Pro-Immigrant Republicans Are Blind to Political Reality

There aren’t many black Republicans, to judge from the

election returns. But almost all of them have gotten jobs in the new Bush

administration. Let it also be said that when Republicans give jobs to Colin

Powell or Condoleezza Rice, they give them positions that they themselves

consider adult, like Secretary of State, National Security Adviser or Chairman

of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, not welfare-state baby-sitter jobs like Secretary

of Health and Human Services. Black Republicans in Washington get to deal with

foreign countries and kill people, which sure beats cutting welfare checks.

How will this affect the 92 percent black vote for Al Gore,

the most obdurate datum of the 2000 election? The likely answer: not at all.

The New York Times

recently asked a symposium of black worthies how Mr. Bush might boost his black

numbers. Everyone said predictable things, except for Shelby Steele, the

bravest man in America, who threw the question back at the black political

class: Why hadn’t any of them offered

to boost Mr. Bush’s black numbers? How can blacks expect to work a two-party

system when they are in the pocket of one of the parties? Republicans won’t

bother with them, and Democrats won’t have to, since they already have the

black vote sewn up.

Those were bold words, but they give no guidance to

Republicans who might want to do something useful in the meantime. In the late

70’s and early 80’s, Jack Kemp, who was then a Congressman, made a simple and

powerful argument: Republicans had to ask blacks for their support. Maybe it

would come slowly; maybe, at first, it wouldn’t come at all; but Republicans

would have to make the first moves, going to black neighborhoods and audiences

to make their case. As political logic, this was unanswerable. Like many

prophets, however, Mr. Kemp came to a bad end, in part because his appreciation

of the power of his insight turned into self-appreciation. He suffered the

curse of so many whites who try to cross the color line, constructing a

morality play for himself in which both he and blacks became signifiers of

virtue instead of political actors seeking mutual self-interest.

Inspired by Mr. Kemp, some conservatives cast around for

specific issues that might appeal to black voters. One of the most attractive

seemed to be school vouchers. Yet two well-funded state referenda on school vouchers-one

in California and one in Michigan-were beaten this November. White suburbanites

did not like school vouchers; they tend to be happy, rightly or wrongly, with

their public schools (good public schools, or public schools that are thought

to be good, are one of the justifications of suburban life). But at the same

time, black urbanites did not rally to the cause.

Michael Joyce, of the conservative Bradley Foundation in

Milwaukee, believes the statewide referendum approach is like trying to build a

house from the roof down. The way to present vouchers is to go to parents in

particular communities (but not during election cycles) and ask them what they

think of their public schools. Urban parents will very likely answer that the

schools stink. Only then can the advocate of vouchers ask, Would this be an

attractive alternative? Mr. Joyce’s argument justifies the approach of his own

foundation, which has done precisely that in Milwaukee. Saul Alinsky used to

talk about organizing communities for the left. Downtown Milwaukee is organized

for school vouchers, its parents not caring whether vouchers are right or left,

so long as their children learn how to read and write rather than how to

surrender their lunch money to thugs with box cutters.

The Milwaukee approach doesn’t leave much for the Bush

administration to do. If retail voucher programs ever pay off for conservatives

or Republicans, it will be down the road.

Another demographic

challenge for the G.O.P., less stark but no less ominous, concerns immigration.

For the first time in recent elections, the Asian vote broke

for the Democrats. The G.O.P. did manage to carry the Arab-American vote (if

that trend continues, look for the symposium in the Forward : “Second Thoughts on the Open Door”). George W. Bush,

fluent in Spanglish, did boost the Republicans’ Hispanic numbers from the

abysmal low 20’s polled by Bob Dole in 1996. Even so, Bush only scored in the

low 30’s.

This is better than the dismal Republican black vote-and the

Hispanic vote is growing, while the black vote remains static. But what good is

a growing third, when the Democrats are polling a growing two-thirds? The

denial of pro-immigration Republicans on this topic is absolutely daffy. I

asked one of them what was the best that even Ronald Reagan had polled among

Hispanic voters. Forty-two percent in 1984, I was proudly told. So, I thought

to myself, in a 49-state landslide in which Mr. Reagan managed to win about 60

percent of the vote, he held Walter Mondale to a margin among Hispanic voters that

was only slightly smaller than his own overall. This is not encouraging.

The drag on Republican performance among immigrants is

continued immigration. As ethnic groups assimilate, they find their feet and

move into the middle class. Historically, this means they trend Republican. But

an unremitting influx means that the ghetto mentality, and the ghetto

politicians who exploit it, are fortified. Because America has always had time

to digest its immigrants in the past, they have always assimilated. It’s time,

for the country’s sake, to let the digestive juices work.

The Bush administration won’t understand this. The Fox

administration in Mexico understands it very well, and doesn’t want us to do

anything about it. President Fox has said that he wants a Mexico so prosperous

that no one will have to emigrate; until that happens, he wants the borders

open, so his poor will become our poor. There is an unspoken racial angle to

the outflow: Most Mexicans who come here are brown, while Mr. Fox-and the

entire Mexican upper class-is white. San Diego is the Soweto of Mexico.

Spain, the sick man of Europe, turns out to have been one of

the more successful colonial powers in

North America: not because of its administrative skill, which was zero, nor yet

because of its silver mines, which did nothing to foster a productive economy,

but because of its people. Cultural destiny on this continent is complex. This

post-Protestant nation, founded by the Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale and his friends,

in which even modern Catholics attend church services increasingly similar, in

jargon and aesthetics, to those of Methodism, will yet have its encounter with

the Virgin of Guadeloupe. (Look for her sticker on the odd taxi meter or

newsstand; she is easier to find than you might think.) None of this can be

stopped completely, even if that were desirable. But the process can be

understood, and prudently nudged. If the G.O.P. doesn’t understand, it will

lose all hope of carrying California or Florida, Supreme Court or not. Pro-Immigrant Republicans Are Blind to Political Reality