Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Like us, Obama has a handy excuse to ignore evils

     There is no moral wrong so great that it is without defenders.
     The South not only permitted slavery, but rationalized, even celebrated it while disparaging those who opposed the evil institution.
     “The parties in this conflict are not merely Abolitionists and slaveholders,” wrote James Thornwell in 1860. “They are Atheists, Socialists, Communists, Red Republicans, Jacobins on the one side and the friends of order and regulated freedom on the other.”
     Jacobins is a reference to the French Revolution — freeing the slaves, Southerners argued, would lead to a new American Terror, with guillotines set up in every town square.  “Regulated freedom,” by which Thornwell meant slavery, is a reminder we didn’t need George Orwell to show us how to deform the English language to perverse ends.
     Did I mention that Thornwell was a minister? He was.
     In the early 20th century, women sought the vote. Bad idea, it was argued.
     “The mother’s influence is needed in the home,” J.B. Sanford wrote in 1911. “The men are able to run the government and take care of the women. ... By keeping woman in her exalted position man can be induced to do more for her than he could by having her mix up in affairs that will cause him to lose respect and regard for her.”
     Did I mention that Sanford was a California state senator? He was.
Midcentury, the South was still fighting against treating black people decently.
     In 1956, parents in one PTA suggested it was better to have Virginia cease educating children “as the lesser of two evils, the end of public education, rather than unsegregated schools.” Otherwise, the state faced “the destruction of our culture,” according to Garland Gray, another state senator.
     Enough smirking at the past. Too easy, and you get the point.
     Back to 2014, to the enlightened world. Look around. So what is the enormous social wrong that we ignore, trivialize, or rationalize in ways in ways that future generations will shake their heads at?
     Really, you don't see it? That's just so sad.
     Some 11 million Hispanic immigrants live in the United States as near-serfs, in a rightless limbo. The rationale, worn to a nubbin by armies of the indignant, is that they came here illegally. Ignoring the fact that our economy begs for them to come, and that our immigration system is such that their coming here legally is an impossibility. And that millions of Americans do illegal things for which they are not punished eternally.
     Someday — and I am hesitant to predict the future, but I will go out on a limb, because I am completely certain of this — this wrong will be redressed, the immigration system will be repaired, and people will wonder what the grandfolks were thinking when they saw those teams of Hispanics cutting grass, washing dishes, picking fruit.
     That day tarries. Barack Obama, The Cautious, tiptoed toward action, then saw the cost, did the calculus and pulled back.
     Like Eisenhower, who would dispatch federal troops when absolutely pressed, Obama does what he must, not what he should.
     The influx of immigrant children, which could have been a moment for America to display its supposed values and shine, instead became not only another shame but an excuse for the shame we already tolerate.
     "The truth of the matter is that the politics did shift midsummer because of that problem," Obama said. "I want to spend some time, even as we're getting all our ducks in a row for the executive action, I also want to make sure that the public understands why we're doing this, why it's the right thing for the American people, why it's the right thing for the American economy." His reason to wait.
     Did I mention that Obama is the president of the United States? He is, in theory.
     Of course he has a reason for inaction, and a corking good one. The Republicans, the party of ignoring our problems while trying to crawl back to a past that never existed, would extract punishment. Let them.
     Eventually, the slumbering Latino millions in the United States will stir and realize that another generation is dwelling in the shadows, their children even more easily marginalized for lack of a piece of paper. I can't understand why they haven't already.
     History runs in strange patterns and momentums, that which we accepted one year suddenly becomes clearly wrong the next.
     Maybe that's why we prefer to learn about past shames; doing so suggests we aren't adding fresh examples. We are.


  1. That something will be done is very likely. That it will solve the problem, however that is defined, is not, given the many "solutions" in the past that have ultimately failed. Maybe caution is called for after all.

    By the way, I think you should repair your paragraphing, putting "Did I mention..." in the preceding paragraph and the next sentence in the following one. Makes more sense that way, doesn't it?


  2. Even after I presented you evidence that most people who oppose the Gang of Eight immigration bill would support an "enforcement first" bill that triggers legal status for those 11 million, including a majority of Hispanic citizens, you continue to present opponents as nothing more than evil nativists akin to supporters of slavery. Back in 2006 after the similar Kennedy-McCain collapsed, I and many other opponents challenged "your side" to start working on the infrastructure necessary for our agreement to legal status and was largely rebuffed. WHen the GAO issued a cost estimate for what effectively would be a border fence, many on our side argued it would be worth it (and the costs of the Central America kids crisis weren't even known then). It's unfair, but most of the debate from the pro-reform crowd is unfair.

    The remainder of your column is just sloganeering. The only industry that truly needed increased low skilled laborers was farming. Go talk to Mary Mitchell about African-Americans and the construction industry. Ariana Huffington didn't "cry out" as you say for an illegal immigrant nanny during the 1990's recession because nobody in Los Angeles wanted to work far above the minimum wage. The passages in Fast Food Nation about the food industry and illegal immigration were sadly neglected by progressives. One could go on and on, but I would just ask this: has the Sun-Times ever allowed a liberal attack on "immigration reform" to appear in its pages? I remember legions of columns by yourself, Sue Ontroveros (pardon any mispellings), Mark Brown, Esther Cepeda and guest columnists (even Steve Huntley chimed in with the 1%/Koch Brothers point of view). Did the paper ever reach out to writers like TA Frank, who wrote a great piece in the New Republic about how he was converted to the anti-reform side after reviewing the research presented by both sides, or an anti-reform group like Numbers USA? Or did it just assume we're all a bunch of Neo-Klansmen?

