Saturday, May 27, 2006

Deconstructing a weapon of mass distraction: Immigration

Having spent some time reviewing the leaked conservative talking points on immigration reform put forward by Republican spinmeister Frank Luntz, one can only be awestruck by the right-wings’ ability to frame and manipulate an issue. “Respect for the Law & Economic Fairness: Illegal Immigration Prevention” is a brilliant piece of political propaganda. In twenty-five pages Luntz manages to hit upon a multitude of tried and true conservative frames. He starts with some classic “mom and apple pie” themes, such as Security, Law and Order, Personal Accountability and Respect for the Rule of Law. He then adds in some of the conservatives favorite “hidden” themes like racism, the economic victimization of average Americans by liberal policies, minority abuse of social services, minorities receiving “special privileges” or treatment, fear, and of course the new favorite; terrorism. In the end he manages to draw a clear line from Reagans “welfare queen”, through George Sr.’s “Willie Horton” right to Tom Tancredo’s “invading hordes” all without once having to stoop to ever having to say the words, or true meanings behind the inferences.

Contained in Luntz’s blueprint is a virtual laundry list of societal and economic woes he directs his conservative brethren to blame squarely on the influx of “illegal aliens” coming over border.

It comes as no epiphany that the whole “immigration crisis” is for the most part a fabrication of the right intended to distract the American electorate from their growing disenchantment with Republican and conservative policy. Luntz’s polling shows that thus far the campaign has been quite effective in misdirecting the American people’s wrath. According to Luntz, "While a majority of Americans believe it is the economic consequences of illegal immigration that is doing the most damage, it’s the “principle of prevention” that the public sees as the most important solution." But if we look at exactly what the "economic consequences of illegal immigration" are, we see a series of failures of conservative policy.

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Herein, might lay the Achilles’ heel in the conservative armor. Almost without fail every problem they wish to put at the feet of “illegal aliens” is in fact a result of failed conservative policy for the past thirty years. Job loss, deficits, a failed healthcare system, failing schools, failed social safety net, inequitable tax system, the downward economic spiral of working and middle-class Americans, lack of regulation of business, lack of security, and the increased competition for ever decreasing economic resources by those at the lower end of the economic scale, can all be seen as the direct results of conservative policies.

Perhaps to counter Luntz’s strategy we need to reexamine how we have been dealing with this issue so far. Up to now we have done pretty much what we always do when the conservatives lie and misdirect the American people: we try to educate them. When Tancredo says “illegal aliens, don’t pay taxes and collect welfare”, we counter back with statistics, and studies to demonstrate the opposite. We explain that undocumented immigrants don’t qualify for most government assistance, and in fact there is no “welfare" anymore. We rely on facts … we remain card carrying members of the reality based world. We firmly believe that we will eventually break through and the American people will see the truth. But that strategy has failed us for thirty years.

Perhaps it’s time for a little Sun Tsu thinking.

When we try to argue the merits of comprehensive reform or the impracticality or inhumanity of the conservatives immigration plan, we are not attacking their weakness, but rather the shield they are using to deflect the discontent caused by their own failed policies. We need to stop attacking the shield and instead focus on their true weakness. The root causes of the peoples dissatisfaction. That is the weapon for which they have no defense.

When Lutnz says:

“I think it’s important when we discuss illegal immigration to do so not out of anger but out of compassion. Out of compassion for people who came here legally, out of compassion for American citizens who’ve been here for generations and watch as their kids have to suffer through overcrowded schools, as they have to deal with overcrowded hospitals, as they have to face overcrowded streets and highways.

I do have compassion for illegal immigrants, but if I have to choose, I’m going to choose American citizens first, and we need to hold the system and the government accountable if they cannot get control of the borders.”


Economic revitalization starts with immigration reform.
“Our huge deficits are driven in part by the increased costs of social services for illegal immigrants who don’t pay their fair share. In fact, nearly 60% of those polled believe that illegal immigrants “use more in services than they pay in taxes so they are partially responsible for the deficit.” Fix the immigration problem and we begin to fix the economy. Fix the immigration problem and we reduce the cost of government. Fix the immigration problem and taxpayers get the break they deserve.”

We need to deconstruct Luntz’s assertions and attack their root causes.

