Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The 21st Century Know Nothings

In the 1840's and 1850's, American politics was in a state of turmoil. The nation was changing. The industrial revolution was happening. And disputes over slavery continued heating up in a foreshadow of The Civil War to come.

Yet during this period, we saw another foreshadow of what was to come. During this era, what we now call the "Know Nothing Party" gained strength. At one point, it even seemed to be on the cusp of becoming a leading national party as the Whigs were quickly heading toward the dustbin of history.

But wait, why would a party otherwise best known for members responding, "I know nothing", when asked about their party become such a hot national political fad? Simply put, they struck while the iron was hot on matters of immigration policy. The Know Nothings opposed allowing Catholic immigrants into the US, as Catholics were seen as a threat to what they considered the longstanding White Anglo-Saxon Protestant tradition of the country. And amidst the turmoil of the run-up to The Civil War and the beginning of the industrialization & urbanization of America, voters who feared change were willing to give the Know Nothings a chance... Until they were ripped apart over slavery and soon joined the Whigs in that very dustbin of history.

So why are we talking about the Know Nothings and 1850's America now? Think about it. America continues to change. We're an even more diverse nation than we were 160 years ago. State policies continue to diverge on matters of civil rights, even though the general trend is moving in favor of equality. And once again, demagogue politicians are fearmongering on matters of immigration.

And frankly, "Know Nothing" gains a whole new meaning that's very relevant today when we take this into consideration.

Jason Richwine is relatively new to the think tank world. He received his PhD in public policy from Harvard in 2009, and joined Heritage after a brief stay at the American Enterprise Institute. Richwine’s doctoral dissertation is titled “IQ and Immigration Policy” [...]

Richwine’s dissertation asserts that there are deep-set differentials in intelligence between races. While it’s clear he thinks it is partly due to genetics -- “the totality of the evidence suggests a genetic component to group differences in IQ” -- he argues the most important thing is that the differences in group IQs are persistent, for whatever reason. He writes, “No one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against.”

Toward the end of the thesis, Richwine writes that though he believes racial differences in IQ to be real and persistent, one need not agree with that to accept his case for basing immigration on IQ. Rather than excluding what he judges to be low-IQ races, we can just test each individual’s IQ and exclude those with low scores. “I believe there is a strong case for IQ selection,” he writes, “since it is theoretically a win-win for the U.S. and potential immigrants.” He does caution against referring to it as IQ-based selection, saying that using the term “skill-based” would “blunt the negative reaction.”

That rhetorical strategy is reflected in Heritage’s current work on immigration. His and Rector’s report recommends greatly reducing “low-skilled” immigration and increasing “high-skilled” immigration. “The legal immigration system should be altered to greatly reduce the number of low-skill immigrants entering the country and increase the number of new entrants with high levels of education and skills that are in demand by U.S. firms,” they write.

Jason Richwine is one of the co-authors of this week's Heritage Foundation pack of lies report claiming comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) will cost American taxpayers $6.3 trillion. Since the report's release, economists and immigration policy analysts from across the political spectrum have debunked it as simply a crass attempt to coalesce conservatives behind the New Know Nothing "tea party" campaign to kill CIR. (In fact, a new Social Security Agency study shows CIR will create over 3 million new jobs and ultimately generate revenue over time.)

So far, Heritage stands by its incredibly controversial report. However, it's now cutting Jason Richwine loose for perhaps being a little too forthcoming regarding the "tea party" and its flirtation with eugenics. All I can say about this messy affair is below.

But seriously, teabaggers look increasingly ridiculous when they take such extremist positions and declare debunked pseudo-science to be "scholarly research". Well, at least that's the case with the general public. But remember, teabaggers have more say over what happens in the US House than the rest of us do. And that's why Heritage released its incredibly flawed report in the first place.

Last week, we highlighted the desperate search on the right for excuses to kill CIR. We've lately been hearing economic and fiscal themed excuses. We've also been hearing plenty of terrorism flavored excuses. But of course, no cadre of "tea party" excuses for killing CIR would be complete without the lovely, time honored homophobia/transphobia tinged excuses.

Never mind that the same donors backing the conservative campaign for CIR are also supporting campaigns for marriage equality. And never mind that conservatives are supposed to love federalism and state's rights and individual freedom. So the Gang of 8 CIR bill must allow for continued discrimination against millions of immigrants because some Senators catch the vapors when "teh gayzzz" are brought to attention?

Well, we are talking about people who sometimes boast about their inability to locate Finland on a map. So why shouldn't we call the "tea party" the 21st Century Know Nothings? And why are so many Republican politicians still taking their queues from the 21st Century Know Nothings?

Remember what happened to the original Know Nothings. And remember what happened to the Whigs. One can't resist change and evolution forever. Republicans should really take heed.

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