In his recent column “W’s Immigration Plan: A New GOP” (New York Post, January 8), John Podhoretz congratulates President Bush for going to bat for amnesty. He assures us that the President “proposed a far-reaching, innovative and compassionate revision of American immigration policy.”
Furthermore, Bush “believes deeply, and correctly, that a Republican Party that continues to lean toward a position of hostility toward immigrants and immigration is a party that will not prosper and prevail in the 21st century.”
According to Podhoretz the Lesser, the Republican Party, because its history of xenophobia, must walk the extra mile to show it has reformed. In 1924, he says, Republicans gave us “an act to limit the migration of aliens to the United States,” an attitude that “fit in nicely and precisely with the isolationism for which the Republican Party became known in the 1930s and 1940s.”
Unfortunately, Pod the Lesser says, some Republicans and particularly some conservatives have remained mean-spirited. He points to an outbreak of rightwing bigots in the 1990s, “ranging from the respectable precincts of National Review to the hatemongering nativism growing like fetid algae in the Pat Buchanan fever swamp.” He denounces allegedly hypocritical immigrants, John Derbyshire, Peter Brimelow, John O’Sullivan, and George Borjas, who have dared to criticize immigration policy after they got here.
It is unclear to me why informed commentators who were born in other countries are not allowed to join this debate without encountering Podhoretz’s anger. But Podhoretz also sneers at native-born Americans: Senator Alan Simpson (of the Simpson-Mazzoli Act) and Governor Pete Wilson (sponsor of Proposition 187), who apparently went too far in trying to clamp down on illegal immigration.
A well-researched brief by Lou Dobbs (American-born) in U.S. News and World Report (The politics of immigration January 12) makes clear that Bush’s “immigration policy that helps match any willing employer with any willing employee” seeks to sidestep the fact that we already have between 8 and 12 million illegal aliens residing in this country. These uninvited guests draw social benefits that are paid through revenues and depress the wages of those who are here legally. According to Dobbs, the depression in wages is 3.5% for each 10% gain in the immigrant workforce, a figure that includes illegal as well as legal immigrants.
Support for immigration restriction in the U.S. is now over 75%, and one would have to guess that the opposition would be even greater in the case of amnestying illegal aliens. Dobbs sensibly wonders whether our “political leaders,” among whom I shall include at the risk of being called an anti-Semite the “neoconservatives,” have any sense of how unpopular their immigration stands are becoming.
But Podhoretz and his fellow-neoconservatives have their own trauma to deal with. They are basically descended from Eastern European Jews who settled in our multiethnic cities in the first half of the twentieth century and, as Podhoretz intimates, still feel reservations about the Republicans as a WASP nativist party.
This tic (the Yiddish term for nuttiness, mishegoss, comes to mind) should be relegated to a catalogue of sociological maladjustments like the garbled memories of the Swedes and Finns who still berate each other in Minneapolis for what they think happened in the old country.
But it is impossible to treat neocon prejudices with the idle curiosity reserved for other ethnic hang-ups. Unfortunately those who walk around with this particular neurosis now control the “Conservative Movement”— financially, journalistically, and to a large extent programmatically.
For example, when in 1987 neocons denounced me to the authorities at Catholic University of America, on the grounds that I was “not safe on Israel,” their flagrantly illogical argument: I had denied that Imperial Germany was principally to blame for the outbreak of World War One. Somehow this proved that I had denied the Holocaust, at least by indirection (never mind that it was the wrong German war!), and therefore I had to be against the Israelis (many of whose ancestors fought for the Central Powers in World War One—as did my own, Austrian Jewish forbears). Nevertheless, I still lost a graduate professorship.
Similarly in 1992 Charles Krauthammer went after Pat Buchanan in the Washington Post as a Nazi because Pat had opposed free trade and immigration (just like Hitler!) and failed to repudiate his father for supporting General Franco against the Communists and Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War. But this was the beginning of a smear campaign that did successfully (and disastrously) deprive the American conservative movement of Ronald Reagan’s obvious successor.
All of this flailing at imaginary enemies only makes sense in a phantasmagoric stream-of-consciousness world. All those who were not on the Left (when the neocons were) or who are not perpetually Teutonophobic, or do not favor amnestying illegal aliens from the Third World—or whatever—are presumed to be against Jews.
This becomes clear when Podhoretz reaches out for historical examples to clothe his prejudice. Contrary to his assertions about bad old WASP Republicans, the 1924 Immigration Reform Act, like other immigration restrictive measures in that decade, passed with bipartisan approbation. As Roy Garis demonstrated in a book written at that time, Immigration Restriction (New York: Macmillan, 1925), support for immigration reform in 1924 extended from Republican business interests to organized labor and to the Jewish labor leader Samuel Gompers.
Moreover, isolationists in the 1930s were by no means identical with anti-immigrationists. They consisted, as Justus Doenecke explains in The Battle Against Intervention (Krieger Publishing, 1960), of those who were seeking to avoid American involvement in foreign wars and believed they had been lied to about American participation in World War One. Many of these isolationists, e.g., Hamilton Fish, Chester Bowles, Norman Thomas, and Kingman Brewster, came out of the Left or the left wing of the Republican Party. The opponents of immigration could be found in both parties, where they remained throughout the twenties and thirties. And ethnic and Southern Democrats probably included at least as many anti-Semites as the WASP bourgeoisie that supported the Republicans.
What might be surprising to Podhoretz and to likeminded ignoramuses is that the Jewish shift into the Democratic Party (in the twenties and thirties) was unrelated to any alleged Republican xenophobia.
The German and Sephardic Jews who arrived in the U.S. in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries became, for the most part, Republican stalwarts. Southern Jews, like the family of Bernard Baruch, were Democrats because they were Southerners, not because they viewed the Republicans as xenophobes.
The Eastern European Jews, many of whom had socialist backgrounds, were generally on the left, particularly with regard to the labor question. They turned to the Democratic Party, which by the interwar period was the more leftward leaning of the two national parties.
But even if one conceded Podhoretz’s muddled account of the past, why does that require that Republicans now amnesty illegal Hispanic aliens? Does one reward the descendants of Jewish or Irish immigrants who were insulted or marginalized by Republicans, by making them pay for the present added costs of immigration in general and particularly for illegal aliens?
To provide a useful comparison: Does the fact that Irish policemen in New York and Boston treated Italian immigrants in the early twentieth century scornfully require that their successors in those cities desist from impeding street crime or punishing hooligans?
On the basis of Podhoretz’s compensatory reasoning, these police should be doing atonement in a way similar to what Podhoretz is now demanding of the Republican Party.
But maybe this question should not be asked. Maybe politicians will soon celebrating these new surrogate victims, juvenile delinquents whom the police will henceforth be expected to indulge because of the way other police may have treated someone else in the real or imaginary past.
Maybe Dubya will embrace this plan of outreach—once he has finished liquidating America.
Paul Gottfried is Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College, PA. He is the author of After Liberalism, Carl Schmitt: Politics and Theory, and Multiculturalism And The Politics of Guilt: Toward A Secular Theocracy.