Democrats Are Blowing The Immigration Message
We Don't Need GOP-Lite On Immigration
The notion that the southern border of the United States is in a state of chaos, with scary, brown-skinned Mexican hordes of people spilling over into the country unchecked and bringing with them radical notions of socialism and MS-13 gang violence, is a completely made up fiction from white supremacists. These groups have been engaged in a concerted effort to push this false narrative for years, particularly since it became clear that Donald Trump had been beaten by President Joe Biden and a Democrat would occupy the White House.
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The Republican Party adopted the “Biden border crisis” narrative, just like they pushed “Bidenflation” and “nobody wants to work anymore” following the passage of the American Rescue Plan. Of course, the right’s chief propaganda organ, Fox News, has been repeating this toxic brew of xenophobia on a loop for years until it has consumed the empty brains of the network’s most ardent right-wing viewers.
That’s why its so jarring to see Democrats, from President Biden on down, adopting this flawed and bigoted frame of reference when discussing immigration.
Right now, its very clear that Democrats think they’re in a good place on this topic. On the surface it might appear so. The Senate immigration bill was killed because Trump lashed out at it, and tying the GOP to Trump’s extremism has been a winning argument for Democrats before.
But Democrats are using the Republican Party’s legislative ineptitude for a “gotcha” by arguing that killing the deal proves that Republicans aren’t serious about “border security” and that Democrats are. This dynamic unfortunately accepts the false conservative framing of the issue. It accepts a world in which our immigration priorities are “securing the border” against the scary videos of caravans and gang violence that show up all the time on Fox News.
That isn’t the real world. It is the world of hate and bigotry and fear, and it isn’t a notion that Democrats should merely accept as a given. In addition to being morally wrong, it is also a formulation that insults a key Democratic constituency. Latinos and those sympathetic to migrant rights are a large part of the base of the party and by adopting the flawed right-wing argument on the border, Democrats risk turning off those voters. That would be bad enough under normal circumstances but even more of a concern when Biden already has a problem with Muslim voters over the Israeli war currently underway.
Having observed the Democratic Party for way too long now, I know where these notions are coming from. Democratic leaders are always looking for a magic bullet to win over conservative-leaning voters, in a desperate gambit for the mythical Reagan Republicans that has gone on for over forty years now. The party is in love with focus groups and polling and collectively buys into the notion that a path to victory comes from picking from a smorgasbord of policy positions, mostly center-left but sometimes conservative ones, in hopes of winning over a majority of voters.
The thinking goes that Democrats can be the party of protecting Social Security and Medicare, LGBTQ inclusion, racial equity AND also the party of cutting deficits and “securing the border.” But it doesn’t really work out this way. This mishmash comes out like mush to voters and puts the party in more of an ideological bind than is necessary. It would be better if Democrats embraced more center-left/progressive positions, not only because they are politically popular but because they happen to also be the right things to do.
I’ve seen the party make this mistake before. After George W. Bush began beating the drums for war with Iraq after 9/11, Democratic leaders rejected the notion that the party should be anti-war. In the wake of the terrorist attacks this idea just didn’t poll well. So, for the next few years we saw things like then-Democratic leader Dick Gephardt standing next to Bush in the Rose Garden, proudly supporting the resolution to go to war in Iraq. Many Democrats in Congress voted for the war and then spent the next few years attacking the war issue not by directly opposing the conflict, but by criticizing Bush for war strategy and issues like body armor for the troops. The result was a disaster for Democrats as they lost the 2002 midterms and the crucial 2004 election (after believing nominating war hero John Kerry would insulate them from right-wing war attacks, it didn’t).
What led Democrats to victory following this mess was embracing the anti-war position, which was not only popular, but the morally correct position to have. Within the party, Barack Obama’s clear-headed opposition to the war as a “dumb war” prevailed over Hillary Clinton, who had voted for the invasion, and in the general election his progressive stance stood in even starker contrast to Sen. John McCain, one of the most pro-war voices in America.
Democrats keep obsessing over winning over a voting bloc that hates them, while simultaneously alienating the voters who are the engine that makes the party go. Very wealthy Democratic consultants, who don’t have any core ideology, continue to push this dynamic and it leads the party astray down these utterly unproductive avenues. It is politically inept.
I’m not arguing that this wrongheaded approach is going to swing the election, but it is an unforced error. Democrats don’t need to be the hawk party on immigration, banging the drums on “border security.” America already has a party for that, and it is jam-packed with racists who fear brown skin, led by the racist-in-chief, Donald Trump.
Democrats should be the party that acknowledges that the border and immigration are complex, systemic problems requiring compassion, not blunt force and hate. Build on the work done by the Biden administration, particularly by Vice President Kamala Harris, to address the root causes of migration in the first place – then make the case that the migrants coming to America deserve a working system to determine whether they should be admitted or returned, while also laying out a path to citizenship for the people who are already here and are going to stay, not be rounded up in brown-shirt raids on vulnerable communities and families.
Reject the flawed and hateful right-wing paradigm. There is little to be gained in short term political gain from continuing down this road, and more importantly, it is the wrong thing to do.
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