A long-time reader of Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby, I would certainly not challenge his conservative bona fides, but he’s apparently feeling as if that may soon be a risk:
One of those ideals has always been the encouragement of immigration as an engine of American progress and prosperity. I grew up in Ohio, a state filled with Americans-by-choice — including my father, who came from Czechoslovakia in 1948. As my conservatism deepened, so did my conviction that an open and welcoming immigration policy was a self-evident part of the conservative creed. In one of my earliest columns for The Boston Globe, a plea to open the door to Haitian refugees, I described immigrants as the great “growth hormone” of American history. “The vast majority of immigrants repay their adopted homeland with energy, enthusiasm, hard work, and new wealth,” I wrote.
I wrote it as a Republican-leaning conservative. Twenty-two years later, my view hasn’t changed. I’m distressed that that of so many Republicans and conservatives has.
Even as a conservative who would currently characterize himself as non-open-borders, I’m sympathetic to contrary arguments based on both economics and freedom. The problem, as I see it, is another principle that I would characterize as fundamentally conservative: Policies cannot be developed and implemented as if in an abstract model, as if, to paraphrase Melville’s criticism of Emerson, we believe we could have offered some helpful pointers to God upon the world’s creation. We have to look at reality, both current circumstances and enduring realities.
It is not conservative to allow indiscriminate waves of immigrants into a country where a political machine is primed to make them dependent, to prevent them from assimilating (see Mike Gonzalez’s thoughts on “Obama’s Ethnic Divide-and-Conquer Strategy“), and to harvest their votes for a party intent on ending America’s run of capitalistic representative democracy. Such a policy is not conservative any more than it is libertarian to attack cultural institutions that keep people from relying on government or than it’s respectful of freedom to let somebody accidentally fall into a pit with spikes at the bottom rather than to push him back from the edge.
We see this dynamic again and again in history. The vast majority of people on any side of a question won’t give even their issues of greatest concern the level of nuanced consideration that people who think and write about them for a living do. Therefore, the latter shouldn’t cling to a nuanced policy when its foundations are gone. That is when the prerequisites to benefit from open immigration are gone, one can’t argue that we must maintain open immigration.
To get to open immigration from where we are now, we have to repair our civic society and economy. I happen to think that means restricting the flood of immigrants so we have room to fix the ship of state, but at the very least, it means electing people who appear to disagree with Jacoby about the long-term goal.