The nativist right is fond of portraying its concern about illegal immigrants coming over our southern borders as a matter of simple border security. Certainly, that was the way President Bush -- in making a play to recapture support with that crowd -- depicted it in his speech last week.
So, what does the Republican-controlled Senate do? It votes to make English the official language of the United States.
What, you may ask, does any of this have to do with border security? Well, nothing.
This, in poker terms, is the nativists' "tell": They may talk endlessly about terrorists crossing our open borders, blah blah blah, but what they're really concerned about is their fear that white culture is being overrun by a brown tide.
As the Associated Press pointed out over the weekend, the debate over English as the "official language" of the United States is actually about a great deal more:
- And just as in many other countries where people worry about protecting the mother tongue -- ironically, often from the global spread of English -- the debate here over whether English is endangered is largely about all sorts of matters that have little to do with the words we speak.
"Language is never about language," said Walt Wolfram, a social linguist at North Carolina State University. "Why should it be any different in the United States?"
That point is seconded by Tucker, an expert on language education, planning and policy at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University.
"The discussion is ... related to fears of immigration issues. I think it's related to a worry about the changing demography of the United States. I think it's a worry about who will continue to have political and economic influence," Tucker said.
This is why you can now hear Bill O'Reilly declaim on national television:
- That's because the newspaper and many far-left thinkers believe the white power structure that controls America is bad, so a drastic change is needed.
According to the lefty zealots, the white Christians who hold power must be swept out by a new multicultural tide, a rainbow coalition, if you will. This can only happen if demographics change in America.
And then there's John Gibson:
- First, a story yesterday that half of the kids in this country under five years old are minorities. By far, the greatest number are Hispanic. You know what that means? Twenty-five years and the majority of the population is Hispanic. Why is that? Well, Hispanics are having more kids than others. Notably, the ones Hispanics call "gabachos" -- white people -- are having fewer.
... To put it bluntly, we need more babies. Forget about that zero population growth stuff that my poor generation was misled on. Why is this important? Because civilizations need population to survive. So far, we are doing our part here in America but Hispanics can't carry the whole load. The rest of you, get busy. Make babies, or put another way -- a slogan for our times: "procreation not recreation."
As Alex Koppelman points out, this kind of rhetoric almost precisely mirrors the kind of talk popular with the eugenicists and white supremacists who whipped up anti-immigrant fervor against Asians a century ago:
- Gibson’s words, to be sure, are filled with the echoes of a dark past — specifically, echoes of Madison Grant's landmark racist screed The Passing of the Great Race, once used to justify eugenics, and the use of quotas in setting American immigration policy. Grant, too, was concerned about immigrants doing more than their part to populate the country:
"[L]arge families among the newly arrived population are still the rule," Grant wrote back in 1916, "... The lowering of the birth rate among the most valuable classes, while the birth rate of the lower classes remains unaffected, is a frequent phenomenon of prosperity. Such a change becomes extremely injurious to the race if unchecked."
This fetish about the birth rates of brown people compared to white people has remained a constant of the white-supremacist set for all of the past century; it was a central component of Klan activity in the 1980s, and was the centerpiece of David Duke's political career beginning in the mid-'80s. As recently as 2000, he would write:
- "We are fighting for the preservation of our heritage, freedom and way of life in the United States and much of the Western World. Ultimately, we are working to secure the most important civil right of all, the right to preserve our kind of life. Massive immigration and low European American birthrates coupled with integration and racial intermarriage threatens the continued existence of our very genotype. We assert that we, as do all expressions of life on this planet, have the right to live and to have our children and our children’s children reflect both genetically and culturally our heritage."
Likewise, the "English only" push, inextricably intertwined with racist immigrant-bashing, has been circulating on the extremist right for years. In recent years, the movement to create such a law attempted to pose itself as a legitimate organization called English USA, but it didn't take long for its racist roots to show:
- In the 20 years since it was founded by anti-immigration activist John Tanton, U.S. English has billed itself as a well-meaning group that "promotes unity and empowers immigrants by encouraging them to learn English." But the organization, which lobbies to establish English as the official U.S. language, has not been able to steer clear of controversy, especially since one of Tanton's secret memos was leaked in 1988.
"In this society ... will the present majority peaceably hand over its political power to a group that is simply more fertile?" Tanton asked.
... James Lubinskas, who came on as director of communications for U.S. English last spring, had been the assistant editor or a contributing editor at American Renaissance, a magazine that promotes "scientific" racism, from 1998 until at least last October. He has spoken at least once at a conference of the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens and has contributed frequent articles to that group's newsletter.
In 2000, Lubinskas shared a stage with former Klan leader David Duke at a gathering of another white-supremacist group, the American Friends of the British National Party — a fact he denied in a letter to Washington Post columnist Terry Neal, who summarized the Southern Poverty Law Center's findings in an Aug. 13 article. At the same event, another fellow speaker was Sam van Rensburg, then a leading official of the neo-Nazi National Alliance.
The reason for the growing conservative embrace of these longtime appeals from the extremist right is simple: their power base is rapidly crumbling under the weight of the Bush administration's ineptitude, both at home and abroad.
