Mark Krikorian has some extended commentary this weekend over at the corner which takes a long look at one of the larger questions looming over Jeb Bush’s nascent presidential ambitions. It deals with the issue of “comprehensive immigration reform” and has less to do with whether or not Bush fundamentally agrees with Barack Obama on immigration (the general consensus there is that he does) and more to do with what this says about the candidate’s fundamental view of the American worker. The title is, The Peasants Are Revolting, So Let’s Get New Ones. It’s a great, humorous header, but the substance raises serious questions.
What started off the discussion was the rather tough David Frum piece which AP discussed here at length last week. While our readers had a chance to kick it around a bit at the time, let’s revisit one of the key passages which the NR gang is teeing off on.
Bush seems to have something more in mind than just the the familiar (if overstated) claim that immigration can counter the aging of the population. He seems to think that there is some quality in the immigrants themselves that is more enterprising—more dynamic to use his favorite term—than native-born Americans. This is not only a positive judgment on the immigrants themselves. It is also a negative judgment on native-born Americans.
Frum was even more incensed during an interview with Laura Ingraham.
“[Jeb] is not satisfied with America as he inherited it, and he talks a lot about how we can’t achieve prosperity merely with our existing demographics… He seems to think that native-born Americans aren’t enterprising enough, aren’t energetic enough, don’t love their families enough. The solution, the way to repair the troubles of America is to change America through immigration by importing people who are somehow better than native-born.”
To offer the Benefit-Of-The-Doubt perspective, Krikorian cites our friend Jim Geraghty who tosses out a rhetorical question.
There may be a molecule or two of truth in here, no? Don’t many Americans take the blessings, rights, and freedoms of being born American for granted? Isn’t one of our most common laments that too many Americans embrace this philosophy of entitlement and whining victimhood, while we see legal immigrants coming here and working their butts off and being thankful for the opportunity to live the American dream?
Mark’s response is worth reading in full, rather than just a snippet here, and he raises a very valid point which I’ll chime in on. I absolutely agree that there is a common and totally justifiable tendency for many of us to admire those from other countries who demonstrate the dedication and effort to go through the legal immigration process, long though that road might be. We cheer on those who come to the United States as naturalized citizens, work hard and make something of themselves. Such examples are a rather powerful totem which reminds us of what our nation can be at its best. But by the same token, as Mark points out, the many blessings which citizens enjoy here can also provide a temptation for some to take the good life for granted. It’s equally true that many of the native born wind up failing to excel and achieve great things if they choose to take a path of less resistance.
But the underlying assumptions of the attitude on display in Jeb Bush’s comments can rightly be seen as rather insulting to the native born. How much any of us achieve is predicated on the knowledge that we live in a society which assures everyone equality of opportunity, not of outcome. A view of America which seems to yearn for filling the ranks with those who are somehow genetically more predisposed to hard work and achievement doesn’t speak well of Americans as a herd. Achievement comes in many forms. Not everyone will eventually found the next General Electric. For many, great achievement comes in the form of a good job which allows them to have a fine home, raise a family and prepare for retirement. And if not enough people are achieving that, the solution should be to provide a more level playing field, with lower taxes, vigorous growth and greater job opportunities. Flooding the zone with newcomers based on your assumption that they will do better than the locals is problematic at best.