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Ellis Island Kitsch: Jeb Bush And Robert Putnam Blame Americans For Modern Immigrants' Failure To Assimilate
It's funny how, in the woozy minds of America's elite, celebrating Independence Day has turned into celebrating Immigration Day. For a particularly ripe example of Ellis Island kitsch, let's review this July 3, 2010 Washington Post op-ed by former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Harvard political scientist Robert D. Putnam:
"On our national birthday, and amid an angry debate about immigration, Americans should reflect on the lessons of our shared immigrant past."
By the way, have you noticed how the word "angry" has come to mean "Any person who is winning a debate with an immigration enthusiast?"
Putnam and Bush then add a topical Independence Day note:
"We must recall that the challenges facing our nation today were felt as far back as the Founders' time. … Today's immigrants are, on average, assimilating socially even more rapidly than earlier waves."
Why haven't today's immigrants assimilated enough not to default on their mortgages? Well, what kind of angry person even notices hatefacts?
"One important difference, however, that separates immigration then and now: We native-born Americans are doing less than our great-grandparents did to welcome immigrants."
See? It's all your fault.
Who are Jeb Bush and Robert D. Putnam and why are they saying these foolish things?
In the past, Putnam and Bush have both made themselves conspicuous over immigration to a comical degree. So let's review their history.
Professor Putnam is still reeling intellectually from the Politically Incorrect results he found in his big study a decade ago of social capital in 40 communities across America. As he admitted to John Lloyd of the Financial Times in 2006:
"In the presence of diversity, we hunker down. We act like turtles. The effect of diversity is worse than had been imagined. And it's not just that we don't trust people who are not like us. In diverse communities, we don't trust people who do look like us."
Lloyd explained why Putnam himself had hunkered down with his unpublished data for five years:
"Professor Putnam told the Financial Times he had delayed publishing his research until he could develop proposals to compensate for the negative effects of diversity, saying it 'would have been irresponsible to publish without that.'" [Study paints bleak picture of ethnic diversity October 8, 2006]
When Putnam finally published his paper on his expensive study of diversity in 2007, he wrapped the beginning and end in peppy bromides. Yet the quantitative middle section was entitled Immigration and Diversity Foster Social Isolation.[PDF]
A leftwing Guardian columnist reported:
"What makes Putnam nervous now is how this could be seized upon by rightwing politicians hostile to immigration. So he insists his research be seen in the context … that 'hunkering' can be short term and 'successful immigrant societies create new forms of social solidarity.' In conversation, he emphasises the latter …"[Immigration is bad for society, but only until a new solidarity is forged:, By Madeleine Bunting , June 18, 2007]
But how are we supposed to get beyond the "short term" hunkering caused by immigration if you never halt the immigration?
Putnam's plans for solving the problems created by diversity, such as "We should construct a new us", seemed lame three years ago.
But now, he's teamed up with the former President's smarter brother and come up with some even lamer new bright ideas, such as:
"Invest in public education, including civics education and higher education. During the first half of the 20th century, schools were critical to preparing children of immigrants for success and fostering a shared national identity."
Oh, man, why didn't anybody ever think of that before?
All we have to do to make up for the harm that the children of unskilled illegal immigration do to overwhelmed public schools is to Fix The Public Schools!
It's that simple!
Or how about this conceptual breakthrough?
"Assist communities experiencing rapid increases in immigration, which is traumatic for those arriving here and for receiving communities. Schools and hospitals bear disproportionate costs of immigration, while the economic and fiscal benefits from immigration accrue nationally."
Er…why don't we assist the communities traumatized by rapid increases in immigration by decreasing immigration?
Enough fun with Putnam—what's Jeb Bush's motivation for putting his name on this nonsense?
Now, needless to say, you know and I know why Jeb co-signed this op-ed. It's transparent, even if nobody else seems to be able to remember it.
It's not as if all the Bushes get together at Kennebunkport, Maine every Fourth of July and recount treasured tales of how Grandpapa Giorgio Busheroni passed through Ellis Island. As Brandeis historian David Hackett Fischer, author of the landmark Albion's Seed, told me: "The family tree of George W. Bush is as close to pure Yankee Puritan as any Presidential candidate's in many decades."
No, Jeb is plotting the future of the Bush Dynasty He wants to "dissolve the people and elect a new one" so that his half-Mexican son George P. Bush will become the third Bush in the White House. (I've argued that was the motive, along with envy of the lifestyle of the Mexican oligarchs, for George W. Bush's otherwise inexplicanble amnesty obsession.)
This realization offers an interesting perspective on Putnam's and Bush's complaint that Benjamin Franklin was an immigration restrictionist:
"Consider what one leader wrote in 1753: 'Few of their children in the country learn English. The signs in our streets have inscriptions in both languages. . . . Unless the stream of their importation could be turned . . . they will soon so outnumber us that we will not preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious.' Thus Ben Franklin referred to German Americans …"
Now, you might think that the amnesty advocates would want to keep it quiet that Franklin, whom Walter Isaacson calls "the most accomplished American of his age and the most influential in inventing the type of society America would become", opposed mass immigration. (Indeed, the colonial Pennsylvania legislature had passed laws effectively preventing the immigration of poor and criminal Germans.)
But, no, immigration enthusiasts like as Bush and Putnam are so smug that they can't help themselves from pointing out that Franklin was skeptical of the impact of immigration—so you're just as big a moron as Ben Franklin, nyah-nyah-nyah.
