Friday, May 19, 2006

Fence post

Jon Henke -- or, rather, his wife -- asks a very relevant question (and no, I'm not flogging his piece just because I get quoted in it):

"Why is this suddenly such a big issue right now?"

The issue, of course, being immigration.

Henke admits to not having a good answer, but where a good answer isn't available, a bad answer will just have to do:

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

I'm not sure I'd go as far as Mencken -- there are some real hobgoblins out there -- but it's pretty obvious that the sudden American fascination with keepin' out them there furriners is an item of demagogic manufacture.

Quite simply, xenophobia sells and it sells well. When you're losing market share (hello, GOP) or not really able to gain any (hello, Hillary) on big-ticket items like foreign policy, Social Security and such, you trot out Old Reliable.

Know-Nothingism is a perennial American pastime for several good reasons:

- It gives us someone else to blame for our problems.

- That someone else is usually easily identifiable by skin color, accent or other distinguishing characteristics.

- That someone else, because of those distinguishing characteristics, arouses instinctive fear which can be bent to political purposes.

Over the last few decades, it's become unfashionable to blame African-Americans -- most of whom have lived in the US for as long as or longer than their fellow citizens -- for the failures of the various welfare schemes that white, middle class Americans consider a birthright. But since most Americans don't want to give up "public" education, government unemployment benefits, Social Security, etc., they can't admit to the structural unfitness and basic immorality of those programs -- they need scapegoats, dammit, and trivial little things like facts aren't going to get in the way of accepting whatever scapegoats are offered.

The undercurrent is always there -- yahoos like Frosty Wooldridge and Michelle Malkin make hay of it year in and year out -- but every so often the little fecal cumulus clouds converge and "perfect shitstorm" conditions are created.

The Tancredos and Sensenbrenners see xenophobia as the ultimate trump card for distracting attention from their party's failed foreign and military policies. The Hillary types on the other side of the aisle see a developing "center" to jump toward. The Wooldridges and Malkins beat the drums a little louder and rush to get "new" books and articles full of the same old silliness on the shelves and in the papers while the gettin's good. Before you know it, it's raining wetbacks and every politician on the block is running around waving an umbrella.

Said umbrellas, of course, generally consist of things like "the fence."

Sure, the fence won't, um work (if the goal is to make a noticeable dent in illegal immitration), but it's cheap and the demagogues will get some mileage out of it before it becomes apparent just how abjectly stupid the idea was in the first place. Hell, that may never become apparent. It's not like government statistics bear any discernible relation to reality in the first place, so adjusting them downward and proclaiming "victory" is just a matter of who's cooking the books. When next the need for a distraction -- or an appropriation -- pops up, the figures can be popped in the microwave, heated up again and served as leftovers. The fence can be "improved" or "augmented."

It's a lot easier to "solve" a problem when that problem was a figment of your imagination in the first place, isn't it?

Of course, there are a few real problems hidden behind the fictional ones the pols are harping on right now.

The "fence" will have a negligible effect on illegal immigration, which means it will have a negligible (but negative) effect on the welfare teat that's supposed to suddenly start giving down again if we get rid of them. Yes -- negative. Illegal immigrants pay more in taxes than they consume in "social benefits." Especially Social Security, into which millions of them make involuntary "contributions" from every paycheck but from which few ever collect a dime. They subsidize us.

In the meantime, while we're patting ourselves on the back for getting rid of them there evil furriners, they'll still be coming -- and the really evil furriners will still be taking advantage of the "coyote" guide enterprises and fake ID shops that so horrify Malkin, even though her favored policies are the guarantors of their profitability (and, therefore, of their existence) to get in themselves.

If al Qaeda ever nukes Denver, they should send Tom Tancredo a thank you card for all his help. Hopefully America will send him something else -- an indictment, perhaps, as an accessory before the fact.

But probably not. Blaming them there furriners is always easier than taking responsibility for ourselves. So we'll probably continue doing it and, occasionally and disastrously, acting on it.

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