What makes our nation the United States of America; what makes us Americans? The pervasive fears of a coming “new world order” and “one world government” are largely limited to the political right and evangelicals. The most explosive emotions on the subject of immigration, illegal or otherwise, are found at both edges of the political spectrum. Everywhere in our politics, there is a sense of confusion and anger attendant to the subject of trade and open borders. In a nation with increasingly fractious politics, it is critical to first identify the ground rules; who gets to play in our park, and what are the rules of entry?
The Rational Middle has argued before that racism is not the principal cause driving opposition to immigration reform; the RM has also argued that having a good reason to take legislative action does not guarantee that the resulting law will make sense. Unsurprisingly, these arguments have not been accepted by the media and punditocracy whose well-appointed livelihoods depend on interesting stories. In today’s cable media, you are a do nothing politician or baby soft liberal if you oppose “tough” legislation. If you happen to support laws like the one that Arizona passed, then you must be a racist. In a nation with 300 million unique individuals, our media is uncomfortable unless it is easily able to identify heroes and villains. Our media, friends, is becoming steadily less informed and more sensationalized. This fact accounts for the total lack of reporting, with any basis in fact, on the notions of borders and free trade.
The Constitution of the United States, a document that leaves much to the interpretation of future generations, is very clear on borders and citizenship. The borders are the responsibility of the Federal Government…end of story. Individuals born in the United States are natural born citizens…period. The Constitution also provides for times when the Federal government does not live up to its responsibilities; its called elections. There is no prohibition against voting officials out of office on the basis of one issue. The trick is figuring out what stands for good policy. Immigration is a difficult deal; we Americans have created a nation to which many want to relocate, but we don’t have enough of our product to sell. Politicians of both parties have struggled with this issue, honestly and without prejudice for many years without success. We the people have yet to decide on what success is, and how to achieve it.
Immigration and free trade are subject to the same unsustainable extremes. You may decide that the national focus should be keeping illegals out; the only examples in history of successful overland barriers to movement are the Great Wall of China and the Iron Curtain. Both required ruthless enforcement and enormous expenditures to maintain. George C. Scott’s Patton summed up the concept of border fences succinctly; “Fixed fortifications are monuments to the stupidity of man.” Free trade poses a similar question of scale; closing the U.S. market to foreign trade has mass appeal. No one who suggests the notion seems to have done the math on how many jobs will be lost in the move. Our worst habit, as Americans, is our tendency to ignore the math that stands in the way of our passions.
Our sovereignty, in my opinion, depends less on our borders then on the rights and responsibilities we enjoy and live up to within. If we live by the principles that are at the core of our nation, then America exists. In as much as American ideals, principles, and rights exist outside of our borders, America exists outside of our borders. The law passed in Arizona was done with good intentions, but it is an assault on the 4th Amendment that is every bit as severe as a law banning handguns would be to the 2nd Amendment. In its overreach, it damages our national sovereignty more than it strengthens. Similarly, attempts to restrict trade amount to tacit admissions that America can’t compete; I struggle to find something as damaging to our sovereignty as a strident admission of economic weakness. The fixes to these questions seem more likely to be found in the full portfolio of American strength, tempered by the full dose of American wisdom and confidence.
On immigration, continuous quality improvements in processing legal immigration requests will help to diminish incidents of law-breaking. We need to focus on streamlining and improving the systems for hiring workers; particularly focusing on smaller firms and lower wage individuals. If we could get away from our childish fear of the word tax, we could work towards real reform of the tax code, with an emphasis on FICA and payroll taxes. Such reforms would go along way towards limiting the demand and incidence of undocumented workers. Let’s be honest folks, if we eliminated undocumented workers, there would be no rush to become an illegal alien. No one risks a border crossing to be unemployed, regardless of the idiotic pronouncements of true bigots like Limbaugh and Savage.
The average native born American has three general concerns regarding immigration; pay taxes, keep your home up to the neighborhood standard, and learn English. Some others, to include me, believe that a little less Mexican flag-waving on Cinco De Mayo might be appropriate. At a state and local level, immigrants pay most of their share. Excepting those who live in a box and graze for food, we all pay sales and property taxes. Sales taxes are charged and collected unless the merchant is corrupt, and property taxes are charged, like all costs, to tenants through the rents.
Language is a somewhat more difficult subject. It is hyperbolic to label someone a bigot for wanting to name English the official language. Having one language for government is good economics, if nothing else. But it is xenophobic to suggest that America should not aggressively teach our children to speak a second language in grade school. We have an irrational fear of language in our nation, and like most fears, it is an unconscious admission of weakness. Part of recommitting to economic competition must be language training. Our collective inability to communicate in other languages, combined with our ignorance of economics is the fundamental cause of our national weaknesses in international competition.
Tied closely to immigration, are the arguments surrounding free trade. The two issues share the notion, founded on economic ignorance, that if it were just us Americans we would be fine. It is easier, not more correct, to blame trade imbalance on union wages and benefits. The true culprits; soft U.S. publicly traded corporations made slovenly by years of protectionism and corporate welfare, an aggressive adoption of labor-saving equipment, and the inflated value of the U.S. dollar versus other currencies. We need a renewed focus on shorter supply chains; local products produced by small vendors can provide the economic engine to power a sovereign America. A political focus on tax, labor, and environmental policies that favor large corporations is ridiculous; they tend to offshore their jobs and pre-tax income.
Borders, trade, and our national identity must be post-partisan topics. The politicization of these topics, accomplished largely for the media’s benefit damages our nation and erodes the opportunities to find space on these issues. It is high time we deported politicization altogether.
The Rational Middle is listening…