I find it interesting, once again, that an international paper, in this case the Australian paper The Age, comments in a refreshingly straightforward style about US politics. I'm not claiming pure-heart journalism here, but take a look at this article from The Age, with parentheticals from your gormless blogger:
Illegal Hispanics make a great target for desperate Republicans
January 8, 2008
The face of America has changed, and the right doesn't like it.
AN ODD thing about the US election campaign is that on one issue, the Republican race is like a contest between candidates to outdo each other in pledging to wreck the US economy.
Gee.. economy wrecking doesn't seem to be a purely partisan issue, but let's see what else goes on here...
The issue is immigration. The contest is not, as it would be here, who can attract most immigrants. It is over who would be most ruthless in deporting the 12 million immigrants who have entered the US illegally to get work.
It's the new totem issue for the Republican right, one that resonates among white Americans who feel, correctly, that their country is being quietly invaded by its southern neighbours, changing its racial mix, even changing its language. But it alarms Wall Street, which knows that if the illegal workers were deported, the economy would collapse.
The assessment of a silent invasion is I suppose metaphorically overblown but basically, there are a lot of people coming to facilitate a better life, and around SW Arizona, it's not just the white Americans who notice. Trenchantly, the economic importance of all the immigrant worker financial issues is staggering to the US economy. Even though funds from US-based family members is about third or so in the Mexican economy in terms of money brought in, the amount of money "saved" by Americans and American companies is staggering when immigrant labor is used, and indeed, there is a tidy sum of never-to-be-claimed social security benefits paid by immigrants who will never claim them.
I have spent the past month in the US, where I lived for much of the 1980s. The big change that hits a time traveller is the shift in the racial balance. Even in the '80s, the quiet invasion was sweeping through areas from Miami to Texas to Los Angeles, and percolating into northern cities. But now, it is something else.
Travel through Texas or California, and almost everyone you see working in menial jobs is Latino — in official parlance, Hispanic. You edge down crowded streets in the middle of Los Angeles where all the shop signs and conversations around you are in Spanish.
His assessment is accurate. I've traveled all over the country, and what menial labor is not "in official parlance, Hispanic" is poor young people of color, then young people, poor or not. It's not like the backbone of our country, menial labor which keeps all industries going, is exactly something an average white American, apparently, wants to do.
Even Chicago, far north, has more than a million Hispanic workers. Villagers from Mexico and Guatemala are working on farms in Idaho and Nebraska, in factories and transport networks in New York and the rust belt, and in everything in the rapidly growing south-west. Millions are illegal migrants, on whom the US economy depends.
One statistic sums it up.
The US Census Bureau estimates that between its 2000 census and mid-2006, the population grew by almost 18 million. More than 9 million of them, just over half, were of Latino origin. The other half divided evenly between blacks, Asians and traditional whites.
In 1970, there were 10 million Latinos in a country of more than 200 million people. Within two years, there will be 50 million in a country of 300 million. By 2050, on official projections, there will be more than 100 million in a country of 400 million. It is becoming a very different America.
Most, of course, are there legally: they were born there, or arrived through legal channels. But millions simply walked in from Mexico, crossing the Rio Grande (which in reality is about as grande as Merri Creek), finding friends and relatives, then getting jobs where only rudimentary or no English is required.
I appreciate the writer not merrily joining in the fun of branding every brown face illegal.
George Bush understands this new America. He speaks Spanish, after a fashion, and has successfully courted Hispanic voters, and proposed reforms to legalise the status of illegal migrants. But the Republican rank and file are not comfortable with seeing their country change so rapidly, and most of its candidates are pandering to their fears.
The candidate who lit the fuse of deportation, congressman Tom Tancredo, has now quit the race, but only after the rest joined him in making it a crusade on which they could show the Republican faithful how tough they are.
See last year's blog of mine on this spineless immigrant-basher.
Mitt Romney, a one-time liberal Republican who now presents as a hard-right tough guy, wants to fence the border, deport all illegals, and require non-citizens to carry biometric identification cards. Mike Huckabee, a pragmatist when governor of Arkansas, now proposes hiring 23,000 more border patrol guards, and deporting illegals, then requiring them to apply formally.
Rudy Giuliani has a foot in both camps, adopting some of this, while proposing a path for illegals to regularise their status. Only John McCain, the Republican who panders least to the mob,
argues that while the border should be secured, it is unrealistic to try to deport 12 million people on whom the US depends to do the jobs that other Americans don't want.
What of the Democrats? They are all pragmatists. They all emphasise the path to legalisation, along with moves to tighten the border. And why not? Opinion polls show the Hispanic vote has shifted sharply to Democrats since the Republican crusade began.
But a New York Times survey of candidates' views shows immigration is just one of many issues on which there is a gulf between the two sides. On climate change, for example, every Democrat wants an emissions trading system and heavy investment in alternative energy research, with the goal of cutting US carbon emissions by at least 80% — yes, 80% — by 2050. On the Republican side, only McCain and Huckabee propose any real action.
All the Democrats want to close Guantanamo prison; Romney wants to double its size, and Giuliani says the criticisms are "grossly exaggerated". All the Democrats want to repeal the huge temporary tax cuts Bush delivered to the richest 1% of Americans; all the Republicans want to make them permanent. All the Democrats except Hillary Clinton want a speedy withdrawal from Iraq; all the Republicans except libertarian Ron Paul say the US must remain.
No doubt these differences will narrow once the candidates emerge and start focusing on the voters in the middle rather than those on their own side.
But with the tide now running against the Republicans, it is striking that, McCain aside, they are talking to their own, whereas Clinton and Barack Obama are both talking to America's vast middle ground.
Tim Colebatch was Washington correspondent for The Age from 1986 to 1989. He is now economics editor.
In the end, I think The Age has gotten much of the situation correct. It is so difficult in a normal year to not get caught up in shouting matches in AZ over immigration--election years, I already know from experience, are much worse. When I lived in Iowa, where there just ain't that many non-white people, it was only an issue in election years, when it managed to stir up the most reactionary of the normally sane and businesslike Iowans. In Illinois, people seemed politically to be very pragmatic about it-- look, we have a need, they have a need, who's going to be hurt? a 17-year-old burger flipper at McD's?
However, here in God's Condemned land, the hysteria fomented by nationalist jerks with bullhorns and a need to see themselves on TV makes it almost impossible to have a rational discussion of immigration issues. Indeed, I have had relatively decent discussions, and far be it from me to deny that the issue isn't at times very complex. But, it seems to me that if we cannot find a way to speak pragmatically and realistically about the changing face of the US--native brown and immigrant brown-- we condemn ourselves to life in an insular series of white-reservations states and multiethnic, multicultural world communities. Denial of the progressive change of the country, whether it would have been by Irish illegal immigrants of Mexican immigrants, is the surest way to a backward march.