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DREAM or Nightmare, pt II

December 9, 2010 Leave a comment

As promised I wanted to post David Frum’s responses to Will Wilkinson’s critique. You can read part I here if you’re unfamiliar with the original arguments. Excerpts from his responses below. Click the links to read the full replies.

Frum 1:

Immigration proponents are so convinced that more immigration is good in itself that they do not always worry as much as they should about the way in which they achieve their aims. They sell huge society-changing transformations as small incremental steps.

When the sales pitch proves wrong or hugely exaggerated, they seem untroubled. Wilkinson’s own blitheness perfectly exemplifies the pattern. Running through his first post is a persistent undertone that the very idea of immigration laws is a big mistake. “Yes, the DREAM Act also incentivises illegal activity. But if the activity is not one that ought to be illegal, perhaps we should consider changing the law?”

Frum 2:

But it’s just fanciful to imagine that the secondary beneficiaries of the DREAM amnesty will be substantial taxpayers. The parents and siblings of the people who will be amnestied under DREAM will be poorly educated, low-skilled, and likely to qualify for a range of services from food stamps to Section 8 housing to Medicaid and then very likely Medicare and Social Security. DREAM means millions of new claimants on US public services and billions of dollars in new costs for the federal government and the states. As CIS calculates today, simply the subsidies for DREAM beneficiaries’ college tuitions will cost $6.2 billion a year.

Frum 3:

In other words: yes it was true (sorry Will!) that previous versions of the DREAM act offered amnesty to the illegal immigrant parents of DREAM beneficiaries. Yes it was true (sorry again!) that the bill offered large subsidies to people currently present in the country illegally. Yes it was true (sorry once more!) that the legal language about “good character” didn’t mean very much. And yes it was true (sorry a fourth time!) that the bill potentially applied to many more people than the 60,000 or so Wilkinson mentioned in his very first post.

The good news is that the fixes offered by the Democrats constitute a genuine improvement in the law that address the concerns whose reality Wilkinson was denying just the day before yesterday. And with a few more improvements, the law could be on its way to being a genuine humanitarian measure.

I’m not aware if Wilkinson has since responded, but here’s a good Forbes blog post written by Conor Friedersdorf, a senior editor at The Daily Dish, with an interesting take on immigration, the DREAM act, and the Frum/Wilkinson kerfuffle.

[The] mere possibility of fraud exists in any immigration system. That it could theoretically happen is irrelevant. David Frum wants more highly skilled immigrants to be admitted to the United States. Wouldn’t applicants under that system have “new opportunities” to commit fraud? And is it really so bad if someone who came here at age 17 instead of age 16, stayed out of trouble, and went to college ends up wrongfully slipping in? I am not much troubled by the prospect, especially since absent the legislation he’ll still be in the United States, just illegally. And the range of folks who could commit this kind of fraud is very small. A 28 year old is going to have a hard time passing himself off as years younger. 16 is an arbitrary line. If we wind up getting some 17 and 18 year olds we’ll still wind up ahead.

Frum is basically right that immigration proponents think immigration is so good that we often fail to worry about the drawbacks of different ways of achieving that goal. I plead guilty to a certain extent. I do think legal immigration is that beneficial. But I should try to better emphasize the downsides of different approaches (I think it is more of a matter of emphasis not recognition). In honor of that, go read the David Frum links on the shortcomings.

Ok, done? Even with all the potential and actual flaws, the DREAM act greatly improves the lives of responsible young adults whose only home is the United States at either little cost or even benefit to US citizens as a whole. Compassion often means accepting some downsides.

[Update] Conor has more to say here responding to Reihan Salam.

What I do think is that longtime residents of the United States brought here by illegal immigrant parents during childhood are in a unique position: through no fault of their own, they’ve long resided in a country where they don’t have a legal right to live or work (partly due to an incentive system set up by American citizens who are glad to employ illegal immigrants). It’s a tragedy for the affected kids. Economically they’re better off than lots of people in Third World countries who’d like to come here. But life is more than economics. Unlike would-be immigrants, potential Dream Act beneficiaries have developed friendships, formed romances, an invested themselves into communities in the United States. All that will be lost if they are forced to leave, and along with American complicity in their plight

(via The Daily Dish)

Quotes That Could Be From Me

August 18, 2010 3 comments

Should I hide the person who said the quote until you click the link or is this format better? 

