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Alien Nation: Round 2

The debate on immigration is hampered by the fact that immigration enthusiasts don't want it to take place

Summary: The author of 'Alien Nation' got many negative reviews from print journalists, but regular Americans calling in to talk shows generally agreed with the author's conservative sentiments. Journalists should be honest and admit facts.

Peter Brimelow
National Review, April 22, 1996 v48 n7 p43(5)

Adapted from the afterword to the paperback edition of Peter Brimelow's Alien Nation: Common Sense about America's Immigration Disaster, published by HarperCollins.


He does not seem to know what an argument is. He never uses arguments himself. He never troubles himself to answer the arguments of an opponent. . . . It has never occurred to him . . . that when an objection is raised, it ought to be met with something more convincing than "scoundrel" or "blockhead."
LORD MACAULAY , "Essay on Southey's Colloquies"

ALIEN NATION was published in April 1995 and was, somewhat to my surprise, immediately and almost universally reviewed. I also found myself defending the book on a multitude of television and radio shows, so that by the fall I was—rather alarmingly—being recognized on the streets of New York.

(Actually, I received only one death threat, on my voicemail at Forbes. The caller was apparently incensed by my deriding, both the New York Times's A. M. Rosenthal and Ira Glasser of the American Civil Liberties Union for their obsession with Alien Nation's single reference to the blue eyes and blond hair of my son, Alexander. This scandalous revelation was probably the most cited passage in the book.

(And not once, as far as I have seen, was it cited in its context: the paradoxical and destructive effect of the interaction between non-white immigration and affirmative-action quotas upon native-born Americans who are not members of the "protected classes.")

"We at AEI [American Enterprise Institute]," Judge Robert Bork told me with mock ceremony during Norman Podhoretz's retirement dinner in May, "are very grateful to you for drawing fire away from Charles Murray"—co-author of The Bell Curve.

In fact, the first (and in the publishing business most important) reviews, in the New York Times (twice), the Washington Post, and The Atlantic, were serious, respectful, and sometimes—notably the one by the Times's Richard Bernstein—strikingly generous. After that, as Wellington said at Waterloo, it was hard pounding --the only question being who could pound hardest.

"Hateful, racist," "gentrified racism," "openly racialist," "narrow-minded," "deliberately misleading," "an ugly jeremiad," "tirade," "diatribe," "a fervent and obsessive polemic," "breathtaking disingenuousness," "inflammatory," "incendiary," "Conspicuous bad faith," "utterly wrong," "beyond the pale," "bigoted," "intellectualized white rage . . . in-your-face vileness." Etc., etc., etc. I was blamed for the Oklahoma City bombing (by Ramon Mestre in the Miami Herald) and compared to Hitler and Germany's neo-Nazi skinheads (by Jeff Turrentine in the Dallas Morning News). My favorite hostile review: probably Lawrence Chua's in the Village Voice"His fear is justified. We will bury him."

Naturally, I found these reactions encouraging. After all, the same incredulous rage has greeted the conservative movement at each successive stage of its three-decade-long march through U.S. institutions, since the nomination of Barry Goldwater in 1964.

I also had a simple test that I applied to every review: Did it discuss the 1965 Immigration Act? Or did it instead just burble on about the glories of immigration in principle, missing Alien Nation's key point: that the operations of the 1965 Act in practice have resulted in an influx far larger, less skilled, and far more dominated by a few Third World sources than anything envisioned at the time. In other words, even if you want a million immigrants a year—and the American people overwhelmingly does not—why this particular million?

A shamefully large number of reviews flunked this test. For the purposes of America's current immigration debate, they were just not in the game. Unsurprisingly, Mestre, Turrentine, and Chua all got a big fat F. Other prominent examples: Reed Ueda, Wall Street Journal; Stuart Anderson, Washington Times; Linda Chavez, USA Today; Clarence Wood, Chicago Tribune; Peter Skerry, Commentary . . .

Even more encouraging: throughout the print-media barrage I was spending hours a day on television and talk radio all around the country. And there it was not at all unusual to get 100 per cent supportive calls—from real Americans. The only exception was National Public Radio, and even there, the calls were usually fifty-fifty.

Indeed, as a print journalist I am appalled to say that my experience has left me gloomily convinced that electronic media, particularly talk radio, really do now carry the brunt of American public discourse. This is not just because a lot of talk-show hosts—Gordon Liddy, Oliver North, David Brudnoy, and many others, thanks to them all—were totally supportive in a way that no self-respecting print journalist seems able to be. Even my critics were generally polite and reasonable. When an angry caller complained to Larry Mantle, a liberal host on Los Angeles KPCC-FM, that I was being allowed to spread my noxious propaganda without anyone to oppose me, Mantle reprovingly said no one ever objected when he had liberals on alone.

