“Mr. President. Jack. This might be the stupidest idea you have ever come up with.”
“Bobby, we’re going to do this.”
“Jack, it’ll be political suicide. Tell him Kenny.”
“Mr. President, I agree with the Attorney General. This initiative would be dead on arrival and would fatally damage us in 1964.”
“I hear you, but I think both of you are wrong. Reforming immigration law would not only pass, but it would cement the party’s prospects for a generation.”
Simultaneously, the Attorney General and special assistant raised their eyebrows, looked at each other, and shook their heads.
“Jack, only out of morbid curiosity, how are coming to this conclusion?”
“It came to me after reading last year’s Census report. Between 1958 and 1962, the white voting age population increased by 4 million. The non-white voting age population only increased by 900,000. The support within white America for civil rights is tentative and neither the party nor civil rights will never be secure without a larger coalition. I may be the ‘torch-bearer for a new generation’ and I have a healthy ego, but I know I’m no FDR or Eisenhower. I don’t have a Great Depression to overcome or a historic continental invasion to lead, so I’m not going to get 56, 57, or 58 percent of the vote. Especially, if I’m insisting on civil rights legislation.”
Bobby and Kenny glanced at each other briefly. The president rose and turned his back to stand next to the window and take in the crisp autumn sun. The floor had his attention momentarily.
“I’m not ever going to win a landslide like them. I mean we barely eked out a win in 1960. And no Democrat will again if civil rights define us.”
His gaze rose and out the window.
“Without an FDR or an Eisenhower, the voters are divided, period. Two Eisenhower landslides took the West from us and, while the electoral map may look like we won back in 1948, if we uphold our civil rights commitment, then the Dixiecrats will bolt again, this time for good. The South will go Republican for the next 25 years.”
Source: The American Presidency Project
Bobby opened his mouth to speak, but the President continued.
“And I say good! Go! Solid South…,” the president practically spat the words out. “...it’s solid alright -- like an anchor! We can’t get elected without them and we can’t move on civil rights with them! The vaunted “Party of Lincoln” doesn’t have this worry and without that phone call to King’s family, who knows if we would have even won without his father’s famous “suitcase full of votes.” We go ahead with the civil rights bill and the Dixiecrats will bolt. It’s as simple as that.”
Kenny cleared his throat. “And how would immigration reform help us, Mr. President?”
“Unrestricted immigration. We broaden the civil rights struggle -- if we’re going to end discrimination at home, we’ll do it vis-a-vis immigrants as well. No discrimination on the basis of national origins. Incoming immigrants will become part of the Democratic coalition like they always have.”
“Historical migration, even when unrestricted like before ‘24, won’t be enough.” Kenny commented.
“Liberal whites plus registered blacks plus new naturalized voters will be enough…”
“We'll never make them up in time.” Bobby commented.
The president took his chair and continued.
“Look. Goldwater's going to run in 1964. He's going to bid for the South to join him and his Westerners. He'll say it's conservative and small government, that it's states rights, but it'll just be code to resist integration and civil rights. Goldwater is principled and I love him and he’ll win the South, but he's also tactless. I’m half-inclined to keep my promise to fly him around with me as long as keeps opening his mouth. He’ll only antagonize moderates, which we will scoop up. Look at Nevada. We had it in 48 and we won it back. We’re competitive and we won’t even need the whole West. Oregon and Washington are not like Arizona. And California, with new migration, will trend our way. We won it in 48 and we'll win it 64. If we play this right, we can succeed on civil rights and keep re-electing Democrats--”
Bobby again began to speak, but again, the President continued. “--in the long run. Yes, we’ll lose from time, but civil rights shouldn’t necessarily cost us a majority either. If we play our cards right...”
The Attorney General leaned forward in his chair. “So let me get this straight. We can barely make headway on civil rights, the South is teetering on the precipice of a race war, and you… you want to bring in more minorities? There’d be race riots across the country! We wouldn't even get re-elected in Boston! They’d burn us in effigy in Southie! They’d--”
The president spun around and leaned over his desk, cocking his head at Bobby.
“Jeezus, Bobby! And here I thought you were the cynical one. Backlash works both ways, Bobby! Even if they wanted to go slow on civil rights, no whites are going to stick their necks out for church bombers. These good ol’ boys are antagonizing everyone -- they’re going to marginalize themselves. And, you -- you who can barely tolerate LBJ -- would prefer to continue having to rely on Senators Russell and Eastland?
The Attorney General answered with silence.
“I don't want to campaign in nut country, do you? Would you rather campaign in Dallas or Los Angeles?”
“Are you ready to campaign in Spanish?” Kenny asked.
The president frowned at the remark. “We’re going ahead with this. And this’ll be a good one for Teddy to make his mark in the Senate.”
Kenny slumped in his chair; Bobby put a finger pensively on his mouth.
“If you want to fundamentally transform the country, this is the way to do it. If we can’t change the vote, we’ll change the voters.”
“We don’t even have good information on nationwide voting blocs by race or ethnicity -- Census doesn’t even track this stuff” Kenny commented.
“Why do you think I appointed an elections expert as director over at Census?”
Fiction and Fictitious Assurances
Obviously, the preceding is complete fiction.