“I believe that Thomas Jefferson said, “”If it neither breaks my leg nor picks my pocket, what difference is it to me?”” – Glenn Beck, responding to a question by Bill O’Reilly if gay marriage hurts the country. He’s been criticized by the right harshly after that one. 

“I know some people reading this post are very hostile to the talk radio right, others are as hostile to the left, and still others are hostile toward me. What I want to insist is that this enterprise of talking to one another is nevertheless worthwhile — conducted the right way, something none of us has a monopoly on, it can be productive indeed. America is our shared neighborhood, one where broken windows cause everyone to behave a bit more badly to one another…” – Conor Friedersdorf on engaging with those you disagree with. 

A reader of mine has reminded me to not fall into the trap of only condemning one side of the debate or only seeing the good in my own “side.” Glenn Beck, who I more frequently than not disagree with, took a respectable position for respectable reasons, I shouldn’t hesitate to point that out.  Conor’s argument fits nicely with the mission of this blog to engage with those we disagree with to help us reach closer to the truth. 

Religious Freedom Trumps Our Feelings, ctd

August 16, 2010 17 comments

In my previous post on this topic, I laid out my argument and others’ for allowing the proposed mosque to be built. President Obama courageously and dutifully addressed the nation and also supported the religious freedom of Muslims to build a mosque on private property.

I completely agree when the President says,

As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country.  And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America.  And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable.  The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are.  The writ of the Founders must endure.

He or I did not, however, comment on what he calls “the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there.”

Well Sam Harris tries to thread the needle by distancing himself from “many who oppose the construction of this mosque [that] embody all that is terrifyingly askew in conservative America—“birthers,” those sincerely awaiting the Rapture, opportunistic Republican politicians, and utter lunatics who yearn to see Sarah Palin become the next president of the United States (note that Palin herself probably falls into several of these categories). These people are wrong about almost everything under the sun.” He’s attempting to jab his carefully threaded needle into the wisdom without puncturing the liberal values of America’s founding and its citizens’ constitutional rights. Outside the piece he explains that he wrote this article before President Obama gave the speech – the editors wrote the title and lead in. Within his essay, I do think he bursts President Obama’s diplomatic statement that “Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam -– it’s a gross distortion of Islam.  These are not religious leaders -– they’re terrorists who murder innocent men and women and children.” I do worry that careless readers with fall into the trap of thinking Harris is too easily grouping moderates and extremists; failing to discriminate. Further in however Harris’s thread comes close to falling out.

And the erection of a mosque upon the ashes of this atrocity will also be viewed by many millions of Muslims as a victory—and as a sign that the liberal values of the West are synonymous with decadence and cowardice. This may not be reason enough for the supporters of this mosque to reconsider their project. And perhaps they shouldn’t. Perhaps there is some form of Islam that could issue from this site that would be better, all things considered, than simply not building another mosque in the first place. But this leads me to a somewhat paradoxical conclusion: American Muslims should be absolutely free to build a mosque two blocks from ground zero; but the ones who should do it probably wouldn’t want to.

Harris might be right that it is unfortunate that these peaceful American Muslims would want to build their mosque so close to Ground Zero if they are actually interested in easing tensions between communities (clearly that isn’t working yet), but I’m not sure he’s right that it shows that “liberal values of the West are synonymous with decadence and cowardice.” Even if some terrorists overseas view it that way, in my mind it highlights the strength of our values to withstand even what a majority of our citizens find “offensive.” I don’t want to be held hostage to whatever religious terrorists may think about our decisions or values. Furthermore, allowing the construction stands in stark contrast to how many in the Muslim world treat things they find offensive. Christopher Hitchens spotlights that gambit.

A widespread cultural cringe impels many people to the half-belief that it’s better to accommodate “moderates” like Rauf as a means of diluting the challenge of the real thing. So for the sake of peace and quiet, why not have Comedy Central censor itself or the entire U.S. press refuse to show the Danish cartoons?

