Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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This is Why I Love Peggy Noonan

Read her here on immigration. Thanks to Richard Reeb at The Remedy for reminding me to read her today. Whatever you may think about some of her specific policy recommendations (and I have, on occasion, thought that some of them were pretty bad) there is always this about her: she never forgets to at least try and blend the perfect mixture of hard truth with sweet, American grace. When it works, there is a kind of womanly magic in it that is difficult to resist. There is a touch of magic in this piece, I think. Whatever the real truth about what ought to be done regarding immigration is, it ought to include a healthy portion of this ingredient in it.

Discussions - 20 Comments

I second what Julie says. Noonan magic.

I read Noonan's piece. She captures much of my mind on the subject.

I agree with the idea of a generational moratorium on legal and illegal immigration.

Europe has embarked on a vast experiment, where whole populations with different beliefs and values are flooding their continent.

Why can't we simply take a wait-and-see approach. Let's closely observe what's happening in Europe. And allow their experiences to inform our own immigration policy.

Why the rush on legalization?

Why the push?

Why is the President in something of a weird frenzy on this issue?

Either that, or Peggy can't make up her mind.

2: Dan -- Bush seems to believe that because all men are created equal, all men are interchangeable regardless of background, skills, or culture. "Values don't stop at the border" and all that. Therefore, immigration is "no problemo." It's childish, but that's what we have in the White House. As for the more typical politicians, Dick Morris has them about right: The Republicans want the illegals to work but not vote, and the Dems want them to vote but not work.

Noonan romanticizes much of the immigrant population. It's an occupational hazard with the well-off.

I see what you're saying in #5, David, but I don't think, at least in Noonan's case, it's something that comes from an inherent characteristic of the well-off. That may be a fair criticism of some, but I don't think that its fair in her case. Why? Because I think her sentiment is also common among middle-class, mid-westerners (especially Catholics). (And, if memory serves, Noonan was raised in the mid-west and is Catholic.) Most Catholics romanticize immigrants because their own connection to the immigrat experience is fresh (i.e., someone they know or knew--or their parents knew--in their family was an immigrant). And, in the mid-west, the difficulties immigrants face in "Americanizing" tend to have a wonderful way of working themselves out. We didn't really end up with the ethnic ghettos more common to the coasts--though in some big cities, we had some of that. But by and large, we just became Americans. So, perhaps we romanticize it because we know how it ought to be and--if given the right conditions--it usually is.

When I moved to California, I remember being shocked by the native Californians always inquiring about my ethnicity. Why did they want to know? What did they think it would tell them about me? People here take ethnicity much more seriously than we ever did in the mid-West. I didn't even have an answer for them. Some German, maybe some Scotch? Irish? English? Who cares? Growing up, it always mattered more to us what high school a person attended than from what country their great-grandfather immigrated. It wasn't that we were ashamed of ethnicity . . . it just didn't really matter. It didn't define us as much as the life we were living here did.

I think that's basically the right attitude. But it takes work to maintain it in a place like Los Angeles. There are conditions that lend support to that attitude and there are conditions that don't. I was naive--though in a good way--when I moved here. Large waves of any ethnic group, concentrated in particular areas, do have an effect on the culture that cannot be romanticized away. I agree. But the reason I agree is because I think it just becomes so difficult for people in these circumstances to be able to come to grasp with the things that DO allow them to be welcomed into the fold--and easier for them not to desire the welcome.

And people tend not to be charitable in evaluating these things on a large scale. We see people who appear not to desire the welcome and we condemn them without considering that they may feel rejected or intimidated or bewildered. They see condemnation and a lack of welcoming without considering that there may be some justified fear on our part at losing something very precious to us (i.e., American heritage) that might very easily become precious to them and their children. It is a vicious cycle.

Maybe immigrants should be encouraged to move away from the big cities as well as be compelled to learn English (or at least not be offered bi-lingual ed.), etc.? I don't know . . . I'm no policy wonk. But I'll eat my hat if it's not true that we absorbed immigrants better in Ohio than I see Los Angeles doing.

It's difficult stuff, though. I don't trust anyone who thinks there are easy answers. I think Noonan offers an essential piece of the puzzle and she is not cartoonish about it--as some in the administration tend to be. I don't think the whole answer is in her argument--but there is some deep, deep truth in it. And besides, she can write.

Julie, Ohio assimilates people better because 1) it doesn't have the degree of diversity that California does, and 2) it isn't being inundated with these people. It's called "salience theory" -- race only matters when you have other races for comparative purposes. If you don't have races, it might be income or religion. All this stuff is hardwired...really.

And that's why we are truly facing a Gotterdammerung with this immigration bill. It is absolutely, 100% sure to further polarize America. Ultimately, it will lead to racial politics the likes of which we haven't seen since the 1960s, and I wouldn't be suprised if it were the beginning of the end of this republic. If you thought the GOP pandered to the Hispanics in 2000 and 2004, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Time to leave romanticism behind. We are talking about the most serious affairs that confront a people. This stuff makes the "War on Terrorism" look like a walk in the park...really.

And here's a primo reason to oppose the "Swiss-cheese" nature of our borders. The fact is, our politicians long for a more pliable population. Apparently, the sons and daughters of the American Revolution are just too "troublesome" to rule.

