Thursday, April 21, 2011

Political Pop Quiz: Who Said It, Part II

Let’s try this again, my fellow liberals. Who said this in 2005:

The parade of evils caused by illegal immigration is widely known, and it gets worse every day. In short, illegal immigration wreaks havoc economically, socially, and culturally; makes a mockery of the rule of law; and is disgraceful just on basic fairness grounds alone. Few people dispute this, and yet nothing is done.

… There already is a “closed sign on the border” when it comes to illegal immigration. It’s called the law. The problem is that the “closed sign” isn’t being enforced because the Federal Government, which has its interfering, power-hungry hands in virtually everything else, has abdicated its duty in one of the very few areas where it was actually meant to be: border security.

But one of the most disturbing and destructive aspects of illegal immigration is that it is illegal. Indeed, that is the precise attribute which separates good immigration from bad immigration. Why should Republicans, or anyone, shy away from pointing out that illegal immigration, among its many evils, is “illegal”? That is just absurd. Moreover, it is precisely the fact that illegal immigrants enter the country illegally that spawns justifiable resentment, not only among large clusters of middle-of-the-road voters, but also among the very legal immigrant population about which [Republican strategist Laurie] Sanchez is so concerned. Emphasizing the “illegal” part of this problem is what Republicans need to do more of, not less.

Okay, this time I won’t keep you in suspense. That delicious morsel of hard-line conservative anti-immigration propaganda (oh, sorry: anti-“illegal” immigration propaganda) comes to us from none other than … Glenn Greenwald. (Courtesy of Dana Houle at Rooted Cosmopolitan.)

Yes, kids, that’s right: Yet another one of our liberal heroes has proven to be, well, not quite so inerrant as many on the left would have us believe.

Now I could spend a considerable amount of time debunking Mr. Greenwald’s assertions about “illegal” immigration – pointing out, for example, that in December 2006 Texas’ Office of the Comptroller published a comprehensive study of the effects of undocumented immigrants on the state’s economy (.pdf), concluding that undocumented immigrants added $17.7 billion to Texas’ gross state product and generated $1.58 billion in state revenue, or $420 million more than the cost of state services provided to them.

Or, I could point out that the term “illegal” immigration is, at best, clumsy and imprecise, given that for the most part being present in the United States without proper documentation isn’t actually a crime (although there are criminal penalties for bringing people into the country illegally or harboring them once they are here) – which, when you think about it, makes sense: If we don’t want people here without proper documentation, the better thing to do is to deport them rather than locking them up in jail and thereby keeping them here on the taxpayers’ dime. So, “illegal” immigration generally isn’t criminal; it’s about as illegal as, say, speeding. (And here’s an extra credit question for you: Which of these – speeding, or “illegal” immigration – was responsible for 13,192 fatalities in 2004 alone? Hint: It wasn’t “illegal” immigration. See National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, Traffic Survey Facts 2004 Data – Speeding, Table 1, p. 6 (.pdf file).)

But I’m not going to take the time to rebut each and every fallacy in Mr. Greenwald’s anti-immigration rant. Instead, I’ll just point out that what he wrote about the subject in 2005 is entirely inconsistent with my understanding of what it means to be a liberal. In fact, it’s the kind of thing you more often here from right-wing organizations like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) or VDARE – organizations the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled “hate” groups – or from extremist conservatives like former Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo. (Speaking of whom, Mr. Greenwald once chided Oliver Willis for labeling Tancredo a racist because of his strict views on immigration. Unfortunately for Mr. Greenwald, Tancredo apparently is a racist: He spent the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks hobnobbing with the neo-confederate League of the South, which isn’t exactly a non-racist thing to do.)

Anyway, here’s the irony. One of the things I used to admire about Mr. Greenwald was his slavish consistency – or what appeared to be slavish consistency – as he railed against cafeteria liberals who picked and chose the aspects of liberalism that mattered to them, often based on nothing more than political expediency. In fact, Greenwald’s accusations of hypocrisy on the part of Obama supporters has stopped me cold from time to time, forcing me to ask myself whether I was dismissing criticism of Pres. Obama when I had enthusiastically endorsed the same type of criticism of Pres. Bush. But, no – that’s not the case. I do not, in fact, support those policies of the Obama administration that are mere continuations of Bush-era mistakes (NSA warrantless wiretapping, the war in Afghanistan, the positions the administration has taken in certain lawsuits challenging Bush’s executive abuses); I do, however, accept the political realities we face and I am sometimes – maybe often – willing to accept the compromises Pres. Obama has had to make (on, say, healthcare, financial reform, the budget) because I don’t see any point in beating him up over the limitations of our current political environment. I may not like those compromises, but I accept the fact that political reality sometimes necessitates compromise.

However, it’s one thing to defend the Pres. Obama’s decisions to compromise with Republicans when that’s what political reality dictates; it’s quite another thing to affirmatively advance right-wing positions on critical issues like immigration. The former makes you a realist, for better or worse; but the latter actually makes you the kind of cafeteria liberal Greenwald’s fans purport to despise.

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.


  1. Greenwald isn't a liberal. He's a libertarian who flirts with Ron Paulite paleoconservatives. Among them, immigration is a YOOJ culture war issue.

  2. Dave, if you were to survey Glenn's work on a wide variety of issues, how often would you agree with his analysis and positions, and how often would your characterize those positions as liberal.

  3. This is an excellent post. If Greenwald were merely a libertarian, and were honest about it, I wouldn't have any real beef with him beyond disagreements on policy. This goes way beyond policy disagreement: this is flat-out bigoted scapegoating, backed up by assertions that are factually untrue. And the latter isn't a one-time deal: Greenwald habitually stretches the truth, whether he's exaggerating his outrage du jour or misrepresenting the statements of someone with whom he disagrees.

    Greenwald is, above all, a careerist. Hence the false-flagging as a progressive (he knows his audience is overwhelmingly liberal/progressive, and he can't afford to alienate them), and hence his need to keep the outrage meter pegged at any cost (because if it isn't, he falls out of the public eye).