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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)

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DREAM or Nightmare

December 1, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve collected a decent back-and-forth between two respectable thinkers offering divergent views on the DREAM Act. I’ll post some excerpts but read the whole posts, none is very long.

Back on November 21st Will Wilkinson wrote a thoughtful piece on The Economist’s DiA blog about the decency of the DREAM Act.

The DREAM Act sends the message that although American immigration law in effect tries to make water run uphill, we are not monsters. It says that we will not hobble the prospects of young people raised and schooled in America just because we were so perverse to demand that their parents wait in a line before a door that never opens. It signals that we were once a nation of immigrants, and even if we have become too fearful and small to properly honour that noble legacy, America in some small way remains a land of opportunity.

David Frum at The Week challenges Wilkinson and explains why he thinks the DREAM Act will be a “nightmare.”

DREAM stands as an ongoing invitation, forever and ever. DREAM’s benefits extend not only to people who happen NOW to be illegally present inside the United States. DREAM’s benefits will be extended to all those who may enter illegally in future. DREAM’s message goes forth to Indonesia, to Egypt, to India, to China, to anywhere where teenagers find $7 an hour more attractive than $7 a day: come now and come early. Don’t waste your time acquiring an education before you arrive. We’ll subsidize your education right here in America.

Wilkinson responds and asks Frum for a correction.

Suppose DREAM becomes law in 2011. Your kid applies right away and earns status as a “conditional legal resident” (or “CLR”). Now, can you your kid sponsor you for legal permanent residency? No, she cannot. Only citizens can sponsor their parents. Suppose your kid goes to college and stays out of trouble. The earliest she can apply to become an “LPR” or “legal permanent resident” (ie, get a green card) is 5 1/2 years after approval for conditional permament residency. That’s some time in 2016 at the earliest. Now, a green card-holder can apply for citizenship after five years. Under DREAM, as I understand it, once a CLR is approved for a green card, the time spent as a CLR counts toward citizenship. So someone approved for a green card under the auspices of DREAM ought to be able to apply for citizenship right away. Let’s assume miracles from the bureaucracy and say all these applications are processed and approved at the speed of light. So, thanks to DREAM, your daughter will be a citizen no sooner than 2016, at which point she can finally sponsor you (as long as she’s over the age of 21). But don’t get excited yet! You entered the country illegally, and were working illegally before applying for a green card, and that means you aren’t eligible for a green card. ( See question 10 here.) So, sorry, DREAM can’t help you.

I often enjoy Frum, but I think Wilkinson holds the correct position on this. Make up your own mind. I’ll update if David responds. Until then, please read this perspective from a undocumented Harvard student that would be affected by the DREAM Act.

It is November and I have already lost the ability to think in the future tense, as if my heart had anesthetized my mind in preparation for the possible disappointments of the next several months. I sleep without setting any alarm clocks. I speak faster in hopes that I might get more English words in. I kiss slower to feel more, here, longer. I’m at a road that bifurcates into continents and I am terrified because I know I might once again have to live with a decision that is not mine to make. It would hurt to be forced to leave, but it hurts to stay the way I’m staying now. I belong to this place but I also want it to belong to me.

I’m always surprised and saddened when people are so eager to throw out immigrants like this talented young woman.

Some Thoughts on the Election, 1 Week Out

November 9, 2010 3 comments

Who won?

The question shouldn’t have an obvious answer. If Andreas Kluth taught me anything it’s that success can be found in failure and failure in success – triumph and disaster are two impostors.

The Republicans definitely won big in the electoral battle. But why did they win so big? Many Democrats and people like myself have argued that it can all be boiled down to “the economy is bad, the Democrats were in power, therefore the Democrats lost a lot of seats.” There are also historical and structural reasons to expect big Democratic loses (e.g. They had a big majority so even a 50/50 partisan vote split would result in many lost seats). Here’s a chart showing midterm changes of House seats for the President’s party.

Although the economy and structural factors played the biggest role it appears the Democrats lost a significant number of seats because they supported policies lots of people in the country don’t like (here and here) – especially healthcare. The political scientists at The Monkey Cage find (with all the appropriate caveats that we bloggers often fail to trade in [that’s why I always suggest reading the source]) the big controversial votes (Healthcare/Cap&Trade) may have cost the Democrats around 24 seats and possibly even tipped the scales on who controls the House.

