In addition to my time at NETWORK, I’m attending the Summer Intern Security Springboard at the Truman National Security Project this summer. It’s a crash course in everything a young leader needs to become competent, confident, and literate in national security policy. Held for an hour every Thursday afternoon, the Springboard is a great complement to my experience at NETWORK.
The first week’s presentation discussed the philosophical differences between Progressives and Conservatives. At the heart of the matter was Conservative success in value politics, and how Progressives have been unable to effectively use the approach. In light of President Obama’s recent speech on immigration, what we discussed at the Springboard can help us better understand the political atmosphere around Comprehensive Immigration Reform.
Dating back to Nixon’s appeal to the silent majority in 1972, Conservatives have spent decades understanding and broadcasting the values they stand for. As a general rule, Conservative success has resulted from establishing baseline values and from there, articulating policy. Consider the Patriot Act under President Bush. From the fundamental value of a strong respect for American Security, support was rallied, translating into the policy of the Patriot Act. Would the Patriot Act have stood a chance without effective value politics? Probably not. Was its success a testament to the inherent value and merit of the legislation? Not necessarily. Yet the Act sprung into law, energized by the value politics of Conservatives.
Let’s fast forward to the present. In the face of domestic turmoil and controversial legislation in Arizona, Republicans have framed the immigration debate as a matter of national security. Democrats have every right to worry about a national conversation in this context. When asked ‘Which party do you associate with ‘too hesitant to use force,’ 59% of respondents chose the Democratic Party, while only 21% chose the GOP. Similarly, when asked ‘Which party do you associate with ‘patriotic,’ Republicans received 45% of the vote, compared to only 28% for Democrats. Lastly, when asked what ‘the number one reason democrats are weak on security?’ was, a resounding 33% margin indicated that “they follow the polls/change position based on public opinion.”
Progressives must consider these results if the immigration debate will be seen through the lens of national security. The reason Democrats trail in these polls is not an issue of policy- it’s all about a failure to project the progressive values. Too often, progressives expect the inherent values behind proposed legislation to be clear and implicit. Most non-expert Americans have been slow to connect with character and values, not policy.
With this in mind, I analyzed President Obama’s speech on immigration. I can’t help but feel the President might have missed an opportunity to use value politics effectively. I’m left wondering what values should be emphasized in the future to help a comprehensive bill pass.
A good start would be National Security. Through the naturalization of undocumented workers already here, improvement to our existing channels of documented immigration, and efficient protection of our borders, America would emerge stronger than ever. Also worth noting is that reform would resolve the legal limbo between the responsibility of states and the Federal Government, making it possible to collectively stride toward a safer country.
Reiterating the Economic Benefit of a comprehensive bill would certainly raise a few eyebrows. Constituencies across the nation continue to rank the economy as the most pressing political issue facing us today. If the people want economic reassurance, why not frame immigration reform in this light? A comprehensive bill would protect native wages from a “race to the bottom,” give businesses the labor they need to thrive, and result in billions of dollars in tax revenue. Immigration reform could be precisely the shot in the arm America needs in these challenging times.
Human Dignity is a value that ultimately transcends the political process. Relying on undocumented workers for a crucial 15 % of our labor force without granting them the opportunity to earn citizenship is brutally inhumane. Continuing without reform would gradually strip away any self-respect our nation could claim in this regard. An appeal towards the human dignity of comprehensive reform could rally undecided legislators behind a bill.
Perhaps most compellingly, wouldn’t a comprehensive reform bill be the most American thing to do? If America was founded as an immigrant nation rooted in meritocracy, liberty, and equality, then it becomes our moral imperative to reform the system. An immigrant willing to work hard and satisfy all legal obligations reflects the opportunity inherent in the American dream, not blanket amnesty.
Who doesn’t like National Security, Economic Benefit, Human Dignity, and America? To stir up momentum for a comprehensive bill, Democratic leaders should start appealing more to the values behind the policy. The majority of the country makes a judgment off of basic values and character, not the fine print of a complex bill. It’s ultimately up to whether or not the White House and Congress can convey an immigration bill’s merit, simply and succinctly, to the American people.