Don’t believe Peter Lawler’s self-deprecation. He actually has way more twitter followers than I do. As well he should. I seem to have lost the ability to write at less than essay(ish) length. But even if I can’t add much to twitter, I can still enjoy those who are good at the medium.
Ramesh Ponnuru has a great article in opposition to a guest worker program. We should welcome new immigrants as prospective citizens. If you look at that article alongside Ponnuru’s articles on taxes and the Republican party’s agenda problem, you can see the outline of a patriotic, populist, limited government politics as opposed to the myopic high-earner interest group politics that seems to have captured the imagination of too many Republican leaders.
Stanley Kurtz argues that the Gang of Eight Deal was so bad because the Republicans on the Gang of Eight were rolled by the Democrats. Kurtz writes:
Were our negotiators just stupid? I don’t think so. They were desperate. They believed that it was necessary to put the immigration issue “behind them” if the party was to prosper. Schumer used that desperation to stampede our negotiators into buying a bad bill.
Ramesh Ponnuru disagrees and writes that the Gang of Eight was pretty much the amnesty plus weak enforcement plus guest worker program that the Republicans on the Gang of Eight wanted. Ponnuru is right. Kurtz’s mistake is in looking at the Republicans in the Gang of Eight as “our” negotiators. John McCain and Lindsey Graham were enthusiastic supporters of George W. Bush’s.2007 amnesty and guest worker program. That same year, House of Representatives member Jeff Flake introduced an amnesty bill with a far larger guest worker program than the one in the Gang of Eight bill. McCain abandoned his pro-amnesty position when the Bush amnesty plan went down in flames and it became obvious that McCain had to choose between his immigration policy preferences and his presidential ambition. Flake recanted his support for a “comprehensive” amnesty and guest worker bill while he was running for the Senate, but now that he has been safely elected, it is the same old Jeff Flake.
The Republicans on the Gang of weren’t “desperate.” They were hoping that the intraparty opposition to the an amnesty and guest worker program was so demoralized by the recent election results that they could get pass a bill that gave “amnesty” to people who had already been deported and whose “tough” enforcement triggers included a provision to have border state officials come together and come up with a plan for border security (or not, because that is okay too under the bill.). They Gang of Four Republicans are not “our negotiators” and they are not on our side on this issue. They are on Chuck Schumer’s side (though their motivations likely only partly overlap with Schumer’s.) That’s the bad news.
The good news is that the same Republicans on the Gang of Eight (and other Republicans too) obviously value their political hides. They have abandoned their principles in the face of political pressure from their constituents before. It is only because they feel that the pressure is off that they have reverted to their 2007 selves. If conservatives can rally in opposition to this bill with enough energy, there is a reasonable chance that enough Republicans will decide to vote against it to block the bill. It would be better if we had better Republicans who came up with a better plan, but that is where we are at the moment. As Milton Friedman said, sometimes the best you can do is change the incentives so that the wrong people do the right thing. So we need to go about changing the incentives.
Rich Lowry hopes that Ted Cruz will take a more prominent (and Ramesh Ponnuru hopes Cruz takes a more wide-ranging ) stand against the Gang of Eight plan to give amnesty to people who have already been deported, and implement a guest worker program for low-skill immigrants. Now I think there are moral problems with guest worker programs. I think that immigrants should be brought in as prospective citizens. Guest worker programs strike me as especially bizarre for a country that has constitutionalized birthright citizenship. On balance, I happen to like birthright citizenship and like the idea that the Constitution forecloses the possibility of a native-born permanent noncitizen caste, but it does have implications for immigration policy. We should be welcoming people on the basis that they are likely to stay – even if some of them won’t.
Cruz strikes me as more articulate than Jeff Sessions (who has been the Senate Republican to most prominently oppose the Gang of Eight deal), and Cruz has a flair for publicity. Cruz seems not to mind the scorn of liberal journalists and John McCain (and that is a very good thing.) The Gang of Eight deal has a lot going for it politically. It has the president and the Democratic congressional leadership. Marco Rubio’s credibility as a Tea Party conservative is helping to dampen the intensity of opposition to the bill among the conservative grassroots. The crucial constituency for the Gang of Eight deal is probably a small number of House Republican members who would like to vote the way of the employer interests, but fear the possibility of losing their seats to conservative insurgents next year. If they think Rubio can work as a totem to protect them from the wrath of the electorate in next year’s Republican primaries, then those congressmen are more likely to vote for the Gang of Eight deal. It doesn’t actually matter if the Rubio seal of approval actually does save them. It only matters that they feel it would save them. If Cruz can rally (and energize) conservative opinion against the Gang of Eight deal (and even make some converts among nonconservatives), the fear of the electorate might convince enough Republican House members to vote against the bill.