Since this comes up all the time, much to the disgust of Peter Brimelow who thinks he provided the definitive refutation in Alien Nation back in 1995, let's for once examine why Franklin opposed German immigration in the 1750s.
- First, he was English-American and he wanted to help his people more than he wanted to help foreigners. Scandalous!
He also had carefully thought-out micro and macro reasons.
- The micro reason: the complicated internal politics of Pennsylvania in the mid-18th Century.
Franklin emerged as a leader of the Pennsylvania middle class. He initially opposed the Quaker party, who were bolstering their numbers at the polls by recruiting pacifists in Germany to immigrate.
When the already declining pacifist ascendancy was politically devastated by the French and Indian war, Franklin took over their old party and turned it against his other opponent, Pennsylvania's proprietors. The Anglican heirs of William Penn were attempting to rule Pennsylvania in a feudal manner, while Franklin wanted to end the Penns' exemption from property taxes. To thwart him, Thomas Penn recruited Germans to bolster his Proprietary Party at the polls.
In other words, the Penns were doing then just what the Bushes want to do now: recruit a new people to perpetuate their family power.
- Franklin's macro reason for opposing unlimited immigration: incipient land shortage. This extended far beyond Pennsylvania and the 1750s.
Why didn't Franklin realize there was plenty of land in America from sea to shining sea?
Because in the 1750s, there wasn't plenty of land for future generations of American. The English colonies were confined to the narrow Atlantic seaboard. The rich croplands of the Mississippi watershed were within the French sphere of influence.
As Franklin tried to explain to London, France controlled the fate of the interior of North America because it held chokepoints on its two greatest rivers: Quebec on the St. Lawrence and New Orleans on the Mississippi. (Not surprisingly, where the two watersheds nearly overlapped at the southeast corner of the Great Lakes, a mighty city eventually grew up: Chicago.)
It took a world war between England and France in the later 1750s for the English to wrest Quebec from the French and trade New Orleans to the less dangerous Spanish. And even then, after Wolfe defeated Montcalm in the 1759 Battle of Quebec, Franklin felt he had to propagandize against the bright idea of England trading Canada back to France in return for the rich sugar island of Guadeloupe. He pointed out that if the French maintained control of the northern route to the interior, they could fire up Indian tribes to attack against British settlers.
Franklin's geopolitical grand strategy was underpinned by a landmark theoretical advance he made in economics and sociology.
In 1751, Franklin wrote an essay entitled Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind that deserves to be remembered as the first and most important insight into the central question of American social analysis: Why were American, on the whole, happier than Europeans? (Franklin's essay is seldom taken seriously today, however, in part because of its Political Incorrectness about immigration.)
This Founding Father gave a humble answer that remains subversive of the chest-pounding national arrogance that insists that having the most immigrants shows we're the best, the childish pride that makes us fall for the simple tricks of the Bushes. In contrast, Franklin suggested that we are better off primarily because we have more land per person. By allowing too much immigration, we could forfeit that advantage.
In describing the Old World, Franklin anticipated economist Thomas Malthus' insights of a half-century later:
"In countries full settled, …all lands being occupied, … those who cannot get land must labor for others that have it; when laborers are plenty, their wages will be low; by low wages a family is supported with difficulty; this difficulty deters many from marriage, who therefore long continue servants and single."
"America is chiefly occupied by Indians, who subsist mostly by hunting. But as the hunter, of all men, requires the greatest quantity of land, the Europeans found America as fully settled as it well could be by hunters. Yet these, having large tracks, were easily prevailed on to part with portions of territory to the newcomers."
Therefore, America in the 18th Century was a cheap land / expensive wage society. In other words, a happy one:
"Land being thus plenty in America, and so cheap as that a laboring man [who] understands husbandry can in a short time save money enough to purchase a piece of new land sufficient for a plantation, whereon he may subsist a family; such are not afraid to marry; for if they even look far enough forward to consider how their children when grown up are to be provided for, they see that more land is to be had at rates equally easy, all circumstances considered."
Franklin had figured out in 1751 the theory of Affordable Family Formation that I haltingly worked out more than a quarter of millennium later:
"Hence, marriages in America are more general, and more generally early, than in Europe."
This is not to say that Americans have no national talent besides the luck of inhabiting a huge country. You can say in our favor: while we don't do a lot with a little, we do do a lot with a lot.
We aren't good at subsisting on a pittance like Asian peasants. And we aren't good at crowding in with our extended relatives. But give us a lot of land and a lot of resources, and we'll do a lot with it.
Consider California, which Spanish conquistadors first explored in 1542. By 1846, more than three centuries later, the Spanish-speakers of California had done so little with this grand province that they "were easily prevailed on to part with portions of territory to the newcomers", to adapt Franklin. The Americans turned California into the Promised Land of the Common Man … for a while.
We keep going farther and building more. If we run into a problem, we'll move away, out into the open country, and construct anew.
Still, this American way of life, always moving outward, is expensive. We need people who can make enough money to pay for it. In the last decade, we ran into a bridge too far, trying to reproduce Los Angeles in the Inland Empire, Arizona, and Nevada.
And now supposed leaders like Jeb Bush and Robert D. Putnam want more of the hair of the dog that bit us.
Old Ben likely wouldn't have made that mistake.
He sure wouldn't have made it twice.
Not even if he had thought the Franklin family (remember, his son was the last Loyalist Governor of New Jersey) could benefit dynastically.
[Steve Sailer (email him) is movie critic for The American Conservative. His website www.iSteve.blogspot.com features his daily blog. His new book, AMERICA'S HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: BARACK OBAMA'S "STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE", is available here.]