    WHat I find most frustrating about your writing on the issue is it's refusal to define a position while getting so self-rightous. You've mocked me for being an anonymous commenter, but I think it's worse to have anonymous arguments. Do you support open borders? If so and you've said that before, my apologies, but I don't recall it and I read most of what you write. If no, then why no discussion of the downsides to the Gang of Eight bill, which the CBO analysis says won't do more than slow illegal immigration in the future, but at a tremendous economic cost (and more terror and death to future border-crossers). Is there a reason why, after legal status is granted, there can't be serious penalties for employers of illegal immigrants (i.e., other than it would make the US Chamber drop its support as it threatened when this was raised after 2006 - which should tell you a lot of how *they* view the future labor glut "reform" will produce). The tragedy of this debate is that there IS a consensus on immigration reform, but instead of pushing for it the media has decided to push for the special interest compromise which includes the worst aspects of reform from both sides.

    1. I have seen business after business that used ti hire young black people & give them a start, now all they hire are illegals.
      McDonald's is #1 on that list!

    2. What is clear to anyone older than 40 who grew up in an urban area has been documented by several economists (in fairness, there's one outlier study from St. Louis that claims illegal immigration is a small positive for African-American employment). Harvard's George Borjas attributes up to 40% of increased African-American unemployment to illegal immigration, and there are other studies with similar findings. Young African-American unemployment is at third world levels and yet we're arguing about the red herring "what part of illegal don't you understand?" yahoos, because it makes reform opponents look so terrible and appeals to the instincts of progressives to be fair.

  3. Comparing concern over illegal imigration to support of slavery is a bit inexact, but the current opposition to some measures that would ameliorate the situation smacks of the position taken by the "No Nothing Party" of the 1850's, which was formed in reaction to an influx of Irish and German immigrants. Refering to the "Celtic peril," a distinguished No Nothing politician said the nation's problems could be solved if every Irishman shot a black man and were hanged for it. A few decades later, the Irish were pretty much runing things in the nation's largest cities, but fears that the Pope would be calling the shots failed to materialize. I can't bring myself to view the cute little teen checking out groceries who switches effortly between English and Spanish depending on the perceived ethnicity of the customer, a facility I lack in any two languages, as a threat to the polity. It will take time, but I think the fear that the eventual assimilation of 11 million illegals into a nation of 300 plus million can't be managed is overstated.

    1. And if it were just 100 million unauthorized immigrants most would agree (or admit that assimilation or not, we're not deporting 11 million people). The problem with the reform proposals is that they do nothing serious to prevent millions more from coming to replace the current "in the shadows" workers, or acknowledge that the economy seems to heading towards a need for fewer low skilled workers, particularly when the baby boomer generation starts to die off.

      PS - Explain to a young unemployed African-American teen how after everything America has done to her or his ancestors that the "cute teen" in your example (I wonder how many white people use "cute" to describe African-American teens) deserves that job, Whenever I discuss this issue with fellow progressives (I both voted and campaigned for President Obama, by the way), most (but not all) of the time they will eventually reveal some play on "lazy you-know-what." Mexico's former president even said this publicly in code words so clear that both Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton took him to task for it. When job demand across the skills spectrum was high in the 1990's you saw many companies training people to do these jobs. UPS was one of them and there's nothing that more complex about a grocery cash register as a mobile inventory/package tracking device. These jobs went to illegal immigrants for a number of reasons, many nefarious, but not because there were Americans unwilling to do them.

    2. If it were only the 11 million we were talking about most people would agree, and even if they couldn't be assimilated most acknowledge we're not deporting them. The problem is that the current reform proposals from the left don't have any serious way to prevent a repeat of the 1986 experience - new illegal immigrants will come to take the "in the shadows" jobs. I don't know if there are long-term consequences to whether or not these immigrants eventually assimilate but there's a danger in pointing to the 19th Century as if that experience sets out some eternal truths for 21st Century America.

      But re: that "cute little teen" - try explaining to an unemployed African-American teen (wonder how many times white people use the term "cute" there) why they didn't deserve that job. I've worked with legal immigrants from Europe tutoring them English and several of them were trained to work cash registers and similar devices (inventory tracking computers) and hired.

  4. Sorry for the double comment (and it may have just happened again) - my comments seem to disappear and then re-appear when I try to post another!

  5. I'm prepared to apologize to the feminists among Neil's readers for describing the young lady at the check-out counter as a "cute teen." Generationally impaired as I am, I can see how many modern women might consider the appelation demeaning. But am mystified that Mr. Anon should consider it to reveal racial bias on my part.

    1. Speaking for myself, Thomas, there's no need to apologize, I didn't see your description as anything but what it was meant to be.

    2. I thought I directed the comment about "cute" to whites in general - obviously I have no idea about you individually (and appologies if I haven't followed your comments on the blog closely enough) but there's research about how whites judge attractiveness across races and it alligns with the decision by many whites to stop hiring African-Americans for traditional entry-level jobs in a host of fields African-Americans historically dominated. But the main reason behind this racism isn't perceived attractiveness, it's the one Mexico's president gave and which I wrote about above.

    3. PS - I didn't have a problem with the "cute" thing, but I'm a guy and getting up in years to, so...


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