But in the medium-term, Republicans need more than opposition to bad immigration reform. They need good immigration reform. I think some kind of amnesty along with a path to citizenship is a good idea, but border and internal enforcement has to come first. We also need to reorient immigration more toward higher-skill labor along the Canadian model. Maybe most important, immigration reform has to be part (and not the biggest part) of a broader narrative about declining wages and family stability among low-wage workers and part of a broader reform package to boost work effort and family formation among lower-skill American citizens and current noncitizen residents. So more Robert Stein to go along with a better immigration plan.
1. I basically agree with this National Review editorial on the Gang Of Eight proposal. It is a compromise between Democrats who want the widest possible amnesty (including for illegal immigrants who have already been deported – think about that) and Republicans representing employer-interests that want the maximum amount of low-wage/no leverage labor. The rest is mostly misdirection to deflect the attention of those who might disagree with one or both of the above agendas. That’s where we are.
2. I’m for some kind of amnesty. To pick one population, there are young adults in the US who were brought here as small children. They only know the US and have only modest language skills in the language of their parents’ home country. There should be an amnesty that includes them.
3. In the short-term, there might be enough Republicans in the House of Representatives to beat the Gang of Eight’s something with nothing (despite the desperate attempt by elements of the Republican establishment to get Republicans to sign off on any immigration bill.) In the medium-term, it is up to conservatives who oppose the kind of immigration offered by the Gang of Eight to offer an alternative immigration policy and (this might be the most important part) embed this immigration policy into a wider pro-working-class political agenda and rhetoric. Immigration needs to be part of an agenda focused on improving the life outcomes of struggling working families – a category that includes both current US citizens and noncitizen residents – as opposed to trying to drive down the wages of those American citizens and residents who are earning the least and are experiencing the most disrupted family lives.
It turns out that the “Gang of Eight” comprehensive immigration reform bill is going to have a guest worker component that will grow over time. The border security “trigger provisions are eyewash. Marco Rubio gives the game away when he explains that we need a guest worker program or else will get a new surge of illegal immigration from the border that would have just been certified as “secure.” The Republican establishment given up making much effort to fool us and are expecting us to do at least half the job of fooling ourselves.
That doesn’t mean they won’t succeed. I don’t see a consensus within the center-right on an alternative approach to immigration. Reihan Salam argues persuasively for reforming our immigration policy in order to increase high-skill immigration and reduce low-skill immigration. If you listened closely that is sort of what Mitt Romney suggested when you put to the side his views on amnesty. But that kind of reform approach just doesn’t in isolation from the rest of a candidate’s message and policy agenda. It makes a lot more sense to talk about transitioning to a higher-skill immigration system in the context of the declining wages and family disruption of lower-skill American citizens and residents. Transitioning to a higher-skill-oriented immigration system makes the most sense if you’re also talking about tax and health care policies that will increase the take home pay of lower-skilled current US citizens and residents (two categories that include large numbers of foreign born.)
That means that we will get a more persuasive conservative immigration reform rhetoric when we get a more generally persuasive conservative rhetoric and policy agenda aimed at the working and lower middle-classes. It means you can’t make the case for shifting immigration in a high-skill direction while mocking those earning just below the median as parasites who won’t take responsibility for their own lives. It means you don’t (like Michelle Bachmann) demand tax increases (if only nominal) on the working-poor. It means you can’t be for tax programs that cut taxes on high earners while increasing the tax liability of lower middle and working-class families (that’s my read of the tax proposal.) Like with so many other things, we will have a better chance at better immigration policy when we get a more working and middle-class-focused conservative agenda and rhetoric.
H/T Reihan Salam on the “New Fair Deal” tax proposal.