Most importantly, it is losing chunks of its base of support over the immigration issue, particularly as far-right appeals (such as the "invasion" and "Reconquista" claims) gain broader circulation and popularity. Rather than stand up to this extremism, the White House approach has been to mollify it with empty gestures like placing overextended National Guardsmen on the border.
Over at Blogesque, Len examined Bush's speech carefully and observed that it resembled nothing so much as an old Nixonian "law and order" speech, the kind he gave as he adopted the "Southern Strategy":
- Border security is an issue that undoubtedly needs to be addressed, but why is it suddenly such a big deal? Because it has been pushed to the forefront by a bunch of xenophobic nutjobs and their media enablers. Under pressure by the radical right, Bush's speechwriters loaded his address with carefully-selected framing, and Democrats need to be very careful not to just tapdance through that minefield.
- On the streets of major cities, crowds have rallied in support of those in our country illegally. At our southern border, others have organized to stop illegal immigrants from coming in.
Bush implies that those who rallied, if not criminals themselves, are accomplices. He also implies that those who assemble homegrown border patrols are on the side of law and order.
... An appalling number of serious national security issues under this administration have been marked by gross incompetence and opportunistic cronyism. What could possibly make people think they can get this right? Bush's embrace of the issue is merely an attempt to change the subject from his disastrous Iraq war and its attendant executive overreaches. If Bush wants to put the National Guard on the border but the National Guard is already overextended, is it so difficult to open the discussion about why they're overextended? Despite what the pundits and the strategists would have us believe, the war in Iraq has been consistently unpopular since early 2004.
Len calls this Bush's "Southwestern Strategy," though he points out that the term was actually coined by Mario at Nuestra Voice last year, in a post that was truly prescient:
- The "Southern Strategy" used code words and phrases to deliver its racist anti-African American message to bigots. The GOP was able to hide its play to the lower selves of white southerners with the words "quotas", "crime", and "welfare queens". The words may have been precise but the message was broad. The word was "crime" but the image was African American men. The phrase was "Welfare Queen" but the message was about African American women. The word was "quota" but the message was keep them out of "our" schools.
In the "Southwestern Strategy" the words are about immigrants. It may be the border that is being 'patroled' by "minute men" but we all know that it is an attack on our community in general. The words may be "border risk" and "illegal invasion" but the "Southwestern Strategy" plays at the meta level like the "Southern Strategy" and the idea is Latinos, all of us legal or not, are not welcome.
The important thing to understand about the Southern Strategy is that, while originally geared toward Southern whites, it actually proved quite resonant in other places as well -- particularly the rural and suburban Midwestern and Western states.
Digby, springboarding from a Paul Glastris piece from 2005, examined this in some detail the other day:
- This article points out that one of the big reasons for this new obsession with the evils of illegals is that the migration pattern has changed: many are settling in towns that never saw any latinos before. The culture shock is disturbing to people who aren't used to hearing Tejano music and seeing burrito stands crop up in their neighborhoods. And it's not just that they are settling in regions that are unfamiliar --- it's that they are settling in smaller towns which are by definition less cosmopolitan. This is new for them.
And, because all these things are happening in smaller towns in the south it is evoking certain anxieties and knee jerk reactions among some people --- and panic among business owners and others who are desperate to keep migrant workers in the labor pool or lose what they have. Culture meets economic necessity in places like Kentucky and it isn't an easy problem to solve.
What's missing from this analysis is that, in fact, the Latino migration is occurring in many precincts that, historically, were all-white by design. As James Loewen details (excruciatingly) in his study Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism, there are literally thousands of towns across America -- relatively few of them in the South -- who for much of the 20th century forbade minorities, blacks especially, from living within their communities. Many of them placed signs at the town limits warning "Whites Only After Dark" or "Nigger, Don't Let the Sun Set on You Here" -- that all nonwhites were to be out of town by sundown. In many cases, especially suburbs, no signs were visible, but all-white covenants provided the same effect.
Most of the "sundown towns" that Loewen documents were in the Midwest and West -- the same places where we're hearing complaints about a "Mexican invasion" now. The same places where George Bush sees his base eroding.
These same "sundown towns" have, unsurprisingly, a history of following racial election appeals, including broad support for George Wallace in 1968, and Republican presidential candidates in the ensuing years, all of whom made use of the Southern Strategy's core appeal to white racial interests:
- As a result of such leadership, Republicans have carried most sundown towns since 1968, sometimes achieving startling unaninimity. ... So the "southern strategy" turned out to be a "southern and sundown town strategy," especially in sundown suburbs. Macomb County, for example, the next county north of Detroit, voted overwhelmingly for Wallace in the 1972 Democratic primary. Wooed by Nixon, many of these voters then became "Reagan Democrats" and now are plain Republicans. The biggest single reason, according to housing attorney Alexander Polikoff, was anxiety about "blacks trapped in ghettos trying to penetrate white neighborhoods." [pp.372-373]
The core appeal of the Southern Strategy, as even the GOP admits now, was all about protecting white privilege, and so its reach ran well beyond the South.
The same is true of the newly emerging "Southwestern Strategy" -- and it is one that may similarly cut across regional and even party lines.