06 June 2013

Principle, compromise, and the political environment

One of the reasons I've often cited for why the Republican party is in deep trouble is the absolutism and unwillingness to compromise displayed by so much of the base.  If the RNC hints at becoming more accepting of gay marriage, Huckabee threatens to lead the Christian Right out of the party.  If Rubio speaks out for a compromise on illegal immigration, he's damned as a traitor and struck from the list of acceptable 2016 Presidential candidates.  Being anti-choice on abortion is now a de facto litmus test for candidates for any major office.  These attitudes are not rare, either.  Read the comments on any major right-wing site and you'll see how pervasive they are.

But, some might say, it's easy to mock other people for being unwilling to compromise their principles.  Aren't we just as dedicated to, and uncompromising about, our own?

First off, I've always implicitly pushed for the left to avoid such rigid stances, because they make the best the enemy of the good and the ideal the enemy of the achievable.  The last thing I want to see on the left is a bunch of posturing factions who announce that they can't vote for a Democratic candidate because of this or that, and thereby let a far worse Republican get in.  Secondly, and hitting closer to home, one of my own hot-button issues is in the news and in Congress right now, and the clash of principle and strategy has proven educational.

I discussed illegal immigration at length three years ago here, but to summarize why I object to an amnesty or "path to citizenship" or whatever one chooses to call it:

(1) Illegal aliens broke the law by entering the country.  They should not be treated as if they had any right to be here (as with Orwellian euphemisms like "undocumented").

(2) The United States is being asked to tolerate an infraction of its sovereignty that other countries would never tolerate.  Making and enforcing immigration laws is a legitimate function of a sovereign state and all countries routinely do it (Mexico, for example, is notoriously ruthless with illegal entrants from Guatemala).  Why should only the United States be expected to give up this right?

(3) Allowing illegal aliens to legally stay is insulting to would-be legal immigrants who followed the rules and are waiting for their cases to work through the process so they can come here.

(4) Illegal aliens hurt the interests of less-skilled American workers by depressing wages through competition.

(5) About 2/3 of illegal aliens come from Latin America.  Do we really want to increase our population of people (and potential voters) from a religious, patriarchal, homophobic culture?  We have quite enough people like that already.

(6) I'm unconvinced by claims that it would be impossible to remove illegal aliens.  No one is talking about "rounding up and deporting" 11 million people.  Tough employer sanctions are the key; if they could not get jobs, most illegals would leave.

(7) I'm similarly unmoved by concerns about the suffering a tough policy would cause.  Almost any punishment of illegal behavior creates some stress on innocent parties such as the lawbreaker's family.  The responsibility for that rests with the person who broke the law, not with those who enforce it.  I see no reason why illegal immigration should be treated any differently.

My concern about (5) has been alleviated by recent polls showing Hispanics adopting more liberal social views (more than half now support gay marriage, for example) -- no doubt a reflection of their assimilation of mainstream American culture and values, though the social shifts in Latin America itself are also reassuring.  Point (4), the most serious from a national-interest standpoint, could be alleviated by raising the minimum wage, though it's dubious that this is politically feasible as long as Republicans retain any clout in Congress.  I stand by the other points without reservation.

But with an actual amnesty plan now being debated in Congress, the issue needs to be considered in the messy context of real-world politics, not only in a vacuum.

Republicans are divided on the likely political effects of amnesty and of the consequent eventual increase in the number of Hispanic voters.  One faction thinks it would help their side; they believe that Republican opposition to amnesty is the main reason Hispanic voters shun the party, and that a change of position on the issue would help them win over this fast-growing demographic.  Others argue that Hispanics will continue to lean Democratic, period, and that more Hispanic voters are thus bad news for Republicans.

It seems obvious that the second faction is objectively right.  Polls show very strong Hispanic support for Democratic policies unrelated to immigration, such as Obamacare and a stronger social safety net.  Hispanic voters are not as monolithically pro-amnesty as both parties tend to assume; what probably hurts Republicans more with them is not so much their resistance to amnesty as the fact that it's often expressed in terms that suggest racist motives.  I can forgive policy differences, but not bigotry against me.  I assume other people feel the same.

So an illegal-alien amnesty would be morally wrong, but politically beneficial to the Democratic party.  What conclusion does that suggest?

If we still had two "normal" parties like democracies usually do, it would be a difficult question and I might well decide the amnesty was unacceptable.  But that's not the situation, as we all know.  Given what the Republican party of today is actually like, letting it win back control of the government would be not only more harmful, but vastly, horrifically more harmful, to the country than the worst plausible consequences of the amnesty could possibly be.  The prevention of this has to be the highest priority for now.  If the amnesty would make it less likely, I have to give that more weight than the moral qualms I have about it.