We seem to be in a moment when the national mainstream media either has, or is about to prominently cover the Gosnell horrors. The week-long prolife campaign to increase coverage seems to have finally broken down resistance to covering the Gosnell trial in the most prominent forums of the most popular outlets. The New York Times hasn’t put the trial on its front page yet, but that might well be coming. CNN led off with the story yesterday. Conor Friedersdorf (in a wonderful essay) is correct to wonder how the Gosnell story hasn’t become a prominent national story earlier given all the story’s many horrible news hooks. Megan McArdle admits that her own pro-choice sympathies might have inclined her to shy away from the story. I would like to think that most journalists at mainstream outlets are similarly rethinking their coverage of abortion, but I doubt it. Friedersdorf and McArdle are pro-choice on abortion, but they are also libertarians rather than liberals. While most mainstream media outlets will surrender to the pressure and cover this story more, I think that most of their liberal staff members will consider this a defeat at the hands of their enemies rather than a lesson on how to do their jobs better.
First let’s be clear what I mean by “mainstream” media. It isn’t MSNBC. Like many (but not all) programs on Fox News, MSNBC exists to make money by making its viewers feel better about being on either the conservative or liberal ideological team. MSNBC has a mutually beneficial relationship with Fox News and conservative talk radio in which each side trolls the other. Most people don’t get their news from either MSNBC, or Fox News or talk radio. The mainstream media like ABC, NBC, CBS, and the New York Times might be called culturally biased news. The vast majority of the journalistic and editorial staff for these outlets have left-of-center staffs, but they don’t think of themselves as partisans. They think of themselves as journalists first and think of advancing their policy preferences second or third or almost never.
The personal and collective biases that come from working in an overwhelmingly left-of-center environment blends into the work, but their self-understanding as journalists places some limits on the impact of those biases. They will write stories about the promised benefits of Obamacare, but if some unflattering information comes out, they will report that too. Bias still shapes the coverage. Positive stories will have a coherence that make the case for Obamacare in a the negative stories won’t make the case for Republican opposition. You can see the reverse on Fox News’s excellent Special Report With Bret Baier (which is an example of conservative culturally biased news.) On Special Report, the benefits of Obamacare are mentioned but not emphasized while the drawbacks of the law are spotlighted. The “mainstream” media won’t connect the anti-Obamacare dots for the reader or viewer, but they will eventually get around to reporting those dots – if only in a scattered and confusing way.
The mainstream media’s coverage of Obamacare is based on the norm that the journalists need to satisfy themselves that they made a good faith effort to present both sides of a public controversy. Their shared left-of-center culture influences what “good faith” means, but just the existence of the norm shapes reporting in a healthy way.
On abortion, this norm goes out the window. We are going to hear excuses for why mainstream outlets were so slow and so spare with their coverage of Gosnell. We have seen this before. As Los Angeles Times reporter David Shaw wrote a generation ago “Events and issues favorable to abortion opponents are sometimes ignored or given minimal attention by the media.” Reading Shaw’s epic four-part story on the mainstream media’s abortion bias is chilling because of how little has changed.
Let’s just take one example. In 1990 David Shaw wrote:
The Alan Guttmacher Institute in New York is probably the single-most widely quoted source for studies and statistics on abortion, for example, but except for the Washington Post, the media rarely point out that the institute is special affiliate of Planned Parenthood of America, a major leader in the battle for abortion rights.
From today’s NBC report on state-level abortion restrictions:
The Guttmacher Institute, a research group that studies reproductive health, reported this week that 694 state provisions on reproduction have been introduced this year, about half of them to restrict abortion.
Is our media learning? Guttmacher no longer has a formal affiliation with Planned Parenthood, but how likely is it that the reporter did not know the Guttmacher Institute’s connection as a former affiliate of Planned Parenthood? The information is on Wikipedia. It is on the Guttmacher Institute’s website. Leaving out the context was bad faith reporting. Can you imagine a similar oversight about a research organization (however good or bad the quality of its work) that had spun off from the National Right to Life Committee?
We ought to consider that the liberal bias of mainstream journalists on abortion is of a different kind than their liberal bias on other issues. Maybe it isn’t a “blind spot.” Maybe most liberal journalists think of their abortion bias as somewhere between a lovable foible and a civic duty. That might be why we see a journalist tweeting of the spectacular horror of the Gosnell murders even as his own network’s evening news programs ignored the story. They have “ignored or given minimal attention” to the Gosnell story because they thought they were doing the right thing.