On live radio furthermore, I could compel questioners to address the central question: Why do you want to transform America? Quite often they were honest or naive enough to answer—as did Larry Josephson on his "Bridges" NPR show—that America in 1965 was just too homogeneous ("white bread") for their taste. Then I could move in for the kill: "That's great! Now let's ask the American people if they agree."

In addition, events moved Alien Nation's way. Democratic former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan's Commission on Immigration Reform, recommending a one-third cut in the legal influx, in effect rolling back the 1990 Immigration Act and conceding that the system was broke and needs fixing—Alien Nation's much-denounced point.

President Clinton actually endorsed the Jordan Commission's findings, but House Majority Leader Dick Armey reflexively denounced them. "I'm hard-pressed," he said later, "to think of a single problem that would be solved by shutting off the supply of willing and eager new Americans."

This was an astonishing comment, and indicative of the fatal intellectual inertia still prevailing among many immigration enthusiasts. A nanosecond's thought would have revealed to Armey that, if immigration drives the U.S. population up 50 per cent by 2050—the Census Bureau's current estimate—it must inevitably cost the taxpayers massive additional moneys for schools, prisons, and other infrastructure, regardless of whether it also offers some benefit (which it does not).

As to other problems, I randomly picked these two stories out of the same newspaper (New York Times, December 10, 1995) as I was writing this:

MEXICO WOOS U.S. MEXICANS, PROPOSING DUAL NATIONALITY

[Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo supports an amendment to the Mexican constitution allowing Mexicans to retain their nationality when they take out U.S. citizenship.! "You're Mexicans—Mexicans who live north of the border," Mr. Zedillo told Mexican-American politicians in Dallas this year. He said he hoped the amendment would not only permit Mexican-Americans to better defend their rights at a time of rising anti-immigrant fervor, but also help create an ethnic lobby with political influence similar to that of American Jews.

See Alien Nation, pages 193-195. And --

FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION BY IMMIGRANTS IS BECOMING CAUSE FOR CONCERN IN THE U.S.

"As you get more and more immigrants from countries where this is a practice, particularly from Somalia, there are pockets of it [clitoridectomy] popping up wherever you see concentrations of settlements," Representative Pat Schroeder, the Colorado Democrat, said in an interview.

. . . Ms. Schroeder [has] proposed laws similar to ones in Britain and France making genital mutilation a crime.

Of course, this is completely hypocritical. Either values are relative or they are not. What it shows once again is that immigration enthusiasts' enthusiasm for "diversity" is highly selective. They fully intend to pick and choose among diversities. In effect, immigration just gives them an excuse to remake America.

THERE are basically two views about how you can influence public debate. The Thin End of the Wedge Theory, favored by gentle souls like James W. Michaels and John O'Sullivan, respectively my editors at Forbes and NATIONAL REVIEW, is that while emphasizing how much agreement there is between you and everyone else, you politely but firmly insinuate modifications into the discussion, all of such an eminently sensible character that no one can possibly (or, at least, reasonably) object. Over time, you turn people around.

In contrast, there's the Thick End Theory. You pick up the wedge by its thin end and pound the opposition with the thick end, as hard as possible. Then you stand back and see what happens.

I have to admit that I lean toward the second approach. Some reviewers appreciate this. Jack Miles, in his very thoughtful essay in The Atlantic Monthly, said I was occasionally "an inspired controversialist, determined to storm the enemy's redoubt where it is strongest, not where it is weakest."

But other reviewers simply could not stomach the resulting bloodshed. For example, Jacquie Miller in the Ottawa Citizen worried, all too presciently, that "phrases can be plucked out of Brimelow's book that, shoved only slightly out of context, provide ammunition for [the charge of racism]." She instanced my references to high black crime and Laotian welfare rates. Miss Miller also felt that the "credibility" of my account of Robert Kennedy's ludicrous underestimate of Asian immigration resulting from the 1965 Act somehow suffered from what she described as "a typical slur": my adding that "tragically, Robert Kennedy himself was to be assassinated by an immigrant counted by the INS as Asian."

My first reaction to this sort of thing is incredulity. I believe truth should be an absolute defense, as it is in libel law. Laotians do have disproportionately high welfare rates, etc. And I said "tragically," didn't I?

Still, I recognize a problem. There is no point in repelling readers, at least those who show Miss Miller's symptoms of open-mindedness.

The problem, however, is not easily resolved. The truth, we are told after all, shall set us free. And it is precisely because of the media's flinching from facts that many Americans are unaware of the immigration dimensions of major public-policy dilemmas. It is because Americans are never reminded of the Jordanian origins of Sirhan Sirhan that they don't think to put him at the head of a list of infamous immigrants to counter the immigration enthusiasts' silly ploy of reeling off, in place of argument, the names of distinguished immigrants.

