April 22, 2006
Craig Shirley wrote a superb column in today's Washington Post: "How the GOP Lost Its Way." It summarizes almost perfectly my thoughts and feelings on the widening chasm within the Republican Party that has been brought to light by the immigration issue. The elite "country club, Rockefeller Republicans" want a large supply of cheap (i.e., illegal) labor and therefore resist any change in the status quo. In an attempt to regain control over the party, GOP elitists Ed Gillespie and William Kristol have recently disparaged those who call for strict controls over the border as wanting to turn the GOP into an "anti-immigration Know-Nothing party." Needless to say, the populist "Reagan Republicans" resent being impugned. Excerpt:
Far from being driven by xenophobia and intolerance, conservative populists are motivated by a profound respect for the rule of law and by a patriotic regard for America's sovereignty and national security.
Exactly. Why is that concept so difficult for elitists to grasp? Shirley bitterly laments that the Republicans have squandered an historical opportunity:
The elites in the GOP have never understood conservatives or Reagan; they've found both to be a bit tacky. They have always found the populists' commitment to values unsettling. To them, adherence to conservative principles was always less important than wealth and power.
Unfortunately, the GOP has lost its motivating ideals. The revolution of 1994 has been killed not by zeal but by a loss of faith in its own principles. The tragedy is not that we are faced with another fight for the soul of the Republican Party but that we have missed an opportunity to bring a new generation of Americans over to our point of view.
Wow. Shirley really gets it. As they say, "read the whole thing." I'm not kidding.
Ironically, I find myself squarely in the middle of this divide, perhaps because I see a more nuanced, complex overlapping of factions and interests on the Right. For example, there are economic conservatives inspired by libertarianism, and social conservatives who are fond of using government as a tool, like Bismarck did in Germany (see March 10). Contrary to widespread impression, not all of the economic conservatives are elitists (Arizona Rep. John Shadegg would be one example), and not all of the social conservatives are populists (Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum would be one example). Here's what puzzles me: President Bush and Karl Rove are usually associated with the populist wing in terms of their appeal to constituents, but in terms of policy substance (e.g., immigration), they seem to be squarely on the elitists' side. Could Bush's problem be boiled down to an internal contradiction between populist image and elitist practice?
Someone who simply does not get what's at stake in the immigration debate is academic blogger Daniel Drezner. He concludes a comment on a recent New York Times op-ed piece (which takes pain to refute the red herring argument about the alleged wage-suppression effects) by saying, "Illegal immigration poses significant policy problems -- but those problems have little to do with economics." Good grief. Now I'm starting to understand why people like him and Thomas Friedman are so upbeat about globalization: They are blissfully ignorant of the moral foundation of social order.