A recent column on the Internet asked the question: Why now? Why here and now, has immigration become an issue unlike any in recent memory? Some of the usual suspect motivators such as looming elections, political-party platforms, huge ad campaigns, charismatic politicians, or 9-11 are nowhere to be found.
Our borders have been open since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. We won our independence, beat the British back a second time at New Orleans, fought World Wars I and II and all the wars associated with the Cold War without building a fence along the U.S.-Mexican border.
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In my daily grind as a talk-radio personality, I can also agree with another observation that this is a grass-roots phenomenon. So I have to repeat this very good question: Why now, and not in the days after 9-11? Why now, and not in the immediate aftermath of invading Iraq?
However good that Internet columnist's question, my answer is my own: America has lost its confidence and, thus, has lost its way. We are in the grip of a new isolationism, not only, as in the past, a disinclination to avoid what George Washington called "foreign entanglements," but also a sense of political and cultural friendlessness. This is new.
During the nativist period, few attempts were made to hinder immigration – who else would build the young country? At the most, the anti-immigration forces sought to prevent their becoming citizens. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when non-English speaking immigrants poured through Ellis Island and San Francisco, the Senate never passed a bill to make English the official language. But now the Senate has done just that. And this time around,there's a new wrinkle: Bush hatred – sometimes called Bush Derangement Syndrome by my friends on the right when talking about angry liberals – has now shown up on the right as a visceral right-wing dislike of President Bush, the kind of hate that comes from a sense of betrayal, of having been lied to, double-crossed, used. This is also new and very significant.
Sorting through the above mix is complex, but worth the effort. In modern times, the American right has always had an isolationist flavor that some presidents who wanted entrepreneurial wars – like Bush – have sought to counter by appealing to a deep and often admirable patriotism that is also present on the right. That patriotism is sometimes expressed as a willingness to back the military, but not necessarily the ventures politicians like Bush order the military to undertake.
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As I've argued here before, Bush blew his credits on the Iraq War. Not just the decision to invade, but on the horrible mismanagement that followed. And in the eyes of the right wing, Bush has proven as sloppy a bookkeeper with the federal deficit as any Democrat under the sun. The right and most other Americans have lived long enough to see America transformed from the world's wunderkind – the liberator of Europe and Asia, the beacon of the world, and the last, best hope – into an ogre regularly denounced by our former friends, as well as enemies. America has become a pariah, and we don't like it.
Conservatives especially don't like it, because they backed Bush on every stupid, mismanaged venture his administration proposed, many against their better judgment. And what did they receive after a 6-year-old, faithful marriage? They came home one day and caught "their" president with Vicente Fox and every exploitative corporate fat cat looking to screw native workers by turning a blind eye to the coyotes smuggling 500 peasants in a U-Haul so they can compete with the Wal-Mart which just hired the last four truckloads of peons. It turns out, as I once put in a long-ago column, that the Bushies motto is, "Salute the flag, cash the check."
Separated by two oceans, the normal American reaction has been to pull in our horns, take our ball home, and tell the world to kiss off. And indeed, I predict that the next administration, whether Republican or Democrat, will do just that – no more wars, no more messy diplomacy, no more pre-emptive strikes. Instead, there's going to be Fortress America. We will wall ourselves off from Europe, Canada, Latin America and Asia.
What we are witnessing today is a new isolationism, a reaction to the incompetence and betrayals of this administration. Too bad that a bunch of unemployed Mexican farmers are the one who will have to pick up the check.