The psychological concept of "projection" explains much about modern political rhetoric. It's a process by which accusations often reflect the accuser rather than the accused.
For example, have you noticed how the Southern Poverty Law Center relentlessly rages against an ever-expanding circle of what it demonizes as "hate groups"? Why did the $PLC rant so furiously about even such a mild and thoughtful a gentleman as Richard Lamm, the environmentalist hero who served three terms as a Democratic governor of Colorado?
Because the SPLC itself is America's foremost hate group. It is consumed by what Peter Brimelow, discussing the phenomenon of projection in his recent "Redneckophobia"? Why Obama Is attacking Arizona as "a relentless hatred of the historic American nation".
Similarly, Democrats instantly accuse the GOP of being "divisive" on those rare occasions when Republicans stumble upon an issue that unites a broad majority of voters.
Thus a Google search (August 15, 2010) finds the words "immigration" and "divisive" showing up together on 2,490,000 webpages. (Talk about a worn-out cliché!) Yet immigration is perhaps the least divisive major topic in American politics today.
But here's a new table from Gallup showing President Obama's approval ratings for 13 issues:
[Jeffrey M. Jones, On the Issues, Obama Finds Majority Approval Elusive, August 11, 2010]
In other words, the public is less divided over Obama's handling of immigration than it is over any other topic. What the Democrats are projecting is their own visceral hostility to any criticism of immigration.
Moreover, Democrats are always accusing Republicans of trying to racialize the immigration issue—when, of course, that is the Democrats' chief strategy. They've put untold efforts over the decades into whipping Hispanics into a racial frenzy over immigration.
As it happens, they've enjoyed only modest direct results. Hispanics do vote Democratic, but nowhere near as monolithically as blacks or Jews. But the indirect benefit to the Democrats, though, has been enormous. This repeated accusation has succeeded in scaring many Republican politicians away from their best issues. The GOP brain trust doesn't much understand the concept of projection, so it repeatedly falls for Democrat concern trolling.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who got punched in the head a lot as an amateur boxer (and not surprisingly, given projection politics, is campaigning for re-election against Sharron Angle primarily by calling her "wacky") is not always the most artful at this traditional Democratic tactic. Last week, he orated to a Latino gathering:
"I don't know how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican, OK. Do I need to say more?"
No, Harry, that expresses the Democrats' full depth of thinking on immigration quite nicely.
The Democrats have been striving to stir up racial passions among Hispanics over immigration since the California gubernatorial election of 1994. As you'll recall, Republican governor Pete Wilson's endorsement of Proposition 187 aroused the wrath of the Latino electoral tidal wave, spelling his doom.
Oh, wait, sorry—that only happened in the Main Stream Media's memory. In the real world, Wilson came from 20 points down to win by 15. (But the Democrats did win the next gubernatorial election, because the GOP candidate, faithfully following media advice, refused to talk about immigration.)
Ever since, Democratic politicians have been trying to whip up Hispanic anger over immigration. After all, the kind of Hispanic consultants with whom they have power lunches say that the kind of Hispanic voters who are cooking them lunch are all desperate for illegal immigrants to be amnestied.
And yet decades of evidence show that Hispanic voters tend to be sensibly ambivalent about illegal immigration.
This is just another example of projection. The louder that Professional Hispanics claim that the Hispanic Masses are clamoring for amnesty, the less you should believe them.
For instance, Democrats have recently noticed that while Obama's approval ratings are rock solid among blacks, they have been slipping among Latino voters. Worse, Hispanics aren't likely to show up to vote in 2010 in the same faddish numbers as in 2008, when they surged to 7.4 percent of the electorate).
What could possibly be the reason? Could the 12.1 percent unemployment rate among Hispanics have something to do with it?
Don't be silly! All those unemployed Latinos can't wait for more competition to arrive from south of the border. Hispanic voters must be mad at Obama for not letting in more of the reserve army of the unemployed to take their jobs!
"President Barack Obama has lost the most trusted man in the Hispanic media. Univision's Jorge Ramos, an anchor on the nation's largest Spanish-language television network, says Obama broke his promise to produce an immigration reform bill within a year of taking office."
Mr. Ramos couldn't possibly have a pecuniary interest in pushing for more immigration, now could he?
Oh, actually he could. As I wrote in VDARE.com in 2004 when reviewing an English translation of Ramos's book The Latino Wave: How Hispanics Will Elect the Next American President:
"I lost track of how many times Ramos argues that various politicians doomed their campaigns by not buying enough spots on Univision."
The logic of conflict-of-interest isn't terribly complicated, but it apparently completely eludes the poor, naïve gringo journolistas: the more Spanish-speakers there are in this country, the higher Ramos's Nielsen ratings go, and the more money (U.S. dollars) he makes.
