My writing will be light over the next few weeks/months as I triple down on my dissertation to try and wrap things up. Also, if you couldn’t tell I’m just sorta fed up with this political season and am mostly considering what comes next.
In that vein I wanted to take a look at a recent portrait of Avik Roy in the Atlantic.
In the article Roy laments what he sees as the nationalistic bend the GOP has exposed by Trump in this cycle. Roy wants to cast the party as a “vehicle for the racial resentment, nationalism, and nostalgia of older white voters.” He holds up the idea of “Real America” and the backlash over “Comprehensive Immigration Reform.” (TM) I think he paints with two big a brush though. I’m going to take these in reverse order looking at immigration first.
In retrospect, Roy believes Perry’s fate was sealed in 2011, when he defended in-state college tuition for undocumented immigrants by saying his opponents didn’t “have a heart.” Why, Roy found himself wondering, did this issue inspire more passion among the party’s base than did an issue like health care? Why, for that matter, was a candidate like Marco Rubio, a onetime conservative darling, being heckled and booed for having previously advocated immigration reform? After Perry dropped out of the race, Roy went to work for Rubio, who lasted until March. By then, Roy had concluded that “the conservative grass roots viewed questions of national identity with far more priority than questions of economic policy.”
Well wait, hold tight there. You’re conflating quite a lot. Let’s break this down a bit. I’ll start with immigration reform first, move into how that shapes economic policy and then get back to Perry.
The problem with “immigration reform” is not that that Rubio supported reform, but rather that he pushed a fairly broad amnesty policy. Now I have stated before, I am for the most part a “High fences, wide gates” kinda guy. But I’m also opposed to broad amnesty on principle. This is not a contradiction at all. My concern about amnesty is that it rewards those who broke the law and punishes though who jumped through all the hoops we have in place, waited a long time, and finally made it here. That is: it’s fundamentally unfair. It also presents a bit of a moral hazard signaling that if we don’t gain control of the boarder, or gain it and lose it at some later date, a flood of illegal immigration over the boarder will spur another round of amnesty. Not a fan.
From an economic perspective, in that same article I note that immigration lowers wages. This is supply and demand 101, something Roy knows, but oddly ignores. I don’t think it’s inherently racist or even nationalistic to not want to increase the labor supply, especially during a shitty economy full of fake recovery. Now we can argue all day over whether immigration restrictions work at keeping down labor deflation, especially in an ever increasing digital world. And we can argue whether what a particular group wants (i.e. those who will suffer most from depressed wages) is good policy writ large, (just as we argue over government milk buying policies designed to prevent an excess of supply) but calling it nationalistic and racist outright is stupid. Are there nationalistic/racist elements. Of course, people are assholes. Are there also a whole bunch of people making incredibly rational, largely economics based decisions: Yes. And here’s the rub, both parties have largely ignored this group of people for a long time.
Now returning the Perry, we see a similar problem. Fact is, despite Bernie Sander’s insistence, there’s only so much government budget to go around. Yes there’s a whole lot of it, but it still has a limit. Spending choices must be made. Choosing to spend money on those here illegally inevitably prevents that money from being spent on legal residents and citizens. So for every subsidized illegal immigrant college student there’s going to be some number less dollars for drug addiction programs, or roads, or whatever. Again it’s not racist or nationalistic to want to use resources in such a way as to favor those who are here legally (be they visa holders or citizens.) Roy seems to simply want to pretend there is no possible rational argument to why people may be opposed to him on these issues. (Just like Perry didn’t want to which is why he resorted to flippant emotivism.) Which brings us to point two:
The result, he explained, has been an increasingly homogenous party that considers Iowa the “Real America,” and writes off the urban and suburban places where minorities live. “White identity politics has permeated our rhetoric,” he said.
Maybe it’s because I live in a suburban area, but I never considered “Real America” to mean anything more than the myriad of places that don’t sit on a coast. Let’s face it, LA, DC, NYC, etc. all have different cultures than even other larg cities like STL, KC, and even Atlanta. I was just remarking this to a colleague the other day that the annual bioethics conference used to be held solely on the coasts until they added a “Flyover country” rotation. Now it’s held in San Diego, DC, and some random city not on a coast (next year it’s KC.) I told my colleague this was important to me that the members of the group occasionally separate themselves from the coastal mindset and get into “Real America.” But we’re not trouncing out into some rural community here. Final location isn’t decided yet but my guess it’s going to be in the Power and Light District, Down-Freaking-Town KC.
Now maybe I’m alone in using the term “Real America” to mean “Anything not on a coast.” But I hardly believe that’s true, mostly because as I talk to other people who live out here in “Flyover Country” (as it’s often called as well) we lament that the coasts don’t give a flying fuck about us because their so different as to feel their above us. Relatedly, not a single one of these people I’m talking with lives in anything that could even be considered “Exurban” much less “rural.”
Now Roy has some good ideas, and I’ll usually end up agreeing with him more than I disagree I suspect. But if we wants to make inroads rebuilding conservatism I’d suggest he give more weight to his opponent’s arguments than he does. It’s easy, and even fun, to burn down a legion of straw men, but it leaves you with nothing but a mess.