This has some implications for how pro-lifers should deal with the mainstream media. We should try to convince journalists and correct the distortions of the other side, but we should also have few illusions with how well such a strategy will do in the short or medium-term – and from reading David Shaw maybe the long-term too. Many mainstream journalists will not be convinced by appeals to their professional consciences. When journalists ignore or give minimal attention to the Gosnell story after they hyped Planned Parenthood’s public relations attack on the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation, they aren’t operating on flawed information and the flawed reporting would not be corrected by a a detailed email. They know they are distorting their reporting. They are, to the extent that they can get away with it, choosing their ideological principles over the journalistic self-understanding that informs their work on other issues.
They don’t always get away with it. Pro-lifers and some dissident pro-choice journalists managed to shame more and more of the mainstream media into producing more and more coverage of the Gosnell murders. But there are lessons for how that shaming worked. It didn’t work because it enflamed the consciences of mainstream media journalists. The shaming worked because, after great effort on the part of pro-lifers, the attempt to contain the Gosnell murders as a local crime story failed. The tweeting campaign was effective partly because, by making the Gosnell story a trend, it got the story (if only vaguely) in front of people who were not consumers of right-leaning media. So what are we to do?
We ought to assume that mainstream media journalists will acknowledge inconvenient facts only after they are convinced that a critical mass of the mainstream media’s nonconservative audience has already heard about the inconvenient facts. Rush Limbaugh listeners don’t count. They already distrust the mainstream media. It only hurts the mainstream media when nonconservatives start knowing more about the story than they have heard from the evening news. When it comes to shifting coverage, this nonconservative audience is the key. If you can move them, you can get the mainstream media to react.
The pro-lifer shaming campaign over the Gosnell murders is something to be proud of, but it is not sufficient. In some ways, it only highlights the information power asymmetry between pro-choicers and pro-lifers. If Gosnell had been a serial killer associated with the pro-life cause, then every American would have heard about it a thousand times without pro-choice organizations having to send a press release. Now, after days of work by pro-lifers, the Gosnell murders will still only get a fraction of the mainstream media coverage that the story would have gotten if the two sides were reversed. Pro-lifers won the day, but, to the audience that primarily consumes mainstream media, we lose most days, and we are still on track to lose more days because, when the pressure is off, mainstream media journalists will go back to what they were doing last week and hype ideologically convenient stories while ignoring the inconvenient ones. We just had an election where the incumbent had voted to allow newborn survivors of botched abortions to die without medical treatment and somehow Romney was the abortion extremist.
Pro-lifers should do what they can to get better media coverage. We should have articulate spokesmen and such, but this will only go so far by itself, because mainstream media journalists will always be able to pick their fights by focusing on stories they like and ignoring or minimizing the rest. Pro-lifers need a method for communicating directly with the mass of the public that does not consume conservative media. Paid media seems the most obvious route to me, but we should be open to any alternative. The key is to get people who do not consume conservative media to hear and see a well constructed pro-life argument. Maybe this paid media will even prove nimble enough to move the debate based on events. Such a pro-life institution or set of institutions would expose people to ideas, facts and controversies that they were not aware of. Such institutions would eventually force the mainstream media to respond, not because the mainstream media would have awoken to their professional obligations, but because they would have lost the power to determine what their audience knows and does not know.
It seems like this is the day when a critical mass of journalists at “mainstream” (liberal-leaning but not explicitly partisan liberal outlets) have decided that their credibility is now on the line and they have to more aggressively cover the Gosnell murders. They were finally shamed out of their rationalizations and their determination to avoid this story. The mostly conservative journalists who used what platforms they had to advance this story (most prominently Kirsten Powers – who is not a conservative – but also lots of the First Things crew) deserve credit for this. So what are the lessons of the mainstream media’s treatment of the Gosnell murders that can be used constructively by pro-lifers? What is the potential, and what are the limits of a shaming strategy? I’m putting my thoughts together, but I’m interested in reader comments. Just one thought. The elite mainstream media like ABC, NBC, CBS, the New York Times and the Washington Post shamefully underplayed this story, but several shows on Fox News (Fox and Friends and The Five) led their shows with segments about that MSNBC host’s commercial about how children don’t belong to their parents rather than about the doctor who was actually killing children. That tells you something about the media environment.