Years of Wall Street Journal Edit Page/ neocon hammering have taken a toll; few conservative foundations are eager to get near the immigration debate. But interest, though suppressed, has hardly evaporated. It now flows into the tributary issues: witness the pleasant and sometimes fascinating conference on citizenship and assimilation - put on by the Robert McCormick Tribune Foundation at Cantigny, the McCormick homestead and conference center outside Chicago.
En Route: Thursday, 7 AM, La Guardia Airport.
Already a line of ticket holders is snaked behind the ropes before the American Airlines counter. Not much forward movement. What seems to be an entire clan from Somalia or somewhere has the attention of most of the check-in agents. There may be twenty-five of them, carrying stickers and bags which say "International Organization for Migration" decorated by a cute logo of mother and father with a child. This particular migration consists of five or six elders, an equal number of children, and maybe fifteen younger adults, and forty of fifty pieces of baggage, often tied together with string and tape. No one in the group seems to have learned the concept of a line - the clan's more vigorous members just storm the ticket counters, while the elders and children sprawl on the floor. The harried airline workers don't know what to do - asking worriedly, isn't there someone here traveling with you, do any of you have passports, etc.? The Somalis reply loudly, in their language. Americans stew in silence behind the ropes. Finally the airline sends some agents into our line, asking for those with an imminent flight to follow. A nice young woman accompanies me to one of the few ticket agents not overwhelmed by the Somalis, and I check in and am Cantigny-bound.
The conference, organized in part by the Center for Immigration Studies, is ideologically diverse, with a healthy sprinkling of "post-American" end-of-the-nation-state people, who dominate immigration debate within our universities. Peter Spiro of Hofstra Law School suggests America ought to be considered "like a club" and that it is a mistake to get worked up about the meaning of citizenship. Later in the afternoon, as we tour Cantigny's superb military history museum, Steve Camarota of CIS observes that if America is a club, he might decide to suspend his membership when that month's event includes landing at Omaha Beach.
Most of the conference talk is gracious and academic, seldom contentious. The beautiful setting may preclude sharp exchanges. (What a debate about immigration could have been had that morning at La Guardia!) Some conferees are worried about assimilation, or the lack of it, among new immigrants, some think the nation-state is in its dotage. But we all enjoy equally being tended to by the Tribune Foundation's superb staff, the gardens, the mansion.
The assimilationists push hard at the notion that America is based on an idea, and worry that today too many of the immigrants are not being immersed or taught the idea. Instead, immigrants now push for "group rights." Others say it doesn't matter so much whether they get the idea or not. After two sessions of this, we tour the museum, and the mansion - both a tribute to a grand WASP family with a broken line. Robert McCormick, publisher, warrior, America Firster, philanthropist, left two wives but no children; his brother, looking tense as a boy in one of the many family portraits, a suicide.
Speaking after dinner, Harvard's Samuel P. Huntington brought some edge to the day, suggesting that we may actually have a serious immigration problem with Mexico. He begins by making what I believe to be a terribly important point - that half-truths are more damaging to healthy public discourse than outright falsehoods.
As examples, he gives two: that America is a "proposition nation," defined by adopting an "American creed;" and that it is a "nation of immigrants." He reminds us that Americans have historically thought of ourselves in many different ways, as religious communities, as a racial community. While the "proposition" idea may have helped sharpen lines of division and mobilize people in the Revolutionary period, it was hardly the whole of it.
As for "we are a nation of immigrants," the nation descended not from immigrants but from the settlers who originally built the society here from scratch - destroying, Huntington does not fail to mention, the Indian communities already present. That nation by itself would now comprise about half the present population, quite a substantial country.
The next morning finds much acceptance of and some dissent from Huntington, particularly on Mexico. I wonder whether his age and stature shield him from sharper attacks. The morning session meanders around the Mexico question - much of it circling around Peter Skerry's observation (elaborated in his important book, The Mexican Americans: an Ambivalent Minority http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/
0674572629/qid=964896435/sr=1-2/002-3836527-9702438)that Mexican immigrants are assimilating in a fashion, in a post-60's multicultural/ civil rights model kind of way.
Most interesting to me was the last-minute intervention of Michael Horowitz, former Reagan administration official, now of the Hudson Institute, a man who had much to say after every speaker. The previous day he had touted Norman Podhoretz's My Love Affair with America http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/
0743200519/o/qid=964896577/sr=2-1/002-3836527-9702438 as a model of immigrant-style (or more accurately son-of-immigrant style) patriotism and a testament to the glory of American assimilation. Unsurprisingly, he failed to note (as also does Podhoretz, who spends much of his book railing against "nativists") that the confidently assimilative culture and schools of the 1930s and 1940s so lovingly recalled were in fact those of a country that had legislated a dozen years before to shut the door to newcomers.
The voluble Horowitz took up the microphone again, following the Mexico discussion. He worried about where we are headed. He painted a scary vision: an America of racialized voting patterns; growing evidence that whites in some districts and eventually in some states can't possibly win at the polls; that minorities in others districts are similarly marginalized; the possibility that embittered "Caucasians" may eventually resort to violence when democracy no longer seems to give them a chance.
The worst losers, Horowitz says, as if only this will really clinch the point, will be blacks and Hispanics. He lashes out at the Mexican activists who feel "not gratitude but grievance" towards America.
Manuel Garcia, a Texas professor from the Mexico panel, cheerfully confirms Horowitz's fears, adding that in California and Texas, whites will eventually experience the kind of despair, disenfranchisement and political marginalization that Mexicans have long felt in those places.
But here is the really interesting part. Do Horowitz's worries lead him to conclude that we ought to slow down immigration, even a little bit? They do not. He has the ur-Neocon position: at once able to recognize all the dangers of the present immigration constellation, including the possible break-down of meaningful democracy, and even prophecies the resort, by the losers, to violence. But still he wants to bring in as many new immigrants as possible. He snorts derisively at Steve Sailer's comment that America has a buyer's market for immigrants (we can be as selective as we want - and ought to make the choice on what's best for the existing American population).
Next week, back to Virginia and PJB, with the Long Beach Convention looming. The Buchanan campaign is, at the McCormick conference, viewed with a blend of curiosity and warmth; several people told me they would vote for him, including one young scholar who years ago told me he considered Pat a bigot. Assuming, as I do, that we'll get through Long Beach, it will be an interesting three months.