20 December 2006

U.S. v. Them

Not content with letting Senator-unelect George Allen get all the negative attention, Rep. Virgil Goode (R-Va, 5th Dist.) has put his ass on his shoulders by sending an anti-Muslim letter out to various constituents.

There aren't too many people, even Republicans within the 5th District, who are willing to go as far as Goode did in claiming that "American citizens [need to] wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration" to prevent a crimson tide of Middle-Easterners from taking over control of our nation. The only thing this letter proves is that Goode is a racist, a xenophobe, and, possibly an uneducated hack, since the Muslim representative from Minnesota has every right (and quite good reason) to request a Koran rather than a Bible--for that matter he could legally swear on Oxford's Unabridged Dictionary if he so wants.

No, I'm not proud to call Virgil Goode my representative--I worked for his opposition. But the stink being raised by leftists on some blogs has predominantly ignored the underlying need for immigration reform, and the reasons why Goode's immigration position finds traction with Americans from all walks, from George W. Bush to Bubba George Spradlin.

Folks, individuation is a well-known psychological process engendered by physical necessity and has documented by such great minds as Nietzsche, Freud, Jung, Darwin, Stiegler, Bohm, and Erikson. It starts when we're babies learning to differentiate between ourselves and our mothers once we're out of the womb. In the effort to define who we are, we define a lot of who we are not. Similarly, every tribe or nation since the dawn of human socialization has had to define who "we" are compared to "them" when faced with other people. We use a lot of different measures to come up with those definitions: physical characteristics, language and artistic skills, geographical location, ancestry, religious beliefs, cultural values, ethics and activities are just some of the variables that get thrown into the mix.

To repeat: Every tribe or nation since the dawn of human socialization has had to define who "we" are compared to "them." That is what immigration policy is about--setting the standards that create the definition of "us." Or, in this case, U.S.

The problem as I see it is that we are stuck thinking of ourselves as a "nation of immigrants," and, thus, unlike most western hemipshere countries which are also nations of immigrants, we've never put a premium on our own national culture. A lot of people would be surprised to think of the United States as having a national culture. The basis of our culture is not built on the 20th-century marketing of McDonald's, Coca-Cola, and Hollywood. It's built on the Bill of Rights, and we've been developing it for over 225 years. The freedoms granted under that document are what have allowed the McCokeywood popular culture to develop.

I don't fear Muslim input because Muslims are a very small percentage of the population--on par with Hindus, Buddhists or Jews--and Islam is not easily reconcilable to our principles of democratic government. But Judge Smails' points and mine from the afore-linked Waldo debate are born from the same set of reasonable doubts: Does American immigration policy threaten the fundamental rights guaranteed to every United States citizen by allowing those who do not share our governing principles and ideals to take part in our political system and, thereby, giving them the power to change it?

Goode's plan and attitude both blow technicolor chunks, but liberals taking irrelevant potshots at xenophobia do nothing to address the fundamental issues of immigration policy debate. A lot of the people with whom Goode's immigration ideas have traction aren't actually xenophobic--they are voters whose voices are being marginalized by new demographics within their districts and who have therefore become reasonably worried about whether these cultural differences will result in substantive changes in the laws which grant their freedoms and rule their lives. No one assuages such worry or converts anyone by using brute force and name-calling.

And, lest anyone think there's nothing to it, any part of the Constitution can be changed by a significant percentage of the voting population. It's a breathing, flexible document, so, yes, it could be strongly amended and sections repealed and replaced. If such events happen, will we still be the United States, or some other nation?

I see language as one of the issues, because 400 years of American history and centuries of law upon which these defining documents are based are written in English--how could a Spanish-speaking U.S. possibly understand the richness and depth of that legal heritage enough to respect and build on it?

Smails [and Goode] sees religion as one of the issues, because Islam does not respect cultural diversity--it does not tolerate religious freedom and it does not honor "equal rights" for all citizens in the same way we Americans understand and use that phrase. Could a politically-connected, predominantly Muslim group gain enough pull in the halls of U.S. power to use our separation clause against us by forcing us to condone their intolerance in the name of tolerance?

I invite everyone who is willing to consider the possible ramifications of open-door immigration and discuss policy measures that address it without fearmongering and fingerpointing to continue our debate here and give Waldo a well-earned rest. (51 posts! Is that a new one-day record for a single topic?)


Judge Smails said...

You manage to capture my feelings over the debate pretty accurately. Basically, I fear the immigration of a largely illiberal population may eventually result the balkanization of our body politic.

