Last Of The Nice WASP Progressives: Otis Graham And The Long War For Patriotic Immigration Reform
Immigration is probably the single broadest, deepest, most intellectually challenging topic in all of public policy. There`s no broader or more significant question you can ask than: When the government elects a new people, how many and whom should it elect?
Not surprisingly, the sheer cognitive challenge involved in having an informed and intelligent opinion on immigration is one reason why immigration is the least favorite major issue among mainstream public intellectuals. (Check out the Atlantic Monthly`s listing of the 50 pundits “who shape the national debates” to see how unmentionable immigration is among the leading lights of polite society—with the exception of broadcaster Lou Dobbs, none of them discusses immigration on a regular basis.)
To conceal how far in over their heads they are, Main Stream Media (MSM) staffers often vilify anyone well-versed on immigration as “ignorant” and motivated by “hate“. No matter how thoughtful and judicious your insights on immigration, no matter how respectable your curriculum vitae, you`ll just be smeared directly or by association by the hucksters at the Southern Poverty Law Center ($outhern Poverty Law Center to VDARE.COM), whose word will then be taken on faith by the press.
The endless ramifications of immigration are closely analyzed in historian Otis L. Graham`s just-published big book, Immigration Reform and America`s Unchosen Future It`s a combination of memoir, insider history, and analysis by a scholar who was “present at the creation” of much of the organized resistance to immigration expansion.
Graham, a professor emeritus at UC Santa Barbara and Visiting Scholar at the University of North Carolina, is a leading expert on American reform movements such as the Progressives of a century ago.
(Graham`s late brother Hugh Davis Graham, a Vanderbilt historian, wrote the 2002 book Collision Course: The Strange Convergence of Affirmative Action and Immigration Policy in America that has had so much influence on my own thinking about the onrushing future in which the beneficiaries of racial preferences will outnumber the benefactors.)
And Otis Graham practices what he teaches. He was a founding board member of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) lobby and the Center for Immigration Studies thinktank. He`s also on the board of the Californians for Population Stabilization environmentalist group.
Patriotic immigration reformers (as we call them at VDARE.COM, to distinguish them from Bush/ Kennedy/ McCain amnesty types) have enjoyed few outright successes. But it`s alarming to imagine how much worse things would have become without them. Graham`s book recounts his slow, painful education:
“The central theme of this book is we reformers` progressive discovery, from the 1970s forward, that the American policy system had become hopelessly irrational and disabled on immigration (and many other) matters, and could not free itself from the rule of organized elites and factions.“
Like so many of his allies in the patriotic immigration reform movement, such as the energetic Dr. John Tanton and Governor Dick Lamm, the Democratic governor of Colorado from 1975-1987, Graham`s fundamental concern is, not culture or economics, but the putatively “liberal” cause of environmentalism.
Indeed, Graham, Tanton, and Lamm are all more intellectual versions of Jimmy Stewart`s Jefferson Smith—nice, public-spirited, center-left Good Citizens who went to Washington to fight against the special interests. As in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, their civic-mindedness has brought them defamation.
Unlike in the movie, however, there hasn`t been a happy ending—yet. And may not be at all.
Like so many environmentalists of that era, Graham was deeply concerned about the impact of population growth on America`s ecosystems.
Yet, over the last 40 years, discussion of birth rates has almost completely vanished in fashionable environmental circles. For example, one of the most important numbers in modern American life—3.7, the birthrate of babies per lifetime among immigrant Latinas in California, a total fertility rate more than 50 percent higher than in Mexico itself—has, as far as I can tell, never been publicly mentioned by environmentalists or by MSM pundits.
It`s not Hispanics who are taking the lead in keeping these kind of numbers hidden from the public. There aren`t any Latinos on the Atlantic 50.
As Graham explains, the decline of the overall American birth rate after the Baby Boom ended in the mid-1960s was welcomed by environmentalists.
Then the 1972 Rockefeller Report on Population Growth and the American Future broke the shocking news that, despite Americans` increasing reproductive restraint, immigration—illegal and legal—would keep the U.S. population growing indefinitely.