For example when he blames undocumented children for overcrowded classrooms, we need to turn the argument around. We should be replying:

Every parent and educator in America knows our education system is failing. In some states and cities undocumented children do put some added stress on that failing system. Yet, they only represent slightly over three percent of the school-aged population in this nation, but overcrowding, and a lack of resources due to government under funding can be seen throughout the country. Conservatives have continually cut funds for education in the name of fiscal responsibility, while they run up record deficits. They have shifted the burden down to the municipalities increasing local taxes. They have mandated costly federal programs, yet fail to fund them. Our schools are indeed suffering, but not because 3 out of 100 little children are undocumented, but rather because conservatives have abandoned our education system

When Luntz speaks of overcrowded hospitals and emergency rooms, we should use the same model. We should be replying:

All Americans know our health system is in shambles. Skyrocketing costs, the price of prescription drugs, and a growing number of uninsured only demonstrate this fact. Undocumented immigrants do add to the problem but they are not the root of it. There are over 45 million Americans who lack any health insurance. These Americans are forced to rely on emergency rooms as their primary health care providers, often only going when easily treated conditions have become serious and expensively treated ones. Skyrocketing insurance costs have driven down real wages for American workers and have forced businesses small and large to lay off workers and in some cases close. Conservatives have ignored our healthcare system for years, instead choosing to work hand in hand with big drug companies and healthcare providers, giving them sweetheart deals and tax breaks at the expense of average working Americans. Our healthcare system is broken, but not because undocumented immigrants join millions of uninsured Americans in our overcrowded emergency rooms, but because conservatives have chosen to side with big business over average Americans.

As to Luntz's assertion that “Our huge deficits are driven in part by the increased costs of social services for illegal immigrants who don’t pay their fair share … Fix the immigration problem and we begin to fix the economy. Fix the immigration problem and we reduce the cost of government. Fix the immigration problem and taxpayers get the break they deserve.”

This one is almost laughable … in fact if confronted with it, any Democratic or progressive spokesperson should do just that….laugh. The reply is easy:

Conservatives over the past six years have taken a $230 billion dollar surplus and turned it into well over an 8 TRILLION dollar deficit, mostly underwritten by hostile foreign nations. To try to shift the blame for such gross mismanagement of our nation's economic future on undocumented immigrants who make up only 4% of our population is ridiculous. They would have had to EACH use BILLIONS of dollars of public services to even make the SLIGHTEST meaningful contribution to such a large debt. Conservatives have created the largest, costliest, and most inefficient government in all of history. This cannot be blamed on 12 million, hardworking, people looking to make a better life, but rather on the failed policies and mismanagement of our conservative leaders.

The rest of Luntz's talking points should be treated in the same manner:

On "Security" we should reply: The "border" extends well beyond the area between San Diego and El Paso, it stretches all along thousand of miles of coastline from Maine to Florida, from Washington state to Baja California, across the north with Canada and Great Lakes and includes our seaports and airports. None of these areas have been secured by conservative leaders. 2.5 billion tons of uncheck cargo enter our nation yearly both by sea and air. When given the opportunity they chose to turn over our port security to foreign companies. Our conservative leadership now chooses to concentrate all efforts and resources on preventing undocumented immigrants from crossing our southern border at the cost of true security. Security is important, but conservatives have not focused on it for the five years since 9-11, and now want to concentrate on migrants crossing a deadly desert looking for work rather than terrorists who fly here first class to attack our country.

On "Rule of Law" we should reply to quote Luntz: “Those who flaunt the rule of law should be held accountable." Accountability applies to all Americans not just immigrants who cross the border illegally. Our Conservative leadership has recently shown a flagrant disregard for the Rule of Law. From Corporate boardrooms where CEO's steal millions from hardworking Americans while working hand in hand with conservative politicians, to Washington where a culture of corruption prevails, we have seen in the last six years of conservative leadership complete lawlessness and a lack of accountability. The American people want everyone to have respect for the rule of law. This goes for the migrant worker who sneaks across the border to pick fruit all the way up to the highest leadership in the halls of power.

While I'm no evil political genius like Luntz or Rove, I do believe there is method to defeat their spin. I think the key to dealing with Republican talking points is:

• Continually use their own words against them.

• Always turn the issue into one about their failures

• Republican ALWAYS equals "conservative"

• Conservative ALWAYS equals failure

• Play by their rules, not ours. Don't try to educate

• Facts are good, emotion is better.

• Don't let them scapegoat, it's always about them … not their victim

I think if we followed these simple rules we might just be able to take some of the steam out of the great right wing noise machine.

1 comment:


Supposedly, they will begin detaining people on the basis of their appearance. Ridiculous.