I would say the same of any other issue of principle on which anyone feels the Democratic party is a disappointment (and I myself have several more, notably inadequate action against global warming, the Keystone XL pipeline, expatriation of jobs, etc., etc.).  Yes, pressure the party to do the right thing by whatever means are available, but not in any way which would increase the risk of losing any real power to the Republicans.  They are simply too dangerous.

13 Comments:

Anonymous Liberal AND Proud said...

"The last thing I want to see on the left is a bunch of posturing factions who announce that they can't vote for a Democratic candidate because of this or that, and thereby let a far worse Republican get in."

Really? Then you have no base principles and prefer to have your winning candidate expand the evil policies of his predecessor and can then happily sign off on them because...well...at least it wasn't worse.

Nice. Let me know how that's working out for you.

07 June, 2013 07:25  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your style of pragmatism does not provide any means of stopping the rightward slide of the Democratic party over the last 30 years. They now propose and support policies that few Republicans would have dared to push only a generation ago. How do we get the Democrats to ignore the attractions of corporate money and influence if there is no penalty for selling us out? You can always use the excuse that the Republicans are worse. Where do you draw the line and say "enough is enough"?

07 June, 2013 07:55  
Blogger Tommykey said...

(1) Illegal aliens broke the law by entering the country. They should not be treated as if they had any right to be here (as with Orwellian euphemisms like "undocumented").

Granted, but did Guatemalan peasants ask for the US government to bankroll a right wing dictator who sent an army to rampage through their villages, committing murder, rape, burning of homes, destruction of crops and so forth? Just read about the recent trial of Rios Montt, who was the dictator of Guatemala during the early 80's. A good movie I would recommend is El Norte, about a Guatemalan brother and sister who flee the violence to go to the United States.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not arguing against trying to do anything about illegal immigration, but a segment of the anti-illegal immigration movement looks on these people as subhuman and don't seem to want to know or care about the hardships these people endure and the reason why so many of them risk so much to migrate here and work in often physically demanding jobs.

One reason why I am in favor of a path to citizenship for at least some illegal immigrants is that birth rates in Latin America have been plummeting in recent years, and there isn't an endless supply of people to continue to migrate here.

I've been planning to do a post about this but lately just haven't had the time to write much of anything on my blog.

07 June, 2013 10:18  
Blogger Green Eagle said...

In general, I am entirely in agreement with what you have to say. I do, however, want to point out my one reservation: The greed of the U.S. is directly involved in the current hopeless state that exists in Mexico and central American countries. We ran those countries for our benefit, threw out their leaders when they didn't suit the interests of American companies, gave them dictators instead, and kept their people in serfdom so that we could enjoy things like cheap bananas. We owe these people a large debt, and if we refuse to recognize our responsibility and reverse the damage we have done, we will end up paying that debt as the victims of their miserable governments come up here to try to live decent lives.

07 June, 2013 16:25  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

LAP: You must not have read the posting very carefully. Of course I have principles, but I recognize that some have a higher priority than others. Unfortunately in the real world sometimes our only choices are bad and worse, and avoiding the latter has to come first.

Anonymous: Of course there are ways of pushing the party in the direction we want. Democratic politicians who are too conservative can be challenged in primaries, for example. But when the general election comes, again, we need to choose from the options available. Come 2016 I intend to fight tooth and nail to get the nomination for Warren or someone like her; but if we end up with a centrist Democrat, I will still vote for that centrist rather than risk being culpable in someone like Palin or Rand Paul becoming President.

Your characterization of the present-day Democratic party is absurd. No Republican President would have passed Obamacare or come out in support of gay marriage, for example.

Tommykey: Your point about Guatemala is a good one. Certainly the United States now owes those countries a policy of non-interference, and a case could be made that we owe them substantial reparations as well. But that should not take the form of tolerating random illegal immigration. Even if you feel that we should allow more immigrants from Central America for those reasons, the proper course is to change the law so that they can immigrate legally (and don't forget that about a third of our illegal aliens don't come from Latin America).

I certainly don't look upon illegal aliens as sub-human, but of course with the unmistakable taint of racism in so much right-wing rhetoric on this issue, it's hard to raise such matters at all without coming under suspicion.

The falling birth rates in Latin America are an important phenomenon, as is the dramatic improvement in Mexico's domestic economic situation. The illegal-immigration problem, at least from Latin America, is in the process of solving itself.

Green Eagle: This is all true -- my first paragraph in response to Tommykey above applies here as well, of course.