Former New York Mayor Ed Koch pulled this trick on me in the course of a disappointingly weak review in the New York Post: "Albert Einstein, Arturo Toscanini, Madeleine Albright, I. M. Pei, Patrick Ewing, John Shalikashvilli, Henry Kissinger, [etc., etc.] . . . Brimelow should squirm at their very mention."

My unsquirming answer, in part:

Sirhan; Giuseppe Esposito (founder of the Italian Mafia in the U.S.);. Meyer Lansky, "Lucky" Luciano, Al Capone (all organized crime); V. K. Ivankov (of the emerging "Russian Mafia"); Bruno Richard Hauptmann (Lindbergh kidnapper); Rosario Ames (wife and co-conspirator of traitor Aldrich Ames); Civil War Colonels John B. Turchin, USA, and Henry Wirz, CSA (respectively dismissed from U.S. Army for atrocities against Southern civilians and hung for atrocities against Union prisoners of war as camp commandant at Andersonville) . . .

And Charles Ponzi (inventor of the type of financial fraud named after him, whereby early investors are paid of with later investors' money, luring more in—just like the immigration enthusiasts' fantasy of how immigrants will bail out the Social Security system). Ben Wattenberg was still repeating this in his syndicated column in late 1995, despite Alien Nation's conclusive refutation.

Still, I have hope for Koch, who is sensible about illegal immigration and other things. It seems he was simply unable to focus on my book's content because of the memory of his own immigrant parents. One of my happiest moments in taping the three-part immigration debate for William Buckley's Firing Line was establishing through cross-examination that Koch did not realize his parents could not immigrate under current law anyway (because they came from European countries that have been shouldered aside by the family-reunification inflow triggered by the 1965 Act).

I am less hopeful about the ACLU's Ira Glasser. In the second part of the Firing Line debate, he so far forgot himself as to accuse me of "lying" and bet me a year of his salary ($127,950, according to the 1993 American Institute of Philanthropy yearbook) that I had not discussed in Alien Nation the fragmentary evidence that the proportion of immigrants in state prisons does not repeat their over-representation at the federal level. Of course, I had (p. 184).

Glasser has now conceded this, buried in a long abusive ink-cloud of a private letter to me. Unaccountably, however, he neglected to include his check. As a gentleman, he will no doubt have rectified this oversight by the time the paperback edition is in readers' hands. But you can fax him at the ACLU and ask—212-354-5290.

UNLIKE Charles Murray when he came to review the reviews of The Bell Curve, I have no intricate technical counter-arguments to refute, because no one provided any. My critics tended to behave like Macaulay's description of Southey in debate: either they simply reasserted their opinion, often using points that I had just painstakingly refuted; or they resorted to abuse. Or, quite often, both.

A classic example: Ben Wattenberg. At the start of my book tour, we had an affable disputation on Diane Rehm's celebrated WAMU talk show in Washington, not surprisingly since (we agreed) we had substantial policy proposals in common—such as the utility of an English-language preference.

A month later, with Alien Nation getting famous and legislation to reduce immigration being introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith and Sen. Alan Simpson, Wattenberg was transformed. He bristled with determination to anathematize me for mentioning the fact that government immigration policy is shifting the U.S. racial balance.

Particularly comic was Wattenberg's behavior when we taped his PBS-TV show Think Tank. He made the very common error of claiming that Alien Nation advocates a shift to white immigration (instead of the "time-out" from all immigration that I actually recommend). I objected that I had said nothing of the sort. Confidently, he started to read something from his lectern. It began, "Brimelow says . . ."

"That's a review!" I interjected. It was a knockdown blow. So much so that before the show appeared, Wattenberg (or his handlers) took the unusual but masterful step of going into the tape and editing out the exchange.

I never got my promised review copy of Wattenberg's own book, presumably because it tries to shrug off Alien Nation as "half hokum, half racism." Its title: Values Matter Most. Yeah.

Other high points:

Harvard's Stephan Thernstrom in the Washington Post: "Has recent immigration to the U.S. really been huge? Not really . . . in proportion to total population, the more relevant comparison, it continues to be fairly low by historic standards . . ."

I had devoted all of Chapter 2 to crushing this vulgar error, basically by demonstrating that immigration is now high relative to population growth. When I politely pointed out Thernstrom's mistake he replied huffily, extemporizing that when population growth is static, even one immigrant would be 100 per cent of population growth. True, and so would 100 million immigrants—which is why I invented "the Wedge Chart" on page 47, showing the actual situation of 50 per cent higher population by 2050 because of immigration. Reviewers notoriously don't read books. But did Thernstrom even look at the pictures?