It also shouldn't be too complicated for American journalists to have a chuckle over what a reader of mine once described as "the blue-eyed Univision anchorman Jorge Ramos pretending to be the standard-bearer of the Indians that his ancestors enslaved—and over whom he still rules like C-3PO in the land of the Ewoks." But irony appears to be beyond them.)
The same is more or less true for all the Hispanic political consultants, Latino advertising gurus, and Chicano Studies professors whom reporters call up for additional helpings of the conventional wisdom about how desperate the average Latino-American voter is for more workers to be allowed in to drive down his wages some more.
Moreover, there's a large gap between the immigration views of Hispanic citizens/voters and of Ramos's Spanish-speaking audience of immigrants (a large fraction of them illegal). Tellingly, Ramos himself wasn't eligible to vote in America for the first 22 years he anchored Univision's broadcast because he didn't bother to become a citizen until 2008.
(For that matter, Ramos's boss, Haim Saban, who bought Univision from Jerrold Perrenchio at the height of the Latino subprime bubble and who is the biggest donor to the Democratic National Committee, is a citizen of Israel.)
Why is the Main Stream Media wrong about Hispanic voters' priorities so often? Why does the MSM assume the Latino electorate must display ethnocentric solidarity over immigration?
Is there something bafflingly unusual about Hispanic voters' ability to see both sides of the immigration question?
No. Hispanic voters' current ambivalence resembles the way in which many Italian-Americans are not at all paralyzed in their thinking about 21st Century immigration policy by the filiopietistic awareness that their ancestors were once immigrants.
The better question is: Why does the MSM project its own neuroses about immigration onto Hispanic voters?
My theory: Mainstream media personalities tend to think about immigration like Jewish-Americans do. Jews often view immigration restrictions today as a personal insult to their great-great-grandmothers who came through Ellis Island 110 years ago.
You may have noticed, however, that Italian-Americans just don't much care. It strikes them as stupid to worry so much about the past when they are going to live in the future. They think legislation should benefit their children, not their ancestors.
That Hispanics are the New Italians is a cliché that goes back to the early years of neoconservatism. It remained popular up through at least Michael Barone's 2001 book, The New Americans.
But that kind of thinking has slowly grown less fashionable among the sharper neocons, such as Barone, as the evidence mounts that there are substantial differences. For one thing, Italians save. They don't have a fiesta culture. The subprime wipeout happened largely in heavily Hispanic regions, not in Italian ones. (Here's a 2009 report, for example, that one out of every 667 homes in Staten Island was in foreclosure. That compares to one out of 23 in Nevada.)
Still, the Italian-Hispanic analogy can be helpful, especially because there are many more famous Italians than Hispanics in America, even though there are already two to three times as many Hispanics.
Moreover, Italians don't have victimist pressure groups to intimidate analysts, so Americans are allowed to use their brains when thinking about them. (There was an Italian-American Civil Rights League founded by Joe Colombo in 1970 to protest persecution by the FBI. Tragically, however, at the second Italian-American Civil Rights rally, that mob boss got whacked, which seemed to take the wind out of the sails of the movement.)
You'll notice that Italian-Americans can be found all over the political landscape on immigration—Rudy Giuliani and Jerry Perrenchio on one side, Tom Tancredo and Joe Arpaio on the other. There's not much hereditary ethnic orthodoxy about immigration policy among Italians. The kind of Ellis Island Kitsch, like that Emma Lazarus poem that renders so many Jewish pundits too verklempt to be capable of rational thought about borders, just doesn't seem to have much effect on Italians.
Why not? Italians tend to be family-oriented rather than group-oriented, not very ethnocentric, not obsessed with the past, not all that resentful about country club membership invitations, not all that political, and not very ideological.
In short, Italian-Americans tend not to get worked up en masse over the same things that get Jewish-Americans worked up.
And Hispanics are more like Italians than they are like Jews—except even more so. Hispanics tend to be less educated than Italians, less interested in public affairs, less prosperous, and less likely to organize politically without the sponsorship of white liberal institutions like the Ford Foundation.
Moreover, identifying as a unified Hispanic Bloc is even more unnatural for Latin Americans than it is for Sicilians and Piedmontese to identify as Italians. People of widely differing nationalities and races arrive in the U.S. from Latin America. There they are told they are now "Hispanics" and that, for some reason, it makes them eligible for goodies from the government.
The clever and/or unscrupulous ones, like Ramos, catch on quickly to how the race game is played in America. The more innocent, however, can take a generation or more to learn how to exploit America's weird race rules.
When you stop to think about it, you'll notice that Italian-American traits aren't so unusual. It would be much more surprising if the idiosyncratic feelings that Jews project onto Hispanics actually turned out to real.
But that doesn't mean the rest of us should fall for this cant.
[Steve Sailer (email him) is movie critic for The American Conservative. His website www.iSteve.blogspot.com features his daily blog. His new book, AMERICA'S HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: BARACK OBAMA'S "STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE", is available here.]