29 January 2013

Republicans, immigrants and the limits of persuasion

With a bipartisan plan to reform immigration policy developing in the U.S. Senate, one of the two parties involved faces another potential split in its own ranks. On one side are pragmatists like Sen. McCain who see a problem in their party's apparent unpopularity among Hispanics and appear to believe that the GOP shouldn't go out of its way to alienate that growing bloc of voters. On the other, for one, is Rep. Barletta of Pennsylvania, who announced his opposition to anything resembling "amnesty" in his eyes. He did so in language alarmingly reminiscent of Mitt Romney's infamous "47 percent" talk from last year.

Anyone who believes that they're going to win over the Latino vote is grossly mistaken. The majority that are here illegally are low-skilled or may not even have a high school diploma. The Republican Party is not going to compete over who can give more social programs out. They will become Democrats because of the social programs they'll depend on.

A dangerous fatalism is creeping into the Republican mainstream. Conservatism tends toward pessimism, but the kind of pessimism expressed by Barletta and Romney goes against the best ideals of democratic republicanism. Mass political parties that function on a national scale should strive to persuade everyone to vote for them. To write off large segments of the population while aspiring, as national parties must, to permanent electoral majorities portends the permanent exclusion from power of those segments of the population whom Republicans can't or don't want to win over. To assume that any segment of the population can't be won over to a different point of view or political philosophy is either a confession of your own inadequacy as a persuader, not to mention the inadequacy of your ideology, or a slur against the intelligence or tolerance of those who currently disagree with you. It might be argued that Democrats feel the same way about the white South, but I don't really think that any dismissal of any demographic by the Democrats is as sweeping or ominous as the Republican attitude toward the "dependent" in general.

Many Republicans have long been concerned about the emergence of a permanent class of "dependents," and some clearly believe that a historic tipping point has come or will come soon. Their contempt for "dependency" is such that they consider the dependent class hopelessly intractable and hope to ignore them if possible. They're either saying that a debate on "dependency" is now or soon will be impossible, or that the "dependent" themselves may as well be excluded from the debate since they can't be "won over" to any weaning process. Many other Republicans may share these general beliefs about dependency, but still want Latino votes. They, presumably, are smart enough not to implicitly tar all Latinos with the dependency smear, even if some wish Latinos wouldn't identify so strongly with illegal or amnesty-seeking immigrants. To put a more positive spin on it, some Republicans still believe that Latino immigrants can become hardworking, taxpaying, government-resenting Republicans, while others believe otherwise and increasingly assume a stance of permanent enmity. The pragmatists want a future majority, while the ideologues (and allied bigots) have faith in the permanent silent majority that always agrees with them. No matter what they say about voter fraud, I bet some of these people wish that the dead could vote, because then they'd always win. Or so they think. 

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