Keep in mind it is always possible that these votes are rationalized after the fact: (h/t The Daily Dish)

Pundits and politicians who are interpreting the midterms as a referendum on Obama’s agenda, however, would be wise to read the forthcoming book of MIT political scientist, Gabriel Lenz.  Lenz convincingly demonstrates that policies subjected to intense public debate rarely become more important determinants of citizens’ vote choices.  Instead, voters will more often first pick a candidate based upon partisan and performance factors and then adopt that politician’s views about high-profile policies. So, for example, voters who decided to vote for Republican candidates in the midterms because of the poor economy would also be more likely to embrace that party’s position on health care reform.

I’m not going to pretend I can settle what is essentially a scientific question, but let’s pretend that we know that the Democrats lost the House because of their votes on unpopular policies. It’s not that far-fetched to think voting to cut $500 Billion in medicare would cost somebody an election. What would the lesson be for the Democrats? Should we answer our first question that the Democrats lost?

If the Democrats had known ahead of time that not passing any of their policies would have allowed them to maintain control of the House and they had therefore not passed any of their signature legislation that’s possibly the definition of success as an impostor. If I may borrow some more from Andreas, the Democrats could go from success to success, winning election after election as Hannibal won battle after battle in Italy. Yet, the purpose of winning battles is to win the war; Italy never completely fell and Hannibal’s Carthage was “razed it to the ground so thoroughly that modern archeologists had quite a time just locating the site.” The purpose of winning elections is to pass legislation.

David Frum tried to warn Republicans.

Republicans may gain political benefit, but Democrats get the policy. In this exchange, it is the Democrats who gain the better end of the deal. Congressional majorities come and go. Entitlement programs last forever.

History is on his side; today we have the GOP scaring seniors because the Democrats are cutting entitlements. There should be no doubt that given enough passage of time this new healthcare entitlement will be seen as just as fundamentally unchallengeable as social security and medicare.

There is plenty to criticize about the Democrats’ policies, but you might not want to argue that they caused the Republicans to “win.” The Republicans won the battle, but the Democrats’ legislative architecture remains. Historians may be just as mystified about major Republican policies as they are about Carthaginian columns.

Clive Crook on Frum and Moderates

April 14, 2010 2 comments

Crook finds Frum’s thinking sound on the need for more moderate Republicans but fuzzy on healthcare:

He is simply inconsistent. On the one hand, Obamacare is a “vast new social welfare program.” On the other, “the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big…It builds on ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994.” So was this a terrible plan that needed to be stopped? If so, the Republicans gave it all they had. Or was it a basically good plan that could stand some further improvement? If Frum thinks that–as I do–why would he have voted in the end to kill the reform?

I agree with Crook here that passing the bill could then be a platform for improvements to be added later. Frum is probably right that the Republicans could have achieved a more market friendly bill if they sought that during the fight. Does Frum think that the possibility of improving the bill after it passes in its current form is negligible or impossible? I suppose that would explain the inconsistency, but it wouldn’t be very persuasive. 


In the Financial Times, Crook also makes some further important points about the need to moderate the GOP

Meetings such as this are not campaign events aimed at voters at large. They are gatherings of activists, intent on maximum fervour. Even so, to call the Obama administration “socialist” is risible. If anything, “secular” makes even less sense. Do Republicans regard universal health insurance as a godless undertaking? And since when, even in the US, was “secular” an allowable term of abuse? 

A moderate and intelligent opposition to the Democrats’ policies is badly needed. Apparently, nobody in the Republican party aims to provide it. Republican leaders seem intent on presenting the party’s angriest, most stupid and least tolerant face. Some leading Republicans who are moderate by temperament and conviction – John McCain, for instance – are being pushed to the right in primary election contests with more conservative opponents. Others, such as Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty, are disowning their previously expressed views or just keeping their heads down.

Clive, it became “allowable” when the Republican Party became the party of the religious right instead of a party of conservatives. But, thank you, the question keeps needing to be asked. 

AEI/Frum, ctd.

March 29, 2010 Leave a comment

David Frum responds to Murray and corrects Bartlett’s claim. 

