Apparently high-profile centrist Democrat Anne-Marie Slaughter endorsed this Fareed Zakaria article on Twitter, which provocatively calls for Democrats to end their immigration “absolutism.” I read it twice and I’m still not sure what the absolutism we need to abandon actually is, other than a strawman that elites have constructed. Here are the components of the article:

  • Approving mention of Bob Casey Sr. being an anti-choice Democrat, followed by chiding Democrats for not even allowing him to make a symbolic gesture on abortion because they’re awful dogmatists.
  • Democrats are doing just too much identity politics, y’all!
  • This is unlike FDR’s liberalism (which never, ever played in anything resembling identity politics).
  • Hillary Clinton maybe lost voters for not being hard-line on immigration.
  • Immigration provokes backlash, we need less of it, and more of a demand on assimilation. (Zakaria doesn’t actually write this directly, but strategic quotes are deployed to make it for him.)

Needless to say, much of this is top-flight concern trolling, conceding virtually all of the policy case to Republicans and inventing a false dichotomy from whole cloth. Opening by shaming Democrats for not. Even. Letting. Bob Casey enter his doomed motion seems like the wrong way to open an argument theoretically aimed at Democrats. (Do Republicans allow one of their final handful of pro-choice members to do the same?) The subsequent deployment of FDR here is perverse because it’s endorsing Roosevelt for the most shameful side of his presidency–on immigration he barely even challenged the Coolidge-era immigration restrictions and essentially sabotaged the program for Jewish refugees by having an anti-Semite run it. Roosevelt didn’t much challenge white supremacy, which undoubtedly helped him rack up a lot of his big wins, but it’s the worst stuff about him looking back. Admittedly, sometimes he was able to spread some help around to minorities in spite of this. But I suspect Zakaria hasn’t thought through the implications of his argument to try to speak up for those poor, misunderstood Trump voters out there, not the least of which is that if FDR’s attitude had prevailed he wouldn’t be here. If there’s one thing I can agree on with any Trump voter, it’s on the essential awfulness of people like Fareed Zakaria, who only reads convincing in this article in exhorting Democrats to abandon their principles.

In all fairness I can’t really assess whether or not immigration lured some voters to Trump. It could very well be true! Of course, Clinton didn’t have much of a message on the issue and while you can blame Clinton to no small degree for bad messaging on a lot of issues, you can also blame Barack Obama for providing her with a difficult status quo to sell: on the one side, DACA and some sub-DREAM Act stuff, and on the other, those 3 million deportations. It was all a cunning plan to get comprehensive immigration reform that failed badly. (I fully suspect, in fact, that when the books are closed, Obama will wind up with many more deportations actually carried out than Trump, which is not to minimize the horrendous awfulness of ICE under Trump, though I wonder how much horribleness they did under Obama that didn’t get noticed then.) The whole point of comprehensive reform was that it was supposed to be a bipartisan thingy that could bring Republicans and Democrats together–more border patrol agents for naturalization of undocumented aliens, basically–but that seems all but impossible now, so Democrats do have a real problem on their hands on what they should push going forward. It’s not all that dissimilar to gun control, where Democrats put all their eggs in the basket of small, “bipartisan” reforms that didn’t excite people and couldn’t pass, among other areas. For all the talk about pragmatism versus purity in Democratic politics, the assumptions of the pragmatists during the Obama Era weren’t exactly all that tied to reality, and they came at the very real cost of dampening morale and enthusiasm. If you look at it that way, the formation of the Sanders movement and its general orientation isn’t at all a surprise, we have seen this before. It’s a lesser degree of the same problem that Labour faced after Tony Blair left: the party gave up a lot of ground to a pragmatic leader obsessed with “the center” and wound up with a ton of baggage that they didn’t want, opening the door for a more purist leader running, in some sense, on escaping that straitjacket. All that said, Zakaria doesn’t really get into these difficulties, it’s just “both sides do it but Democrats are worse” sanctimony all the way down that Democrats should ignore. It closes thus, and I frankly find it amazing that famous blueblood Zakaria of all people is the one writing it: “Democrats should find a middle path on immigration. They can battle President Trump’s drastic solutions but still speak in the language of national unity and identity. The country’s motto, after all, is ‘out of many, one’ — not the other way around.”


FWIW, I think I agree with Josh Barro’s stance on this, which is to adopt a points-based immigration system but get rid of all caps. Not that they should hand Trump a partial victory on this or anything else…

  1. lumpkin says:

    The government changed the way they count deportations during the Obama administration. They began counting people who were apprehended at the border. Previously only people who were captured in the interior were counted. This resulted in a an apparent increase in deportations but in fact actual deportations, counted by the previous method, actually declined by 40% from 2009 to 2014.

    My Android tablet goes nuts when I try to embed a link, but here’s an article from the LA Times.

    • Porlock Junior says:

      Thanks for this link. For some unimaginable reason, I had heard nothing of this from the activists on any side of the issue.


      In other news: get rid of ALL CAPS?? HOW COULD WE EVER COMMUNICATE WHEN — What’s that?  Oh, never mind.

    • Lev says:

      Good to know, thanks.

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