Friday, May 14, 2010

Gerson and Immigration

This may be the only time in history I will agree with Michael Gerson, but he is making sense on Arizona's recent racist anti-Mexican laws:

Immigration issues are emotional and complex. But this must be recognized for what it is: political suicide. Consider that Hispanics make up 40 percent of the K-12 students in Arizona, 44 percent in Texas, 47 percent in California, 54 percent in New Mexico. Whatever temporary gains Republicans might make feeding resentment of this demographic shift, the party identified with that resentment will eventually be voted into singularity. In a matter of decades, the Republican Party could cease to be a national party.

Even describing this reality invites scorn from those who regard immigration as a matter of principle instead of politics. But this represents a deep misunderstanding of politics itself. In America, political ideals are carried by parties. Republicans who are pro-business and pro-life, support a strong national defense and oppose deficit spending depend on one another to achieve influence. Each of these convictions alienates someone -- pro-choice voters, economic liberals, pacifists. But Republican activists who alienate not an issue-group but an influential, growing ethnic group are a threat to every other constituency. The vocal faction of anti-immigrant Republicans is not merely part of a coalition; it will eventually make it impossible for anyone else in that coalition to succeed at the national level.

The good news for Republicans is that Hispanics tend to be entrepreneurial and socially conservative. While the general image Hispanics hold of the GOP is poor, individual Republican candidates can make significant inroads. In presidential elections, Hispanic support can swing widely. In 1996, Bill Clinton got 72 percent of the Hispanic vote. In 2004, John Kerry's support was in the 50s. And Republicans do not need to win a majority of the Latino vote to compete nationally, just a competitive minority of that vote.

But even this modest goal is impossible if Hispanic voters feel targeted rather than courted.
For all the massive evil of the Bush Administration, Bush and many of his cronies did see the political reality his former speechwriter describes here. Republicans cannot be knee-jerk anti-Mexican and survive. And Gerson is right that if Republicans weren't so damn racist, they could make real inroads into the Latino vote on issues like abortion and gay marriage.

What Gerson doesn't say is that Republicans made a choice to be the white man's party in the 1960s and today they are paying the cost for that decision. Nixon's Southern Strategy made brilliant sense from a political perspective in 1968, but by fostering and coddling the racist elements within the Republican Party while also driving out moderates of all stripes, the Southern Strategy today means extreme anti-Mexican prejudice in many corners of the party is not just accepted, but expected.

And for all their social conservatism, Latinos are going to vote for Democrats in overwhelming numbers across the nation, just like they do in California today.

While I'm glad this reality is going to help the Democratic Party for the rest of my life, I'm sad one of the two political parties in this nation still has such a strong commitment to racism.