To Graham, unchecked immigration hadn`t previously been a concern. In his mind, as in those of most educated Americans of his generation, “Open Borders” had simply been one of many abuses of the Robber Baron era, such as cartels, political corruption, and over-lumbering, that had been more or less solved by the Progressives in the first few decades of the 20th Century.
As a historian specializing in (as he says) “what we now call `the Long Progressive Era`—the years of industrialization and state building from the 1880s through the 1920s forward through the New Deal to the 1960s”, Graham had learned that
“The long campaign to curb the `First Great Wave` of mass immigration that began after the Civil War was originally seen by historians (correctly, I believe) as one of the several social reform movements considered as part of the progressive era. Historians writing in the first half of the twentieth century had folded the immigration restrictions into the progressive reform narrative. This was appropriate, since, along with the reformers aiming to dismantle monopoly power, end child labor, prohibit consumption of alcoholic beverages, or clean up the slums, the immigration restrictionists want to bring under governmental control the forces unleashed by capitalist energies—in this case, mass importation of cheap foreign labor. Progressive reformers such as Teddy Roosevelt, E.A. Ross, Hiram Johnson, and Samuel Gompers had added immigration restriction to their agendas.”
Graham first hosted a seminar on how illegal immigration drove up the U.S. population in 1976 at former University of Chicago president Robert Maynard Hutchins` soporifically respectable Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions—with the Center`s patron Paul Newman in attendance.
As Graham studied the immigration issue, he discovered that the history of immigration restrictionism had been rewritten after WWII to fit new prejudices. Rather than continuing to portray the 1924 immigration cutback as a triumph over business interests by a coalition of high-minded Progressives and labor leaders (such as Gompers, a Jewish immigrant who campaigned for immigration cutbacks for decades), John Higham`s 1954 bestseller Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925 set the new template for denouncing the immigration restrictionists as psychologically warped “nativists“. This caricature quickly became the conventional wisdom, with which American school children are indoctrinated to this day.
Yet, as Graham pointed out in a 2004 VDARE.com column, Higham himself quickly had second thoughts about the historical record. Higham even wrote in 1958 that “nativism now looks less adequate as a vehicle for studying the struggles of nationalities in America than my earlier report of it”. He later endorsed immigration restriction and said it would have been even better for the country if it had passed before the 1920s.
Strangers in the Land attempted the difficult feat of excising immigration restrictionism from Progressivism. But that kind of logic-chopping has become less necessary as the old Progressives, who were the heroes of the history textbooks when I was a kid, have fallen out of favor—mostly for ethnic reasons: The Progressive reformers were largely WASPs. Of course, so were most of their opponents.
(Political correctness has made the retelling of history increasingly tricky. For example, the famous documentarian Ken Burns is currently debuting on PBS his new six-episode series The National Parks: America`s Best Idea. Burns` problem is that the idea of the national parks was dreamed up overwhelmingly by the kind of people whom the staff of Burns` chief funder, the Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Fund, considers the worst sort. The conservationists of the early 20th Century were Progressives: i.e., white Protestant American men—and dubious about immigration to boot. So the promotional material for Burns` series emphasizes the purportedly huge role played by blacks and immigrants in the history of the national parks.)
In 1978, Graham received a phone call from a Michigan opthamologist and environmental activist named John Tanton, who had been the national chairman of Zero Population Growth. Tanton asked him to join the board of a new immigration reform organization, FAIR. Graham protested that he didn`t know much about immigration, but the persuasive and persistent Tanton pointed out that everybody else knew even less. And at least Graham seemed like he wanted to find out about immigration`s effects—which was more than you could say for almost all other American intellectuals.
Because most of FAIR`s organizational impetus came from environmentalists and others on the center-left, the spiritual descendents of the old Progressives, they typically hired staffers with similar politics—not that this has kept them from being denounced as racists anyway.