This kind of capitulation needs to be fought consistently. But here is exactly how not to resist it. Take, for example, the widely publicized opinion of Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Supporting those relatives of the 9/11 victims who have opposed Cordoba House, he drew a crass analogy with the Final Solution and said that, like Holocaust survivors, “their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.” This cracked tune has been taken up by Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, who additionally claim to be ventriloquizing the emotions of millions of Americans who did notsuffer bereavement. It has also infected the editorial pages of the normally tougher-minded Weekly Standard, which called on President Obama to denounce the Cordoba House on the grounds that a 3-to-1 majority of Americans allegedly find it “offensive.”

Where to start with this part-pathetic and part-sinister appeal to demagogy? To begin with, it borrows straight from the playbook of Muslim cultural blackmail. Claim that something is “offensive,” and it is as if the assertion itself has automatically become an argument. You are even allowed to admit, as does Foxman, that the ground for taking offense is “irrational and bigoted.” But, hey—why think when you can just feel?

I have to admit, when I first heard that they were building a “Ground Zero Mosque” I assumed it was going to be in the new Twin Towers. Viscerally and immediately I opposed that; but once I learned it was being built on private property and off the site of the Twin Towers, I couldn’t find any reason for restricting the freedom of fellow Americans. Now I still don’t think I’d argue in favor of putting a mosque there if I was making the decision (fortunately in America we don’t allow the opinion of random citizens to decide such questions), and I can’t help but understand the emotional appeal of people like this 9/11 firefighter in opposing the mosque’s construction (which I watched as I sat in the ER). I don’t agree with all his arguments but I can empathize with his perspective. This puts me in a difficult place. How can I on the one hand give his argument from offense weight while actively instigating offense in campaigns like “Draw Mohammed Day” (e.g. here and here)? Well to me it illustrates the essential difference in supporting freedom in practice to just giving it lip service. Conor Friedersdorf puts the opposition to the test.

Imagine a suburban street where three kids in a single family were molested by a Catholic priest, who was subsequently transferred by the archbishop to a faraway parish, and never prosecuted. Nine years later, a devout Catholic woman who lives five or six doors down decides that she’s going to start a prayer group for orthodox Catholics — they’ll meet once a week in her living room, and occasionally a local priest, recently graduated from a far away seminary, will attend.

Even if we believe that it is irrational for the mother of the molested kids to be upset by this prayer group on her street, it’s easy enough to understand her reaction. Had she joined an activist group critical of the Catholic Church in the aftermath of the molestation, it’s easy to imagine that group backing the mother. As evident is the fact that the devout Catholic woman isn’t culpable for molestations in the Catholic church — in fact, even though we understand why her prayer group upsets the neighbor, it is perfectly plausible that the prayer group organizers never imagined that their plan would be upsetting or controversial. In their minds (and in fact), they’re as opposed to child molestation as anyone, and it’s easy to see why they’d be offended by any implication to the contrary.

Presented with that situation, how should the other people on the street react? Should they try to get city officials to prevent the prayer meetings from happening because they perhaps violate some technicality in the neighborhood zoning laws? Should they hold press conferences denouncing the devout woman? Should they investigate the priest who plans to attend? What if he once said, “Child molestation is a terrible sin, it is always wrong, and I am working to prevent it from ever happening again. I feel compelled to add that America’s over-sexualized culture is an accessory to this crime.” Does that change anything?

I’d certainly side with the woman who wants to hold the prayer group, and her fellow orthodox Catholics.

Does anyone think any of those talk-radio hosts opposing the mosque would similarly oppose the Christian prayer group? What about Gingrich or Palin? Certainly, the mosque case is more extreme in degree, but I fail to see any difference in principle.


I still believe that once tensions simmer down, America will be stronger for allowing this construction. As I argued before, we’re not so fragile that we can’t live with this. We must remember that even if it is unadvisable or unwise for these Americans to build their mosque here, they aren’t responsible for 9/11. Feelings aren’t permanent, freedom should be. And, hey, we can always support building a gay bar next to it.

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