Wake up, people. It's very nearly too late already.


As Dain points out, size (or "inundation") matters. In addition, Los Angeles is not some outlier. It's just a particularly awful version of what we're seeing around the country. I'd suggest we follow Lincoln's advice and "think anew." Our own immigrant ancestors' experience, and our reflections on that experience, aren't much of a guide to today's problems. It really isn't the same country, just for starters.

Noonan is still saying shut the borders. I do not see how that is any real argument with what even ardent anti-immigration guys are saying on this blog all the time.

You can't indiscriminately moon over how wonderful immigration is, then take a tough line on it, and expect to be taken seriously on either count. The message needs to be more consistent than that.

Actually, David, I do or at least think I have. I find the immigration issue very difficult to be firm about, because I mostly love being an American, can hardly stand to think of being something or somewhere else, and find it hard to blame anyone for wanting to be here, in one of the various "heres" that constitute the United States, on that account.

Some of the people who want to be "here" also fly Mexican flags at pro-immigration rallies, fly jets into skyscrapers, and defraud our social security net.

Kate, I respect your point of view, but there is far, far too much misty-eyed romanticism in the immigration debate (and people on the Right tend to be more susceptible to such romance). Immigrants have always been accepted for their economic value to bigwig capitalists, and almost always they have been resisted by lesser folk. Were the lesser folk always simply benighted? I don't think so, begging your pardon. Immigration has always been a very mixed blessing, and the bill is coming due.

dain, I know you are right and David Frisk is, too. Which is wherein I am regretful, apologetic and explanatory for my squishiness on the issue.


Romantic? I suppose so, but there are people we want here, because they might as well be Americans and would make very good neighbors. There are plenty of native American folk we would probably like to trade for some number of gracious, grateful and dedicated foreigners who would contribute more to American society. I have encountered both types. Haven't you? There is no way to make immigration policy based on such a premise, nor manage citizenship on that basis and more is the pity.

Misty-eyed romanticism is just as wrong as an unrelenting hard line on this issue; that is, if you expect ever to accomplish a worthwhile goal in it. I'm not speaking for you--dain or David--as you both do a fine job of speaking for yourselves. I wouldn't want to paint a cartoon picture of your views or dismiss them as simple. I hope you would do the same in regard to mine or Kate's. If those who are really serious about immigration reform do not take a page from Noonan's book--and actually she's not the author of the book at all; she just expresses well the natural, human emotions of fair-minded Americans on the matter--then they will fail. The real soft-headed nuts are going to win the debate. The truth cannot be all hard or all soft. That would be unprecedented and insane. Consistency is over-rated if it means inflexibility and close-mindedness and hard-heartedness. No one will ever sell such an article to the American people. True logical consistency does not demand such ruthlessness--but then, that's why it's important to get the first principles right.

Kate and Julie: My comment in #11 was in reference to Peggy Noonan. Apologies for the ambiguity.

Julie...come on, the American people have taken hard lines before (Operation Wetback, or even Hiroshima, come to mind). It's a matter of will.

Nonetheless, I understand your sentiments (as well as Kate's). People like me are simply tired of the numerous false promises made about immigration, the names we are called when we express concern, and the overriding defeatism. Enough! I think that it requires becoming "unreasonable" when confronted by a completely untenable set of circumstances. Our children will have to live in the world these fools create. Let's do what we can to solve these problems today.

David Frisk, I knew you meant Noonan. In #12, I was merely making confession of my own ambiguity on the issue. As Julie points out, Noonan is not the only one finding tough consistency difficult in this. You know it always comes down to a person, to this person or that person.


I keep thinking about the guy in the article from my local paper who has been here for 14 years. Partly, I am appalled that he has been able to stay here for 14 years illegally and undetected. (How does that work?) Partly I think, if he's gotten on that well, how do we tell him to go home. Where IS his home? I understand about policy, but there is more to being an American than having the right papers.

If we let in the rest of the world as promiscuously as we have been doing for decades now, we will become like the rest of the world and lose most of our uniqueness as a nation. It's really as simple as that. Ronald Reagan once said something that I think applies very well to this issue. "Sometimes there are simple solutions. Just not easy ones."

Dennis Prager commented on his show yesterday--in response to a particularly wonderful caller who was thoroughly American in his sentiments (an now in his citizenship) but who happened to hail from Canada--that he had often wished that America might do an exchange with Canada whereby we let in all the Canadians with sentiments like that and they take all the Americans who admire Canadian anti-Americanism. Then everyone would be happy and living where the ought. There is the rub, of course, that figuring all of this out would be impossible except on an individual basis.

I am not bringing this up by way of suggesting policy--but rather to remind us of how to speak about it. I bring it up to note that Kate (and Noonan) and I are correct to note that there is more to being an American than having the right papers. I know that this is not the whole story. Even if we wanted to, we could not let every American "born in the wrong place" in to enjoy the wonderful blessings of living in the right place. I get that. But remembering that such people exist and that Americans rightly feel a connection with them and compassion for them is an important part of the story. We cannot ignore that as we talk about what to do regarding immigration. We have to explain how the hard things we must do are consistent with and in support of the tender feelings we must feel.

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