Immigration-Reform Politics

I've had a theory for oh, maybe six months, that I've talked about with a number of people (including a few members of Congress and staffers) but have not publicly pontificated on. So, I'm now going to lay it out (a bit below), under the pretext of commenting on Kevin Drum, who in turn is commenting on Ezra Klein. Both smart folks, but both missing some of the lay of the land that I -- a self-anointed leading national expert on what I've dubbed the "movement conservative marketplace" -- know better than they. Or, think I do.

Klein points out that we haven't seen much loud rhetoric and anger about immigration and nativism this year, and wonders if the passion over the issue is waning; Drum rightly points out that the rhetoric and anger only boil up when the issue becomes "active," which it will if and when Obama and Chuck Schumer follow through on their promise to introduce an immigration reform bill this year.

True, as far as it goes. But I would add to that, that in today's conservative marketplace the rhetoric and anger boil up when it pays. Health care reform is a great example. Drum is only half-right when he writes that "Opposition to healthcare reform was mild until 2009, when Barack Obama turned it into an active issue." In fact, I would argue, opposition remained mild well after Obama started actively pushing it, and even as it moved well on its way toward nearly becoming law last summer.

Truth is, it's really not a core money-maker for the right. A year ago, or two years ago, conservative organizations couldn't raise a dime off it, and conservative radio shows couldn't keep listeners by talking about it -- even when it became "active" last spring. But eventually they found ways to make it pay; the first to find a way to do it was Dick Morris, in his June bestseller Catastrophe, with the argument that Obama's health care plan would inevitably lead to rationing, meaning bureaucrats deciding which old people to let die; Sarah Palin then coined "death panels" and a thousand direct-mail solicitations were launched. Dick Armey and others swooped in for their piece of the profit, leading to the summer recess Townhall Meetings, and the ball was rolling.

Unlike healthcare reform, immigration/nativism always pays in the conservative marketplace -- although Drum is quite right, that it doesn't pay nearly as well when there's nothing in the news about it. Nevertheless, last summer when I asked the head of a conservative direct-mail-funded organization what topics were money-makers for him and others in the business, his top answers were the old stand-bys of amnesty and English as the official language. (Also the Law of the Sea Treaty. Don't ask. Oh, and Obama's birth certificate -- although this guy said he personally didn't use it.)

I would put it this way: issues like immigration (and guns, and a few others) are always profitable enough for targeted marketing, but only one or two issues at any given time can maintain the big, national market that a Hannity or Limbaugh are selling to. And they'll milk that issue as long as they possibly can -- and then drop it for the next one.

Which brings me to my theory. I believe that Rahm Emanuel and Chuck Schumer have been planning to introduce an immigration-reform bill in 2010, not because they think it can be passed -- I think Drum is right, it has virtually no chance -- but because it will raise the issue back up to the big, national conservative marketplace.

You see, one of the biggest problems facing Democrats this year is that Hispanics don't vote in mid-term elections. That doesn't make a huge difference in most swing House districts (in fact, the issue hurts in more districts than it helps) -- but it could make a huge difference in quite a few US Senate races (Cal., Fla., Tex., Col., etc.), Governor races (Cal., Fla., Ariz., NM, NY, etc.), and (duh-duh-duuummm...) control over state legislatures heading into redistricting.

How do you get Hispanics to vote? You fill the TV with images of hateful conservatives screaming for mass deportation, that's how. You think Rahm didn't notice the effect in 2006?

My theory has been that Emanuel wants the clips from this year's summer Congressional Townhall Meetings to feature people screaming about the brown people, so that he can get Hispanics enthused and organized to vote in November. I don't know it for a fact, but you have to admit that Rahm and Chuck are that calculating.

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