Europe has a lousy track record of being able to assimilate Muslim immigrants - just look at the Parisian "suburubs, " such as they are. And these are, in most cases, 2nd or 3rd generation citizens of France. The problems they are having seem to get worse over time, not better.

Now I firmly believe we in America are much better at assimilating a wide variety of immigrants than our European cousins are. We've had a lot more experience at it. But that alone is not enough to justify moving forward with an ill-conceived "plan."

While I admit that I often revel in the role of contrarian, I was not prepared for the fusillade of contempt, derision, and scorn that was aimed at me after having had the temerity to defend Goode.

I labored under the misapprehension that poking fun at Goode's writing and a couple of the points he made would lessen the blow when I argued that his central point- getting control of our borders and refusing/discouraging entry to those not amenable to our tolerant way of life - was absolutely correct.

The PC/open borders crowd apparently cannot tolerate this kind of thoughtcrime, yet I still maintain Goode is essentially right, if unforgiveably clumsy, in his argument.

I guess I should add that much of my thinking on this issue of late has been informed by reading Mark Steyn's America Alone. It's a frightening look at where Europe is headed with their Muslim minority. But maybe he's just a racist, xenophobe, facsict Klansman.

Waldo said...

51 posts! Is that a new one-day record for a single topic?

I think that award belongs to my two posts on October 12th and 13th about Kilgore's "Hitler" ad, each of which received 70-something in their first 24 hours. The current discussion doesn't appear to even make the top 10.

Harry Landers said...

Does it make sense to suggest that the level of discourse and name-calling might bear some relationship to the ham-handed brand of scapegoating that Virgil Goode seems to be engaging in? I have the sense that the Congressman is not coming from a place of compassion, but rather, is appealing to his consituents' more base emotions by attacking the "other".

It's difficult for people to try to communicate or debate when there seems to such hostility. It only makes sense. That's why it's so hard for the U.S. to negotiate with Hamas, for example. What can we discuss with terrorists?

And yet, talk we must.

When immigration policy is discussed in terms of wanting to preserve a quality of life for our children and grandchildren and for protecting those rights and liberties that we offer, while welcoming some reasonable number of immigrants who wish to share our bounty, Americans of good faith will negotiate.

As an advocate of local control over growth, I certainly understand that you can't just leave the doors open and not expect that there will be a deterioration of the quality of life for everybody.

TL Patten said...

While I admit that I often revel in the role of contrarian, I was not prepared for the fusillade of contempt, derision, and scorn that was aimed at me after having had the temerity to defend Goode.

I understand that completely, and as you know, normally I would be one of the people taking shots at him or anyone defending him. (The more Goode opens his mouth the more I want him off my planet.) But the basic issue to me is that he's going to use his personal hatred to force through legislation that effects millions of other people in thousands of other ways. This lack of ability to think through to logical conclusions seems endemic to the current Republican regime. (Not all Republicans are that way--there wasn't a wholesale disregard for ultimate consequences of legislative actions during the Reagan and Bush I years.)

Basically, I fear the immigration of a largely illiberal population may eventually result the balkanization of our body politic.

As do I. There are, however, some things we can do to ensure that our basic freedoms remain to all Americans, regardless of who gets marginalized and who elected in the future:

1. We should finally address what points in the Constitution, and particularly in the Amendments, really are "self-evident" and deserve to be taken to the next step--made immutable in law.

2. We need to reinforce English as (one of) the primary language in the future, with specific provisions for how to declare our country officially multilingual when that population shift comes to pass. English "fluency," either proven on a test or through an ESL course is required for naturalization. But an ESL is only a 2-year course. As a kid, it took me 4 years to become fluent enough in French to read books and documents well. Adult brains aren't nearly as sponge-like. I see no problem with asking adult immigrants who have little or no English to take a longer course.

3. We need a better education program for immgrants in American History and Government. After all, they want to become participating members of our voting society. I chuckled when I saw the new naturalization test. Perhaps it is harder, but all of us had to take AmHis & AmGov in HS and by the time we turned 18 we could have answered all of those questions--and harder, more in-depth ones--easily. I think it's appropriate to require immigrants attend the same classes, for the same reasons we require it of our teenagers.

Another thing I've heard on the wind--"they" (though I don't know who "they" are) want to reduce the number of years of permanent residency from 5 to 3. I can't say I'm in favor of that--3 years is less than the standard undergraduate course. Does that mean every foreign citizen going to college in the U.S. would automatically get residency by his/her senior year? That seems to me like it could be a recipe for disaster.