Immigration Matters: The Same-Sex Marriage of 2008
It was a lot of fun watching Kieth Olbermann lay the smackdown on Lou Dobbs for his complicity in hiring the same migrants that he rails against nightly. Yave wrote a brilliant post on this, and Duke writes that the blogosphere was way ahead of Olbermann on this one. Still, there was one part of Olbermann's monologue, quoted below, that bothered me a bit.
In his monologue, Olbermann cites Tim Rutton's piece, "CNN: Corrupt News Network", in which Rutton essentially argues that immigration doesn't matter, or at least that it shouldn't matter as much.
A critic from the L.A. Times, CNN's partner in an upcoming debate, accused CNN of improperly tailoring the first half hour of its youtube debate to reflect Dobbs' personal obsession with undocumented immigrants. The latest Wall Street Journal / NBC News poll suggest the topic is only the fifth highest priority among American voters at 11%. The latest Pew poll says it's only the sixth priority of Republicans. Dobbs thinks it's the only one. The critic called CNN corrupt: strong language. But of course on this topic, Dobbs is corrupt and hypocritical, too, as we'll examine in a moment.This jibes with the same rhetoric that mainstream Democrats use to suggest that immigration is not important. It suggests that the millions of undocumented migrants living in fear, and the millions of legal migrants suffering through piles of bureaucracy, are not important. Usually, I would make the emotional argument that this plays into the notion that U.S. citizens are superior to all other human beings. But instead, I will make an electoral argument for why immigration is important. Unfortunately, electoral arguments are the only ones that seem to matter to establishment liberals. I will do this by comparing it to an issue that was used similarly in 2004: gay marriage.
With the benefit of hindsight, there is no doubt that gay marriage played a significant role in the Republican victories of 2004. This was true despite the fact that gay marriage was very low in the same sorts of priority rankings that Olberman / Rutton cite. In fact, in the very same Pew poll that Rutton cites gay marriage was down to a priority rating of 22% from a high of 32%:
By contrast, there has been a sharp decline in the proportion of voters citing social issues – gay marriage, abortion and stem cell research – as very important. Just 22% say gay marriage will be very important to their vote, down from 32% in October 2004.This compared with a 56% priority rating for immigration, when it wasn't even an issue worth polling in October of 2004. How is it that a "social issue" like gay marriage was able to play such a big role in Republican victories, despite having such a low priority rating? In article written right after the 2004 election, "Same Sex Marriage Issue Key To Some G.O.P. Races", James Dao of the New York Times provides us with an answer.
The ballot measures also appear to have acted like magnets for thousands of socially conservative voters in rural and suburban communities who might not otherwise have voted, even in this heated campaign, political analysts said. And in tight races, those voters - who historically have leaned heavily Republican - may have tipped the balance.In short, despite the fact that gay marriage was a priority for so few, it served to mobilize the socially conservative voters and defined who they voted for. That is to say, for a large subset of social conservatives it didn't matter what your stand was on the other issues, if you were in favor of equal rights for the LGBT population, you wouldn't get a vote. Citing the very same Pew poll, the same seems to be true when it comes to immigration. The issue mobilizes conservatives and for many of them it is the defining issue.
Republicans continue to rate terrorism more highly as a voting issue than do Democrats (77% vs. 66%). And immigration, which was not included as an issue in October 2004, rates fairly high on the agenda of Republican voters (65% very important); among Democrats, it ranks near the bottom, at 50%, ahead of only abortion, stem cell research and gay marriage.The argument I'm trying to make here is that gay marriage had a huge impact on the 2004 election despite its very low priority ratings. In 2008 immigration is a much higher priority than gay marriage ever was, and it's looking like it will have the same mobilizing and defining effect for conservative voters.
So, while I appreciate Olbermann calling out Dobbs in that segment, I have to disagree with his logic that immigration is not important. Immigration matters. Migrants matter, just as the LGBT population does. If establishment Democrats won't listen to the emotional logic that progressives are only as strong as the most vulnerable among us, than listen to the electoral logic I've laid out above.
The problem here, is that immigration is not important to liberals. While many of them support humane immigration reform, they'd sell millions of migrants under the bus if it resulted in getting a democrat elected. So many progressives are sympathetic to migrant suffering, but few are willing to dedicate the time and energy that anti-migrant conservatives do. In this fight, hate is actually winning out to love. Fortunately, it's simply because the love isn't strong enough.