November 11, 2008

THE U.R. SHOULD REALLY THANK RUSH:

Obama victory took root in Kennedy-inspired Immigration Act (Peter S. Canellos, November 11, 2008, Boston Globe)

There is no question that Obama owes a debt to the Kennedys - but it may be far greater than he or they realize. Yes, Senator Edward M. Kennedy offered a crucial early endorsement, comparing the Obama of 2008 to the Jack Kennedy of 1960. And certainly Caroline and others in the Kennedy family worked hard on the campaign trail. But the greatest Kennedy legacy to Obama isn't Ted or Caroline or Bobby Jr., but rather the Immigration Act of 1965, which created the diverse country that is already being called Obama's America.

That act is rarely mentioned when recounting the high points of 1960s liberalism, but its impact arguably rivals the Voting Rights Act, the creation of Medicare, or other legislative landmarks of the era. It transformed a nation 85 percent white in 1965 into one that's one-third minority today, and on track for a nonwhite majority by 2042.

Before the act, immigration visas were apportioned based on the demographic breakdown that existed at the time of the 1920 Census - meaning that there were few if any limits on immigrants from Western and Northern Europe, but strict quotas on those from elsewhere.

The belief that the United States should remain a nation of European lineage was openly discussed when immigration laws were revisited in 1952. The resulting bill, the McCarran-Walter Act, was notorious for giving the State Department the right to exclude visitors for ideological reasons, meaning that a raft of left-wing artists and writers - including Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, British novelist Graham Greene - and scores of others were denied visas. But it also had the effect of maintaining the 1920s-era notion of the United States as a white nation. (Congress imposed the bill over President Truman's veto.)

A decade later, attitudes were changing, and President Kennedy proposed a new immigration structure that would no longer be based on national origins. After Kennedy's assassination, his brother Ted took up the fight, pushing the Johnson administration to go even further than it wanted in evening the playing field. Though Lyndon Johnson, in signing the bill, tried to reassure opponents that it wouldn't do much to change the balance of immigration, its impact was dramatic.


As the Proposition 8 vote demonstrated, that wasn't the Kennedy immigration bill that won it for Obama, rather it was the conservatives' hysterical opposition to the Bush-inspired Kennedy bill that cost them the opportunity to carry a natural constituency.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at November 11, 2008 4:58 PM
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