Monday, July 19, 2010

USA: Immigration Issue Could Split The Right

For years immigration has been an issue for the right wing to mobilize around - from the far-right vigilante groups like the Minutemen and the equally odious Tea Party movement to mainstream Republican governors, who bolstered their support during a period of mass unemployment and immiseration using immigrants as scapegoats. But it might yet turn out to be a pandora's box for the right wing in America.
As everyone knows, evangelical leaders have been a key component of the so-called conservative coalition, united around issues like abortion rights and same sex marriage. It seemed sometimes that the conservatives were an unstoppable monolith. Yet, an article in today's New York Times suggests that the big mobilizations against the immigration clampdown are creating schisms within the conservative coalition. With 15% of the large US Latino population self-declared evangelical Christian and with the majority as active Catholics, there is a danger that the politicization and mobilization taking place could push Latinos towards the left. US trade unions, for instance, have been vocal supporters of immigration reform to alleviate and normalize the status of the 12 million illegal immigrants living and working in the US.
“Hispanics are religious, family-oriented, pro-life, entrepreneurial,” said the Rev. Richard D. Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm. “They are hard-wired social conservatives, unless they’re driven away.
“I’ve had some older conservative leaders say: ‘Richard, stop this. You’re going to split the conservative coalition,’ ” Dr. Land continued. “I say it might split the old conservative coalition, but it won’t split the new one. And if the new one is going to be a governing coalition, it’s going to have to have a lot of Hispanics in it. And you don’t get a lot of Hispanics in your coalition by engaging in anti-Hispanic anti-immigration rhetoric.”

Land's point - absurdity about hard-wired social conservatism aside - is an interesting one and speaks to the pressure that evangelists feel. On the one hand, the Republicans were substantially discredited by the Bush years, with his neo-liberal tax cuts that failed to stop the economy's implosion and the widely perceived debacles in the foreign policy arena, from Iraq to Israel to Afghanistan. Of course the Democrats have a natural ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and the Republicans may well pick up substantial numbers of seats in the mid-terms - but it won't be on the basis of enthusiasm. And those most enthusiastic of Republicans - the Tea Party - are likely so crazy that their "insurgent" candidates in a number of states will mostly suffer ignominious defeat. All this speaks to a right wing that is weakened and divided. It's only against this backdrop, and the mobilizations of hundreds of thousands of immigrants and their supporters, that Land's bold talk of splitting the conservative coalition can be understood.
For progressives that offers some key lessons. It has been through mobilizations - not through waiting on the good will of the Obama Administration - that change has begun to take place. It will be through continued mobilizations that the conservative coalition will be fractured. It's also an opportunity to make broader links - something that the evangelicals understand. If Latinos are being driven away, it is also because they are being driven towards something. In California where Latinos likely voted in significant numbers to support the anti-gay marriage proposition two years ago there is the possibility of demonstrating that the LGBT movement understands the links between supporting immigrants rights and winning gay rights. In both cases it is about limiting freedom of choice and the right to a life with dignity. If the LGBT movement can demonstrate its principled solidarity it can not only help win a victory for immigrants' rights, it can also drive a deeper wedge, pulling Latinos towards reciprocating the support. That isn't to say it will be easy but the prize is so big that it is worth it. And a victory for both immigrants and LGBT people would be a massive blow to the confidence of not only the Republicans but the Democrats who have pushed hard to keep the movements in line behind Obama - even when he hasn't delivered so much as supportive rhetoric. Of course, in any crisis there is both opportunity and danger. There is always the possibility that, for instance, the LGBT movement doesn't support the immigrants' rights movement and is, instead, scornful of it. This may sound absurd but think about feminists attacking Muslims in placing like France and Switzerland, lining themselves up with hard-right anti-immigrant forces. If the oppressed don't unite, the right wing evangelicals could maneuver themselves into the leadership and steer it into a direction most advantageous to them - and with the most conservative outcomes possible. That could help cement the divisions between LGBT and Latino immigrants in a way that makes it much more difficult to overcome. Luckily, the recent mobilizations in the LGBT movement, post-Obama, have involved socialists in the leadership who are pro-immigrant and have a perspective of uniting the oppressed. Let's hope that they are able to find avenues to bring at least elements of these two movements together in a working relationship.
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