Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The GOP Moves Backwards Again

With religion on a sharp decline (see the previous post) and vast demographic changes overtaking the country one would think that the Republican Party would begin to grasp that retreating back to a fictional version of the 1950's is long term political suicide.  But coming to such a conclusion seems impossible in a political party where ignorance is celebrated and objective reality is simply ignored if it doesn't conform to an ideology increasingly out of touch with the lives and views of most Americans.  Among those leading the charge to the past in the GOP is Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions who makes the Alabama politicians from the years I lived in that state look progressive in comparison.  A piece in The Daily Beast looks at the GOP obsession with going backwards in time and ignoring pressing need for change.  Here are highlights:
If you want to see where the impulse to reform the Republican Party in a more libertarian direction of limited government, social tolerance, and free markets goes to die, look no further than the recent attacks on immigration and freer trade by Jeff Sessions, the influential senator from Alabama. Every time the GOP seems finally ready to orient itself in a forward-looking, post-culture-war direction, some holdover from an America that never quite existed to begin with blows his whistle and the next generation of would-be party leaders fall into line like the obedient von Trapp children in Sound of Music.

Indeed, Scott Walker has explicitly attributed his remarkable flip-flop on immigration to conversations with Sessions. Just a few years ago, the Wisconsin governor and leading Republican presidential candidate used to favor liberal immigration and a path to citizenship for illegals. Now he’s calling for “no amnesty” and universal, invasive, and error-prone E-Verify systems for “every employer...particularly small businesses and farmers and ranchers.”

[H]e wants to curb not just illegal and low-skill immigration but also the number of folks chasing the American Dream under H1-B visas, which apply to “workers in short supply” who are sponsored by specific employers with specialized needs.

In a recent Washington Post op-ed, Sessions complained  that “legal immigration is the primary source of low-wage immigration into the United States.” Exhibiting the zero-sum, fixed-pie economic thinking that conservatives and Republicans routinely chastise in liberals and Democrats, Sessions continues, “We don’t have enough jobs for our lower-skilled workers now. What sense does it make to bring in millions more?”

Sessions brings the same populist and anti-immigrant animus to his critique of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the trade deal the Obama administration is brokering between the United States and 11 other countries. Sessions, along with progressive Democrats such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Martin O’Malley, only see the shadowy machinations of elites at work in the reauthorization of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) or “fast-track” negotiations.

Such rules, which have been standard operating procedure since 1974, allow the executive branch to negotiate terms and then bring the deal to Congress for an up or down vote.

Contra Sessions, there is no clear public desire for reducing immigration, except among Republicans. Fully 84 percent of Republicans are dissatisfied with the current generous levels, a super-majority that only shows how out of touch the GOP faithful is with the rest of the country. Earlier this year, Gallup found that 54 percent of Americans are either satisfied with current levels of immigration or want more immigration. Just 39 percent were dissatisfied and want less immigration, which is 11 points lower than the same figure in 2008.

[I]mmigrants are twice as likely to start their own businesses as native-born Americans. The fact is they tend to be either higher- or lower-skilled than the typical worker, so they complement rather than displace natives. And, as the Cato Institute’s Alex Nowrasteh documents in his exhaustive rebuttal to Sessions’s Washington Post piece, immigrants not only consume less welfare and commit less crime than the average American, they pay taxes (often without any hope of getting the money back) and stop coming when the economy sours.

Sadly, lived reality holds little appeal for Sessions and Republicans such as Walker, who are instead doing their damnedest to turn the party of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush decisively against its long and glorious history of relatively open borders and freer trade.

With 2016 coming into clearer and clearer focus—and with Hillary Clinton doing her own flip-flop on immigration and now embracing newcomers—the GOP and its presidential candidates have a choice to make. They can follow Ronald Reagan’s example and embrace libertarian positions on immigration and free trade. Or they can follow Jeff Sessions’s retrograde populism and see just how few Hispanic votes they can pull.

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