May 18, 2005

Immigration: An Opening for Buchanan's Misguided "Conservatism"

Marc Comtois

R. J. Pestritto and Ken Masugi at The Remedy (a blog hosted by The Claremont Institute) offer their own important commentary on Pat Buchanan's style of conservatism. Masugi notes that Buchanan has a

deficient understanding of conservative principles. Buchanan’s refrains are to Edmund Burke and Adam Smith as the fathers of conservatism. Both are foreigners. Where do the Declaration of Independence, Madison, Hamilton, Washington, and, more tellingly, Lincoln fit into his conservatism? Does he not have a special place for John C. Calhoun, that most articulate defender of slavery? His journal is called The American Conservative, not the Conservative American. But American principles are both broader and deeper than Buchanan’s version of American conservative principles. On the issue of immigration, our own argument would be not that we have too many immigrants (illegal or otherwise), but that we have too few Americans, too little devotion to and understanding of what makes America unique.
To this, Pestrito amplifies
Conservatives, presumably, want to conserve something; but the “something” that Buchanan wants to conserve is, as Masugi points out, largely foreign to the American political tradition and to America’s founding principles.

Unfortunately, there are phenemona today that make Buchanan’s un-American conservatism appealing to both conservatives and non-conservatives alike, and this is dangerous. The president’s immigration policy is one such phenomenon. As wrong as Buchanan’s general view of the world is, and as wrong as his own view of immigrants is, it is hard to argue with Buchanan when he says. . . 1) the president “has abdicated his responsibility to defend America” by refusing to enforce vigorously the immigration laws that are on the books; and 2) the president has made himself indistinguishable from the Democrats by his advocacy of amnesty for the illegals currently in the United States, thus undercutting respect for the rule of law (the rule of law, unlike much of what Buchanan champions, actually is a bedrock principle of the American political tradition). These particular observations about the Bush immigration policy are unassailable. The recent story about the U.S. Border Patrol being told to relax its enforcement efforts is not new – Border Patrol agents have complained repeatedly throughout the course of the Bush administration about being told not to do their jobs. This is why the president’s own party is fighting him on immigration. Or, as Buchanan says, “He's going to get a House that tries to impose upon him the obligation to do his duty and defend this country.”

Buchanan sees hope for his un-American brand of conservatism in the conservative reaction to Bush’s immigration policy. This is all too true, and it would constitute a dangerous blow to the restoration of genuine, American, conservative principles. It is also mind boggling that a president who clearly has done so much to defend our country in every other area – against the strong currents of elite opinion – would provide such an opening for the likes of Pat Buchanan. Buchanan, after all, seems to think that keeping out immigrants is the only way of defending America, even making the nutty argument that we needn’t have fought in World War II.

Finally, Masugi. . . refers to “our own argument” on immigration. And certainly, I’d share his opposition to Buchanan in this regard: Buchanan wants to stop immigration; I want immigration to be lawful, I want the law to be sensible – to contain reasonable controls on the kinds and numbers of immigrants and to keep America’s self-defense and social-compact rights foremost – and I want the law to be vigorously enforced. In fact, it’s pretty clear that Buchanan wants to blame immigrants for almost everything that ails America; as the grandson of immigrants, I take this kind of personally. But as part of “our” argument, Masugi refers to a variety of things, one of which includes an interview advocating a “guest worker” program. Such a program may or may not be part of a sensible immigration law in the future, depending upon its form. But, if by “guest worker” program we mean what the president proposes – which is a “guest worker” program for those currently here illegally, I want no part of it. That’s called amnesty and it rewards law-breaking. As Abraham Lincoln well understood, rewarding law-breaking is not the way to conserve America’s original principles and its republican institutions. As flaky as congressional Republicans can be, even they understand this, which is why the president’s immigration program is, thankfully, going nowhere fast.

The danger of Buchanan, as these writers mention, is that he is on the "right" side of a conservative issue, but that he arrived at his position for the wrong reasons. In short, Buchanan's "ends" vis a vis immigration are on target, but his justification for his "closed borders" policy, like so much else of what he has recently spouted, relies on near-xenophobic rhetoric. Controlling immigration does not necessarily equate to "Fortress America." Patrick Buchanan believes it should.

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Even neocon William Kristol even admitted that immigrants aren't makeing America conservative. Contrary to the rhetoric of some, immigrants have higher rates of abortion, divorce, illegimacy and the like. Mexicans in Mexico have 20% out of wedlock birth & Mexican-Americans 40%.

What's so xenophobic about wanting to keep America the way it is? If you think California (now permanently democratic) is the model for America, then keep the immigrants coming.

Posted by: Steve Jackson at May 18, 2005 7:28 PM

First, I don't view immigration in the light of whether it is going to make American more conservative or not. Secondly, and again, there is a difference between legal and illegal immigration. California and many of the other states in the Southwest suffer because of rampant illegal immigration. Attempts to stop or limit this sort is really not up for debate, is it? Conversely, a historical and traditional American ideal is that of being the land of opportunity for both its own citizens and those willing to take the risk and LEGALLY immigrate to it. "Give us your tired, your hungry,..." may seem quaint and/or naive now, but it should not be so easily dispensed with. What Buchanan advocates is stopping all immigration as part of his overall fortress-America mindset. Perhaps a kinder term would be hyper-American exceptionalism?

Posted by: m at May 19, 2005 7:30 AM

FYI, that above post is by me...the auto-fill form feature didn't finish my name, I guess.

Posted by: Marc Comtois at May 19, 2005 7:32 AM

But why shouldn't we look at immigration in terms of its effect on US culture?

Is Buchanan opposed to all immigration? Does he think that if I marry a woman from France, she shouldn't be able to become a US citizen?

I think an "immigration pause" of 20 years (with the exception of family 'reunifcations' limited to marriage) would be a good idea. Does this make me a racist?

Posted by: Steve Jackson at May 19, 2005 4:15 PM

Of course it doesn't make you racist, but I'm not sure what to infer from your statement regarding Buchanan and marrying a woman from France. Am I to fill in "as opposed to a girl from Mexico?" Regardless of what you're trying to get at, I just don't think we need to limit all immigration, just that which is illegal, especially as it is illegal immigration that causes such a drain on the taxpayers, as I alluded to in my original post.

Posted by: Marc Comtois at May 20, 2005 9:51 PM