The Possible and the Actual

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"The Possible and the Actual"

I think Reihan Salam makes the interesting point here that in many ways Hillary Clinton’s coalition of working class whites and Latinos is actually more novel than Barack Obama’s “McGovern coalition” of bien pensant white liberals and black people. That said, this seems off-base to me:

Can we imagine, say, a right-of-center Mexican American candidate effectively arguing that some form of moderate immigration restriction will prove beneficial to Mexican Americans? Yes.

Now of course we can “imagine” that in some sense. And, indeed, the evidence suggests that a very large proportion of the people whose interests are actually harmed by large levels of immigration are recent immigrants or the children of recent immigrants. But this just underscores the extent to which anti-immigration sentiment is not, in practice, driven by a rational response to economic problems. The evidence suggests that high levels of immigration do indeed have a deleterious effect on the wages of Americans who lack a high-school diploma.

But the locus of anti-immigration political mobilization isn’t among America’s dropout community, it’s among middle class people who live in areas that are newly experiencing large levels of immigration. It is, in other words, primarily driven by cultural anxieties. And so far as that goes, that’s fine. But though, as Reihan says, highly assimilated persons with some Spanish-speaking ancestors (like me!) aren’t going to be amenable to la Raza ideology, we also aren’t going to be amenable to a politics of centered around cultural panic over Spanish language signs.

Meanwhile, it’s worth saying that whatever the short-range politics of the immigration issue, there’s some good reason to believe that if restrictionists do succeed in substantially reducing the flow of immigrants, the main long-term impact would be a renaissance of redistributionist politics.

Photo by Flickr user melanzane1013 used under a Creative Commons license

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