Progressive Revolution: We Can't Afford to Play Small-Ball and Tip-Toe Around Right-Wingers Anymore
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Just as conservatives do today, back then they also used people's fear of immigrants to attack other progressive ideas and legislation. Congressional opponents of the 14th and 15th amendments, for example, worried that immigrants would take advantage of these new voting rights. In the 1920s and earlier, immigrant bashers were anxious about what kinds of communists, socialists, and anarchists might be coming over to contaminate our population.
For example, a San Francisco newspaper, the Daily American printed the following editorial in April 1881:
Steamships are vomiting forth rotten cargoes of a thousand Chinese fortnightly, smitten and cursed with the plague of small-pox, and with other deadly plagues. The one-hundred thousand Chinese on this coast today, without family ties, with no elements of a prosperous immigration, the bronze locusts from Asia, plague-bearing[,] are eating out the substance which rightly belongs to the patrimony of the people.The single Chinese immigrant does, in this sense, usurp the place of a family. Trades and industries languish. The evils of Chinese immigration are upon us full force, aggregated by obstructions which originated with politicians who care more for some petty interest of party (the democratic party) than for the great and vital interests of the country.
If you think that was then and things have progressed, here are a couple of quotes from the current leadership of the anti immigration movement. The first comes from Congressman Virgil Goode of Virginia, who gained notoriety when he criticized Keith Ellison's choice to be sworn in using a copy of the Koran, rather than the Bible. Good warned his constituents, "If American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration, there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office." He also had this to say about Hispanic immigration: "My message to them is, not in two weeks, not in two months, not in two years, never! We must be clear that we will not surrender America and we will not turn the United States over to the invaders from south of the border."
Another anti-immigration leader, Joseph Turner -- a staff member of the most powerful anti-immigration lobbying group, Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) -- recently said this in a letter to anti-immigration contributors: "Our enemies are bloodied and beaten. We cannot relent. Our boot is on their throat and we must have the willingness to crush their "throat" so that we can put our enemy down for good. The sovereignty of our nation and the future of our culture and civilization are at stake. The United States culture is man's salvation. If we perish, man perishes."
These statements were made in 2006 and 2007, not in some long-ago debate when social conventions and attitudes were different. And they were not the ravings of marginal crazies or rabid talk-show hosts; they were made by a senior member of the Republican caucus in Congress and by a leader of one of the biggest organizations working on the anti-immigration side of the aisle.
These are legitimate issues to debate in terms of immigration policy. Having better border security is a good thing, and we should be worried about corporations that try to exploit immigrant labor. But we can work those issues through and create a legitimate path to citizenship for immigrants without resorting to the fearmongering of the right wing.
Just as stopping the spread of totalitarian communism and keeping us safe from Soviet aggression during the Cold War were important objectives, today we need to deal with the real threat of terrorism. Many thoughtful suggestions, such as those generated by the Hart-Rudman commission and the 9/11 Commission, have been put forward. Important issues like securing the uranium from old Soviet weapons sites and keeping it away from the hands of terrorists, as well as safeguarding our own country's nuclear and chemical facilities to a greater degree, ought to be priorities for the U.S. government. What is fundamentally wrong, though, is turning the fear of terrorism into a political football, as Bush, Cheney, and other right-wingers have done.