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Mondays Musings: All They Have Is Fear Itself
In a time of challenge, the GOP panics - The one upsmanship for who could be harder on Muslims we saw among Republican President candidates this past week was a powerful reminder that the GOP has long ceased being a “conservative” party and has descended into a far more pernicious “reactionary” period. This is a subject I have discussed at length over the years, including in this long form magazine piece and in this recent piece about how fear will drive the Republicans this election cycle. The fear of modernity that is driving the reactionary right these days is perhaps the most significant force in American politics today, one that is crying out for an equally muscular and modern liberalism to challenge it head on.
Another example of this kneejerky fear of others and foreign threats was the House GOP’s terribly disappointing reaction to the Paris attacks. Of all the things the House GOP could have done last week, the Ryan-led House rushed out a bill – with no hearings and overriding their own internal rules about time needed to consider legislation – making it far tougher for the US to admit Syrian refugees. Regardless of the merits of the bill, the haste in which it was rushed out made it appear to be designed more to undermine and embarrass the President in the middle of an important foreign trip than to develop a more effective, bi-partisan response to the growing threat of the Islamic State. Paul Ryan’s choice was craven, nasty politics in its purest form in a time of challenge, the very opposite of patriotism.
Contrast this not ready for prime time behavior with that of the Democrats: the President continued his important trip to Asia, selling among other things his newly negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement; and Hillary Clinton gave a thoughtful and mature speech about defeating the Islamic State. Senate Democrats also made a valuable contribution to this nascent debate, countering Ryan’s refugee with a proposal to close the NRA supported loophole that allows those on the terror watch list to legally buy guns in the US (something we think has happened several thousand times, and yes this is a real debate).
There can be no doubt that the nation needs to both develop a better response to the Islamic State and have a respectful, public debate about it. Given how the two parties responded last week to Paris, I am proud of how the Democrats have responded, and worried about where the GOP is headed at a time when we need to come together, work with our allies and be smart (see here for my thoughts on the US should move forward now “After Paris.”)
The US remains a welcoming, generous nation - And while I disagree with Ryan’s refugee bill, I also want to challenge the assertions by some that we are an ungenerous nation when it comes to allowing immigrants into the US. Since 1950 the US has allowed close to 50 million immigrants into the US legally. Another 4 million refugees have resettled here, and another 11 million or so have come here without authorization. In the past 65 years, the US has absorbed 65 million new immigrants – an extraordinary number, equal to 1/5th of our total population today. We are currently taking in 1 million new legal immigrants every year in the US; so over the next 100 years at current rates we will take in 100 million more new immigrants. This graph does a good job capturing both the scale of the recent migration into the US, and its diversity. So while we may head into the Thanksgiving break disappointed with the GOP, we should not for a moment buy into the argument that America is anything but a generous and welcoming nation to immigrants from throughout the world.
See the graph below for US immigration trends ("200 Years of Immigration to the U.S.", Natalia Bronshtein).
I remain convinced that the Democrats should make it far more explicit on their strategy for improving the immigration system. I offered this three part plan as a starting point, one that would include reintroducing the House Democrats immigration bill from 2014, fully funding the Vice President’s Central American plan and supporting the aggressive efforts by this Administration – and repeatedly blocked by the GOP – to make the deportation of dangerous criminals the highest priority of our immigration enforcement system. Pro-reform advocates should stop playing defense now and go out and make it clear how we want to modernize and improve America's terribly broken immigration system.
Polling/National Landscape – The GOP field saw changes last week: Trump’s lead increased across the nation and in the early primary states; Carson, as we predicted, has begun to fade; Cruz and Rubio are making meaningful gains. If current trends continue the GOP race could soon be a three way among Trump, Rubio and Cruz with a large group in the back of the field hanging on by their fingernails and not much else.
The Democratic side saw Hillary having another good week, appearing Presidential and competent in the days after Paris. Bernie Sanders, however, choose to go ahead and give a major address on “democratic socialism,” an act that seemed to reinforce both the liabilities and limitations of his spirited candidacy. What should be worrisome to the Democrats, however, is the initial hit in the polls Obama took this week. After what was the very best run he had had in almost three years in Gallup, the President lost 5 or so points in the last few days. It is a reminder to Democrats that while there is now great optimism about the revitalized Clinton campaign, the performance of the President over the next year will matter as much to 2016 as what she does. It will be important for the President to return from his foreign trip and take control of the substance and politics of this debate about how to best rid the world of the Islamic State and bring a better day to Syria and the broader Middle East.
"Monday Musings" is a new column looking at the national political landscape published most Mondays here on the NDN site. You find previous versions here.