We have seen one of the most demagogic and least edifying campaigns finally come to an end. President Obama was able to turn his leftish base of minorities and people dependent on government entitlement programs out in force yesterday by scaring them. Romney was the first candidate in U.S. history to openly advocate cutting the welfare state by means-testing social security and medicare; he chose Paul Ryan as his running-mate He told us that we are on the path to bankruptcy. Much of the country would hear none of it. We have been given too many entitlements for too long, and it might not be possible to run on a platform of curtailment, even as modest as offered by Romney-Ryan. The President rejected the very idea of means-testing entitlements in the debt negotiations of 2011, according to Bob Woodward’s new book, because Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid blanched at the very idea. He went on to excoriate Romney as callous for his proposal to enact the uncontroversial idea of weaning affluent people off these programs by making them pay more. This proved to be a very heavy burden to overcome in two months of hyper-partisan campaigning. Romney would talk numbers; and the president would scare people.
The President also cleverly offered defacto amnesty, the so called “Dream Act,” two months before the election even though he has no legislative authority to do so. This appeased the disgruntled Hispanic population supposedly angry at the failure to enact “immigration reform.” We are never told what immigration reform really consists of, other than some sort of permanent legal status for illegal immigrants. I’ve noted in this blog many times that our immigration system is incredibly complex, and it is difficult to enter the country legally. And that’s intentional. Since 1921, the U.S. has restricted immigration and generally admits only relatives of U.S. citizens and others who are skilled and can find gainful employment. If, by immigration reform, the critics of the status quo want more legal immigration, then they will have to explain why that makes economic sense when we have persistently high unemployment. They have never done so.
We hear a constant theme from election analysts about the failure of the Republicans to do well with Hispanics. This is always attributed to talk of enforcement of our laws against illegal immigrants. I don’t accept that. If Romney had not said a single word about immigration enforcement during the campaign, would he have won the Hispanic vote? He would not have. Immigration is not the top issue for Hispanics, a big and diverse demographic group, and often intermarried with non-Hispanics. Hispanics, according to every voter survey, are reliable Democratic voters for other reasons. Republicans have tried various forms of “outreach,” Spanish-speaking surrogates, George W. Bush’s open embrace of “immigration reform,” and the result is the same. Republicans cannot carry the Hispanic vote.
The President has promised to make “immigration reform” a top priority in his second term. Let’s see what reforms he wants. If he wants to give permanent legal status to the 10-15 million illegal immigrants in the country, then he should be asked how they will find jobs. Will this aggravate the unemployment rate, and how much will it cost us in more entitlement spending? Illegal immigrants are overwhelmingly poor, uneducated and unskilled–exactly the sort of people we do not need in our labor markets right now. (We did need them in the 1880-1920 period of exploding industrialization.) This may sound compassionate to some; to others at the low end of the economic scale, it is brutal. High school educated Americans, largely black, will suffer from more competition for a dwindling number of low-paid jobs. Wages will go down. People will not be able to support families on one paycheck. There will be a race to the bottom.
Republicans need to oppose this type of “immigration reform.” The most pro-Romney sector of the electorate was downscale white voters. This new lower class instinctively knows that their incomes are falling and immigration hurts them. Opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants may also endear Republicans to blacks, a demographic group that has been completely turned off by the party’s message for 60 years. In 1986 the NAACP strongly supported the Immigration Reform and Control Act, the first law to ban the employment of illegal immigrants. Its leaders testified before Congress that competition for low-skilled jobs with illegal immigrants was a huge problem for their members.
What do Republicans have to say to Hispanics? At every Republican convention speakers say the party treats all Americans as individuals and not as members of a social group. Then after the conventions, the party apparatus goes right out and appeals to Hispanics as Hispanics instead of as Americans. Imagine an election where Republicans spoke to everyone without dividing the nation into rich, poor, the 47%, the top 1%, ethnically, etc. It would be a colorblind, class-free appeal to what is in the national interest. It would have a dissonant ring to it in this age of pollster-tested messages for this and that slice of the electorate. But it needs to be tried. It is the best counter punch to the class and race-baiting we have just endured.