Is Immigration This Year's Gay Marriage?
Q. My wife and I are two of maybe 100 Democrats in a county south of Atlanta. Our question is this: Will the Republicans be successful by making illegal immigration the gay marriage issue of this election?
A. I never believed Iraq would be the dominant issue in this presidential campaign, but I never would have guessed that it would be illegal immigration. And yet you may be right: Republicans seem to have seized upon illegal immigration this year's wedge issue.
It may be more accurate, however, to call autarky the dominant issue of 2008. You read it here first: After being stumped to come up with the one word to capture what's going on out there, and after checking with Merriam-Webster to make sure that the word does indeed mean economic independence, I hereby declare 2008 as the Autarky Election. How about it, Lou? The Autarky Party just might support Dobbs for president.
And the Democratic equivalent of Republican immigrant-bashing is free-trade-bashing. Even Hillary Clinton is distancing herself from her husband's robust record of promoting trade liberalization and economic interdependence. As much as she touts her experience as First Lady, when the subject turns to the North American Free Trade Agreement, Clinton's attitude seems to be, "Hey, I just lived there. It was his presidency."
Recent polling shows the economy surging on the list of issues voters care most about. But instead of Bill Clinton's 1992 slogan -- "It's the economy, stupid" -- the appropriate bumper sticker may be, "It's our economy, stupid." There is a post-9/11, post-Iraqi-quagmire mistrust of all things foreign.
But this anti-[insert foreign nation here] backlash has less to do with economic fundamentals than it does with deeper psychological anxieties. It's about the nostalgic pull of American isolationism, the yearning for an old-fashioned manufacturing economy, a longing for the time when you didn't hear any Spanish in places like Wisconsin. Trade and immigration have enriched this country like no other. But polls show that most Americans think anything foreign -- Chinese toys, Dubai investors, Mexican workers -- has been bad for the economy. And no politician this year, with the possible exception of Michael Bloomberg if he wades into the race as a third-party candidate, is likely to tell them otherwise.
Iowa, to choose a state at random, has prospered mightily from global trade. Don't expect the Democratic candidates to acknowledge this, however. They must all speak of trade as if it were an economic tsunami. Republicans, meanwhile, all have to line up to outdo each other in denouncing the workers who keep their lawns manicured, their children cared for and their restaurants open.
Setting aside the Tancredos and Kuciniches of the race, who are at least being sincere, there is a farcical nature to the pro-autarky posturing in both parties. Leading candidates in both parties know better. Hillary Clinton opposing the Korea Free Trade Agreement? Give me a break. John Edwards was a centrist pro-trade senator before he reinvented himself as a crazed populist presidential candidate. Among Republicans, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee may all be vulnerable in primaries because of their stances on illegal immigration -- perhaps because they have all governed in the real world, where these workers are needed.
Republicans may frame the issue in terms of illegal immigration, while Democrats prefer to discuss "fair trade." But they're both talking about the same thing: autarky. On the campaign trail or in a 90-minute debate, trade and immigration can seem like separate issues. But they are part of the same theme for many voters and in the discourse of talk radio.
But back to your question: Yes, Republicans may stand to gain the most from this yearning for autarky. The theory was that the GOP would agree to change the system because big business understands the imperative of legalizing the flow of needed labor. But the GOP's more important imperative is political, and illegal immigration is a powerful anti-Democrat weapon.
It is going to get ugly, I am afraid -- and very stupid.
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: zaney | December 3, 2007 9:59 AM
Posted by: jkoch | November 27, 2007 3:14 PM
Posted by: jhbyer | November 25, 2007 6:46 AM
Posted by: Roy, Chiapas Mexico | November 23, 2007 7:51 PM
Posted by: Vamos | November 23, 2007 6:16 PM
Posted by: motilal | November 23, 2007 5:56 PM
Posted by: Paul | November 23, 2007 5:52 PM
Posted by: Ali | November 23, 2007 5:34 PM
Posted by: Buddy | November 23, 2007 5:24 PM
Posted by: SEO | November 23, 2007 5:14 PM
Posted by: Tirade | November 23, 2007 4:39 PM
Posted by: Anonymous | November 23, 2007 3:19 PM
Posted by: BL | November 23, 2007 3:05 PM
Posted by: BL | November 23, 2007 2:44 PM
Posted by: BL | November 23, 2007 2:29 PM
Posted by: BoredReader | November 23, 2007 1:53 PM
Posted by: Jeff | November 23, 2007 1:19 PM
Posted by: Adam C | November 23, 2007 1:10 PM
Posted by: James | November 23, 2007 12:39 PM
Posted by: jhbyer | November 23, 2007 12:35 PM
Posted by: quark | November 23, 2007 12:31 PM
Posted by: TimT | November 23, 2007 11:50 AM
Posted by: Staggo Lee | November 23, 2007 11:44 AM
Posted by: Oort | November 23, 2007 10:37 AM
Posted by: tiredofit | November 23, 2007 10:27 AM
Posted by: Mark | November 23, 2007 10:25 AM
Posted by: Barbara Fister | November 23, 2007 10:11 AM
Posted by: XYZ | November 23, 2007 10:04 AM
Posted by: corbett | November 23, 2007 10:02 AM
Posted by: mikelemm | November 23, 2007 9:59 AM
Posted by: Mike | November 23, 2007 9:29 AM
Posted by: Garak | November 23, 2007 8:51 AM
Posted by: Roy | November 23, 2007 8:35 AM
Posted by: Anonymous | November 23, 2007 8:16 AM
Posted by: daryl glaser | November 23, 2007 5:13 AM
Posted by: Matthew | November 23, 2007 5:01 AM
Posted by: Bukko in Australia | November 23, 2007 4:01 AM
The comments to this entry are closed.