07 June, 2013 17:35  
Blogger Green Eagle said...

And may I add that, to me it is not about tolerating illegal immigration.

I may have told this story before, but when I was working on "There Will Be Blood" down in West Texas, we had a three day weekend which I spent in Big Bend National Park, on the Mexican border. No one who has ever seen how narrow and shallow the Rio Grande is for hundreds of miles along there could ever think that we are capable of keeping people from crossing over. The only way we can hope to keep them at home is to make their lives there tolerable; and as long as our government caters only to multinational corporations that is never going to happen.

07 June, 2013 20:26  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Of course there are ways of pushing the party in the direction we want ... But when the general election comes, again, we need to choose from the options available".
My point is that folding your cards in the end does not seem to be working. Democratic candidates overall are getting less and less progressive. Can you seriously vote for someone like Joe Lieberman, Ben Nelson, Harold Ford or Heath Shuler regardless of their opponent? At what point do you change course?

"Your characterization of the present-day Democratic party is absurd. No Republican President would have passed Obamacare or come out in support of gay marriage, for example".
I was referring to Republicans of a generation ago, not Republicans today. Ever heard of "Romneycare"? Obamacare is a Republican idea and implementation out of the 1990s. And it would certainly be a stretch to describe Obama and the mainstream Democratic party as leading any charge for gay rights. They got serious about it only after a majority of the country got on board with the idea.

08 June, 2013 03:19  
Blogger emily said...

I'm curious to know how many legal immigrants you spoke to in coming to the realization of number 3.

08 June, 2013 07:36  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Green Eagle: Sealing the border would not only be very difficult but wouldn't solve the problem. Lots of illegals enter the country legally and then just don't leave when their visas expire, for example.

Anonymous: You can cite conservative Democrats (though don't forget a few years ago Lieberman failed to get re-nominated by the party and had to run as an independent), but there are also Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin and others who are becoming more progressive.

I was referring to Republicans of a generation ago, not Republicans today.

But I am talking about Republicans of today, because that's what we have today as an alternative to the Democrats. If the Republican party were still the party of Eisenhower's time, it would be far less dangerous and I would be far more willing to risk letting them win in order to put pressure on the Democrats. But today the Republicans are dominated by theocratic lunatics, and we can't take such risks.

It's absurd to think that today's Republicans would have passed Obamacare, since they're monomaniacally obsessed with repealing it. Lots of Dems now support gay marriage, however belatedly; most Republicans are fanatically against it. The gap is huge.

No party, however good its positions, can accomplish anything if it can't win elections. There's no point in pressing the Democrats to do better if they end up out of power.

And even if the Democrats promised no improvements at all, the fact remains that letting the present-day Republicans back into power would be an utter disaster. That has to be prevented, if nothing else.

Emily: At least two whom I know have mentioned this point, sometimes vehemently.

08 June, 2013 10:18  
Blogger emily said...

I practice immigration law, so I come across my fair share of immigrants. My husband recently became a citizen and works with a lot of people who are non-citizens. Of all my dealing with immigrants, I have never heard anyone express a sentiment anything close to that. In my observation, based upon what they have told me about entry without inspection, it's either because they were in the same situation and realize how difficult it is and that it needs to be made easier or because they are in completely different situations and they know that it's not really a line that you have to wait in so much as class. I think this is also the reason why we keep hearing in the news about the margin by which Obama won the Latino vote and how if the Republicans don't support immigration reform, they will lose the Latino vote. (example: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/politics/56422968-90/gop-immigration-latino-latinos.html.csp)

I'd be more inclined to think of immigrants as a varied group with differing opinions. Much like citizens.

09 June, 2013 04:31  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Undoubtedly legal immigrants are a varied, group, and I never claimed that all of them would object to an illegal-alien amnesty, only that this is indeed another reason why it would be unjust. Some do object to it, though, as I know.

09 June, 2013 06:35  
Blogger emily said...

I just fail to see how "amnesty" (nb, I'm pretty much on the fence about this) would be unjust to other immigrants. They are pretty much two entirely different classes--one that can get into the country based on their skills and family members and one group that doesn't have those assets. (I know this is an over simplification.) I don't understand how creating a new door for those that were previously excluded is insulting to those who already had a door. Can you help me understand this?

09 June, 2013 06:42  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Some would-be legal immigrants have to wait for years while their applications work through the system before they can even enter the US. Allowing others, who elbowed their way to the front of the line by entering illegally, to stay here, unfairly privileges them over those who followed the rules and are still waiting to even enter the country.

10 June, 2013 01:26  

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