The energetic Tanton helped found other organizations, such as CIS, Roy Beck`s NumbersUSA, U.S. English, and an annual writer`s workshop that Tanton called Witan, “short for the old English term Witanagemot, or National Council to the crown”, a Dark Ages harbinger of the Anglo-Saxon affinity for open debate and non-arbitrary rule. (The name was abandoned after MSM “anti-racism” hit job articles, which caused US English president Linda Chavez to panic and resign. In homage, VDARE.com uses Witan@vdare.com as its email address for any message to us that you don`t mind seeing published. Send private emails to email@example.com.)
One evening at a 1983 Witan in San Diego, attendees watched several hundred illegal aliens swarm across the border in a mass rush intended to overwhelm the Border Patrol: “During our weekend there, BP officers arrested people from ninety-six foreign countries …”
One attendee at that particular Witan was Theodore H. White, the world famous author of The Making of the President bestsellers. White, who had been Time`s star reporter in China during WWII—where he had become a close friend of Chou En-lai, the dazzling Communist diplomat)—was not a fan of overpopulation. Graham writes:
“White had spoken passionately in our meetings about the negative consequences of losing control of the border between a population-stabilizing developed country and a population-exploding Third World country sharing a 2,000 mile frontier.”
Significantly, White was raised by his father to be fair-minded about immigration. In his autobiography, white In Search of History, White recounts how in the mid-1920s he was chosen to demonstrate the academic potential of Jewish children by making a speech to Boston teachers explaining a current 1920s political topic: immigration. His father explained to him that, as an immigrant and a Jew, he stood staunchly for open borders, but as a socialist, he stood staunchly with the unions for closed borders. Little Teddy`s speech echoed his father`s passionate ambivalence.
But White`s childhood skepticism about immigration would get him demonized in these less tolerant times. Graham reports that the 1983 Witan, when Tanton asked him to publish his views,
“White recoiled, almost frightened.
“`My New York friends would never forgive me. No, you guys are right, but I can`t go public on this.` “
At that point, the 68-year-old Teddy White was probably the single most respected print journalist in America in 1983. White`s fear shows you how severe are the penalties in the media business for questioning immigration.
White, a strongly patriotic American, did conclude In Search Of History with a rather opaque passage that we immigration patriots can interpret as doubts about the Wall Street Journal-style Open Borders ideology of “Propositionism”:
“The old English political culture had lost control over … the polyglot peoples of America [who] had no common heritage but only ideas to bind them together… What would be really at issue was whether America would be transformed, in the name of Opportunity, simply into a Place, a gathering of discretely defined and entitled groups, interests and heritages; or whether it could continue to be a nation, where all heritages joined under the same roof—ideas of communities within government.”
But, as Graham recalls,
“Hearing White`s agitated response, I had my first glimpse of the especially intense emotional Jewish version of that taboo [against immigration skepticism]. His whole heritage, and his standing with all his Jewish friends, was imperiled (he was certain) if he went public with his worries about the state of immigration.”
To show how buried away from public discourse this crucial aspect of modern America is kept, note that Graham, at that point a 47-year-old tenured professor of American history, was only then becoming aware of it!
“I did not suspect it then, but this would become an important subtheme of our experience as immigration reformers. American Jews were exceptionally irrational about immigration for well-known reasons. They were also formidable opponents, or allies, in any issue of public policy in America.”
Indeed, on 2009`s Atlantic 50 list of most influential columnists, bloggers, and broadcast pundits, almost exactly half are Jewish, even though only about 2 percent of the population is Jewish. In particular, white Jewish males are represented at rates more than 50 times higher than the average American.
What Graham calls the “filiopietistic” urge (“of or relating to an often excessive veneration of ancestors …”) is particularly strong among Jewish media figures. Italian-Americans, in contrast, tend to approach the immigration policy question by thinking about the future rather than by obsessing over the past. This anti-rational emotional reflex about immigration contributes to the kitschy quality of MSM discourse on the topic.
The best solution? Raising awareness. Why shouldn`t citizens know the facts?
I don`t want to get Otis Graham in even more trouble!
Graham`s book has much to say about dozens of other topics.
It will be a crucial resource for future historians in understanding this turning point in American history.
[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.]