1) Was the firing political? Obviously I cannot enter into people’s minds, and at my termination lunch AEI President Arthur Brooks insisted that politics had nothing to do with the decision. So let’s just follow the time line. Waterloo piece is posted Sunday March 22. Wall Street Journal editorial denouncing me appears March 23. Summons to lunch arrives mid-morning of March 23. At lunch I am told that AEI wishes to terminate my salary, office, benefits, and research assistance. I am however at liberty to continue to consider myself part of the AEI family. I declined that offer and wrote a letter of resignation

[…]

3) Did AEI muzzle healthcare scholars? I fear that in reproducing in print a private conversation from some months ago, Bruce Bartlett made a transmission error. I did not report as fact that scholars were laboring under any restrictions. What I did say was that AEI was punching way below its weight in the healthcare debate. I wondered, not alleged, wondered, whether AEI scholars were constrained by fear of saying something that might get them into trouble. To repeat: this was something I asked many months ago in private conversation, not something I allege today in public debate.

Bartlett makes a correction but stands behind his larger message.

With the benefit of hindsight I should have left the charge of muzzling out of my original post because it distracted people from the larger point I was making about the rigidity of thought at conservative think tanks and adherence to the Republican Party line, which I still believe to be the case. The fact that David was fired and the way he was fired is sufficient proof of that.

Murray Defends AEI

March 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Charles Murray on Frum’s departure

David resigned. He could have stayed. But I will tell what is common knowledge around AEI: David got a handsome salary but, for the last few years, has been invisible as a member of the institute. Being a scholar at a think tank (or any institution) is not just a matter of acknowledging your affiliation in your books and op-eds. It’s also a matter of blogging at the institute’s blog, not just your own blog (David had a grand total of 3 posts on AEI’s blog in the year since it began), reviewing colleagues’ drafts, reacting to their ideas, contributing chapters to their books, organizing scholarly events, participating on the institute’s panels, attending the institute’s conferences, helping out with fundraising, serving on in-house committees, giving in-house seminars, and mentoring junior staff. Different scholars are engaged in these activities to different degrees.  

As much as I respect David Frum, I actually hope Murray is right. Places like AEI are a necessary part of the fight against the unthinking wing of the conservative movement. Murray also thinks that Arthur Brooks responding to donor pressure is ridiculous. I don’t think that’s so crazy – but I’ll withhold my judgement on that unless some evidence can be marshaled to support it. 

The Purge Continues

March 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Two posts ago I wrote, “I’m not sure what it will take to regain a sane GOP.  More people like David Frum would help.”


Well looks like it is going to get worse before it gets better for the mainstream conservative movement. Frum was pushed out of the American Enterprise Institute:

I have been a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute since 2003. At lunch today, AEI President Arthur Brooks and I came to a termination of that relationship.

He’s criticized Rush, Palin, and the current Republican Party in order to improve it – unacceptable, I guess. Bruce Bartlett had a similar experience at the National Center for Policy Analysis. I don’t really understand what is driving the conservative movement to such extremes – anything Obama does is evil to them even if they supported it before he did. Bartlett reveals:

Since, he is no longer affiliated with AEI, I feel free to say publicly something he told me in private a few months ago. He asked if I had noticed any comments by AEI “scholars” on the subject of health care reform. I said no and he said that was because they had been ordered not to speak to the media because they agreed with too much of what Obama was trying to do.

The huge losses to the Republican Party that the Bush administration and the recessing economy caused may very well have given the GOP the wrong lesson. Almost all moderate Republicans lost their seats, leaving only the hard right wing in control. Doubling down and listening to Rove doesn’t seem rational. Frum probably had it right that the Republican Party needs to recognize that talk-radio and Fox News don’t have the GOP’s interests at heart – they want ratings. 

Anyone have any theories? My feeling is that a sluggish economy led to a growing populist movement which is fed by ratings hungry right-wing media along with the loss of the liberal and moderate Republicans in the legislature.  The most active potential Republican voters are also the most extreme so any politically minded politician has to crater to those sentiments. But do think-tanks like AEI really need to tailor their messages to this movement? They have no elections or ratings to worry about – aren’t they non-profit? Are their donors that swept up with the rest of the paranoid right? 

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