Jacob Weisberg in New York magazine: ". . . Brimelow resorts to statistical abuses that would make a high-school debater blush. His first distortion is a chart that shows immigration in absolute numbers. By including those who applied for legal status under the temporary amnesty of a few years ago, he succeeds in producing a recent 'spike.' "

In fact, the IRCA amnesties are included in the official INS figures (Chart 1, pp. 30 - 31). And I discuss this problem and correct for them (Chart 2, p. 32). Even if Weisberg had not turned the page, he was present at my address to the Manhattan Institute when I pointed this out. But New York contemptibly refused to publish a correction letter from my researcher, Joseph E. Fallon.

Interestingly, there was a similar incident involving Weisberg and The Bell Curve. He wrote that at an AEI conference, the book's linking of intelligence and race was raised only when Glenn Loury, who is black, had left the room. In fact, Juan Williams, who is also black, was present throughout. And it was Weisberg himself who had raised the topic.

My theory: Weisberg is one of those people whose verbal slickness exceeds his intellectual powers. Faced with an argument that disturbs him emotionally, he cannot confine himself to the truth, let alone logic.

Michael Lind in The New Yorker: "uses the rhetoric of an after-dinner speaker at a Klavern banquet," etc. Well, the meteoric Lind, once a hanger-on of the conservative movement and NATIONAL REVIEW, is a special case. Less than two years earlier, Lind had written in The New Republic (August 23, 1993) that my original NR cover story, which constitutes about a quarter of Alien Nation, was "an eloquent restatement . . . of traditional American conservative arguments." I even received an effusive four-page private letter from him on the subject.

Alien Nation posed a peculiarly acute problem for Lind. His own soon-to-be-published book, The Next American Nation, actually called for immigration restriction just like Alien Nation, although in a way that tried to appeal to political liberals. Much of the debunking of immigration-enthusiast myths was eerily similar. Lind had adopted many arguments first developed in NR, such as the economic impact on blue-collar workers. He could purge NR from his footnotes, and he did. But he could not afford to have his new friends making close comparisons with Alien Nation. So he tried to drive it out of public debate.

It won't work, of course. Although there are good traditional liberal reasons to oppose immigration, modern liberalism is differently motivated. And sooner or later, another, younger Lind is going to come along and make his reputation with an article on "Michael Lind's Tainted Sources"—to paraphrase the title of Charles Lane's notorious attack on The Bell Curve. Additionally, Lind himself is too quarrelsome to remain within any political tendency for long. I suspect this strange, driven figure will next become a Mormon. No doubt of a heretical kind.

Wall Street Journal editor Bob Bartley, in conversation when I was asking to defend myself on his editorial page (vainly, of course—Journal readers have been able to follow immigration critics' arguments only by deducing them from between the lines of continuous denunciations, like Pravda readers under Stalin): "The destiny of Europe has already been decided in North Africa" (because of the population explosion there).

"That's a poor lookout for the nation-state," I said, surprised.

"Oh yes," Bob said calmly. "I think the nation-state is finished. I think [Kenichi] Ohmae [a prophet of economic regionalism popular among businessmen] is right."

I was thunderstruck. I knew the fans of the Journal's editorial page, overwhelmingly conservative patriots, had no inkling of this. It would make a great Wall Street Journal front-page story:

WALL STREET JOURNAL EDITOR REVEALED AS SECRET ONE-WORLDERCONSTERNATION AMONG FAITHFUL—IS POPE CATHOLIC?

SO, having given the immigration enthusiasts a good pounding with the thick end of the wedge, what do I see when I stand back? Writing in the Spring 1995 issue of The Social Contract, the restrictionist movement's house magazine, Ira Mehlman offered this insight:

Brimelow actually makes a very broad case against current immigration policies, but not surprisingly, almost everybody has focused on those chapters that deal with race, ethnicity and culture. . . . By bringing up subjects that had heretofore been considered taboo, Brimelow has scared a lot of people who have been observing the debate from the sidelines into conceding that our current immigration policies don't make economic sense.

In effect, I had won the economic debate by raising the question of racial balance and culture. The pattern that Mehlman spotted was so immensely powerful as to become funny. Again and again, reviews denounced me and Alien Nation, and then went on to say in effect that "of course" there are things wrong with immigration . . . just not the things I had in mind. Examples: Christopher Farrell, Business Week; Tom Morganthau, Newsweek; Michael Lind; Jeff Turrentine; Jacob Weisberg.

"Glad to hear it, Mr. Weisberg," wrote Richard Brookhiser in the New York Observer. "Where can we find those earlier analyses of illegal immigration, and of the flaws of the 1965 Immigration Act? The ones you wrote pre-Brimelow?"

John Dizard, in a story in the New York Observer on the civil war among conservatives provoked by Alien Nation, quoted me as saying that "my opponents are hopelessly overextended intellectually and empirically, and are facing annihilation up and down the line."

Today, having been confronted with no new contrary argument or fact, I still think that. Special interests may win congressional battles. Ideas, and principles, will win the political war.