently, those like me whose families have been here for centuries. And while National Review Online contributors have been quite outspoken in their condemnation of my words — with Ramesh Ponnuru going so far as to suggest I must be publicly shunned — there have been no similar recriminations against others whose intemperate remarks make mine look mild by comparison. And I’m not just talking about the yahoos who, in response to my column, posted comments on Townhall.com calling Mexicans “pigs,” and Latino girls “baby factories” who “fornicate like animals with no regard for the welfare of the child,” or who “don’t want spanish speaking little retards befouling our great country.” Some of what is being said that most concerns me is written right here on NRO by its contributors.

Let’s start with John Derbyshire...

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 11, 2007 7:33 AM

I used to greatly admire Linda, but her trying to do an end run around Bush, especially after all the examples she had of the disaster of doing so, has cooled my admiration greatly.

Why does anyone waste their time at NRO?

Posted by: erp at June 11, 2007 8:10 AM

NRO has a lot of writers I respect greatly (e.g., Jonah Goldberg, Victor Davis Hanson), but on immigration they've gone over the top and thrown themselves on the barbed wire. I'm glad to see someone giving Derbyshire and Krikorian the smackdowns they so richly deserve (and impressed that NRO would give Linda Chavez the space to do the smacking-down).

Posted by: Mike Morley at June 11, 2007 9:24 AM

The serious concerns I have regarding illegal immigration were not stirred up by TV or newsprint commentators.

They were stirred up by the activists in places like California who specifically do NOT want to assimilate. Who demand rights that they see as in opposition to established law and custom here.

La Raza is only the most respectable of such groups. Insofar as activists like this were a highly visible organizing force behind last year's demonstrations demanding a variety of accomodations (among them amnesty), to that degree I strongly oppose giving in to their racist and destructive demands.

Posted by: molon labe at June 11, 2007 9:38 AM

I'm not a racist just because I've sided with the racists but they are racist because a few racists are on their side.

Posted by: oj at June 11, 2007 11:28 AM

Did anyone see Penn&Teller's "BS" show on immigration, where Mark Krikorian was caught saying "OTOH, there are some who don't like white people, and therefore want MORE immigration."


There's only one solution for Mark Krikorian, and that's continued exposure. This man isn't making an arse of himself on TV nearly enough.

Posted by: Brad S at June 11, 2007 12:13 PM

Somewhere there has to be a better argument for allowing unchecked immigration than "Everybody who disagrees with me is a racist"

I really doubt that you can convince anybody with that.

Posted by: Tom Hanson at June 11, 2007 2:56 PM

Actually Mr. Hanson, the argument is that the country doesn't have the hate needed to build the Soviet system a closed border requires. We don't have enough people willing to shoot unarmed women and children. Given that, the attempt is doomed to fail, and you will be tared as a racist for trying by the Left. Some have already noticed that game being played out(see Ace of Spades). Some on the Right(OJ, Lou Gots, etc.) are trying to stop the Republicans from going to that unhappy place. I know that many Republicans loved sitting around in the John Birch society bitching about how the Democrats were ruining the country, secure in the knowledge that the voters would never let them near the levers of power. It left millions dead, but there would always be a windmill to tilt at, and that's the important thing, right?

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at June 11, 2007 3:10 PM

It's a better argument, but still quite extreme. There just might be a more moderate position. Perhaps we could make employers check a database of Soc. Sec. #'s to verify employment. Those found employing persons not checked would be subject to a heavy fine.

The government could also do a better job actually deporting some people instead of none. They could step up inspections and raids in problem areas. Many things could be done to discourage illegal immigration without resorting to shooting the practitioners. Isn't that what they call a straw-man argument?

Posted by: Tom Hanson at June 11, 2007 3:22 PM

Sorry, I missed one point. Democrats will call Republicans racists no matter what Republicans do. I don't think you can avoid it by pandering. That's why I hate to see OJ jump on the same bandwagon. He's too smart and usually offers much better arguments than that.

Posted by: Tom Hanson at June 11, 2007 3:28 PM

The problem is that there is no American argument against immigration. That's why the anti-immigrationist find themselves allied with such despicable people.

Posted by: oj at June 11, 2007 4:16 PM


That's the point of immigration. We need to swamp the dead blood with new life.

Posted by: oj at June 11, 2007 4:21 PM

Mr. Hanson, thanks for your thoughts. First, we do make employers check a database of Soc. Sec. #'s to verify employment. We have found those numbers are easy to get. So the cry goes out for "better", "real" enforcement. Employers are to be torn apart on the twin rocks of not checking enough(cons. to defraud the government) and checking too much(federal violation of the right to privacy, federal discrimination). Thank you, but no.
Second, the people who will get deported will be the low hanging fruit. The police, not wanting to get shot at, will not go after the gangbangers, they'll go after safe, hard working people who send money to family to Mexico. Easy to find, easy to bust. I can see this becoming the Federal version of speeding tickets. Thank you, but no.
Last, Democrats will call Republicans racists no matter what Republicans do, true. They have to sell it to the public. Why give them ammunition on an issue you can't win on? We will not build an American version of the Berlin Wall. All the pandering is on the closed border side(Like the new Minutemen....). A lot of plans that no one has the political will make happen and keep going. Amnesty is the best we can do because Americans are not thugs. We're flattered when people come hear, and we don't like the amount of paperwork we have to do now. How are you going to get us to double it(willingly)?

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at June 11, 2007 4:32 PM

Not against immigration, but against unlimited immigration. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing.

By the way, I'm not trying to be sarcastic or a sycophant, but there's got to be more than one OJ, or does the spouse bring home all of the income? One guy can't keep up with the amount of posting you do otherwise.

Posted by: Tom Hanson at June 11, 2007 4:35 PM

Mr. Hanson, why, in this case, is unlimited immigration bad? I remember many arguments for zero population growth starting from that point. Turned out to be premature. Why is it correct this time?

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at June 11, 2007 4:41 PM

Mr. Hanson, why is too much of a good thing a bad thing? I remember hearing that about population growth. Turned out to be premature. Why is it right this time?

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at June 11, 2007 4:46 PM

"Too much of a good thing" is always the dodge of those of us who made it here.

Posted by: oj at June 11, 2007 6:02 PM

Just because the Left always thinks the Right is racist doesn't mean there aren't issues on which it is.

Posted by: oj at June 11, 2007 6:22 PM

Although I am one of those so-called 'nativists', I have found it quite interesting that the same conservatives who worship the free market are the same ones arguing that the federal government needs to stop Mexicans from coming here and doing jobs for less pay. Gee, I thought the free market meant allowing competition and enabling employers to hire workers who will cost them less money.

Posted by: Vince at June 12, 2007 1:01 AM

Brad, thanks for the video link. I love Penn Jenrette's comeback to Krikorian: "We don't dislike white people--except one. We don't like you."

Posted by: Mike Morley at June 12, 2007 5:52 AM