As well chronicled by American journalist Margaret Sands Orchowski in her 2015 book, The Law that Changed the Face of America: The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the general impetus to change American immigration laws arose from the sentiment to atone for and eradicate the discrimination that fueled the Holocaust and the desire to achieve civil rights. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson were integral, but Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Representative Emanuel Celler were the prime movers. Celler, in particular, had been a tireless advocate of immigrants and displaced persons since the 1920s. Lastly, as Orchowski notes, fortuitous legislative circumstances never hurt; Celler succeeded in arranging for immigration to come under his committee’s jurisdictions subsequent to a 1947 reorganization; when Presidents Kennedy and Johnson signaled their support, Celler succeeded in shepherding the legislation through in less than two months.
Nevertheless, Orchowski notes, as many scholars have, how wrong President Johnson and Senator Kennedy were wrong about the likely consequences of the act. In the annals of mistaken assurances, Johnson’s and Kennedy’s were indeed notable:
- Senator Kennedy at the bill’s hearing, 02/10/65: "The bill will not flood our cities with immigrants. It will not upset the ethnic mix of our society. It will not relax the standards of admission. It will not cause American workers to lose their jobs."
- President Johnson at the bill’s signing, 10/03/65: "This bill we sign today is not a revolutionary bill. It does not affect the lives of millions. It will not restructure the shape of our daily lives."
Even after the Census Bureau repeatedly underestimated the influx of immigrants, Senator Kennedy never recanted his statements or acknowledged he was wrong. (Johnson died in January 1973.)
Either Senator Kennedy and others ignored the evidence or readily recognized the attendant electoral opportunities, either accidental or purposeful.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau 07/01/2002 working paper "Accuracy of the U.S. Census Bureau National Population Projections and Their Respective Components of Change"
(If liberals can accuse militaristic Republican cabals of plotting perpetual war, then surely conservatives can have some fun accusing opportunistic Democratic hacks of plotting to manufacture electoral majorities.)
Speculation aside, Orchowski’s title sums up the consequences tidily -- the 1965 Immigration Act did change the face of America.
Two Landslide Losers and Their Divergent Legacies
The Act’s passage was integral to transforming the demographic composition of America’s two major parties.
The Act is why Barry Goldwater’s candidacy begat Ronald Reagan’s presidency a mere 16 years later, but also why it took more than 35 years for George McGovern’s candidacy to beget Barack Obama’s presidency.
As has been abundantly documented, the Republican Party’s ascent in the South and among white voters began in 1964 with the Goldwater candidacy. Goldwater did succeed in aligning Southern conservatives with his Western conservatives and this coalition went on to Republican presidential landslides in 1972 and 1984 and congressional majorities in the 1990s and 2000s. The majorities, however, came at a cost of its onetime sizable black voting constituency and, more consequentially, its reputation as the Party of Lincoln.
Conversely, the Democratic Party’s ascent with non-white male voters accelerated in 1972 with the McGovern candidacy. McGovern succeeded in aligning white liberals, feminists, and non-white minorities, but the coalition was barely competitive, being on the losing end of the aforementioned 1972 and 1984 landslides (and then three more defeats in 1988, 2000, and 2004). The Democratic Party retained its forty-year congressional majority until 1994, but the presidential nomination remained a contest between moderates emphasizing centrist policies and electability, and liberals emphasizing its commitments to the narrow agendas of its various groups. Such commitments earned the party the enduring loyalty of the increasingly non-white portions of the population, but at the cost of parity with Republicans with regard to white voters.
More consequentially, the Democratic Party lost white voters because these commitments evolved into the pursuit of identity politics that undermined liberals’ credibility with voters intent on upholding the American Creed.
Inverting the American Creed
The American Creed refers to a summation posited by American scholar Samuel Huntington in his 2004 book examining America’s heritage, Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity. Huntington argued the American identity rested on the American Creed, which he defined as the “principles of liberty, equality, individualism, representative government, and private property.”
Huntington asserted the American Creed was the distinct legacy of country’s English Protestant settlers, but he did not present the concept as an ethnic-religious formulation to justify exclusion, discrimination, or prejudice.
But punitive liberals did.
Punitive liberalism, the McGovern variant of modern liberalism, inverted the American Creed, contending its aforementioned principles were merely the means for perpetuating an illegitimate white male monopoly on power.
As noted previously, after the assassination of President Kennedy and amid dissatisfaction with the the content and pacing of civil rights reform, white and black liberal elites concluded America was inherently hateful and racist and that only a stern “punitive” liberalism would redeem America.
In short order, the Democratic Party would shift from the sunny triumphalism of JFK to the dour defeatism of James Carter and would become the vehicle for an assortment of networked interest groups designed “to promote and take advantage of this sense of historical guilt.”
Meanwhile, the effects of the 1965 Immigration Act continued to unfold...
- In 1965, the foreign-born share of America's population was 9.6 million, approximately 4.8 percent of the total; by 2015, the share would be 45 million, about 13.9 percent.
- Between 1965 and 2015, new immigrants, their children and their grandchildren accounted for 55% of U.S. population growth.
- In all, immigrants added 72 million people to the nation’s population as it grew from 193 million in 1965 to 324 million in 2015.
- The nation’s racial and ethnic composition, by percent, without post-1965 immigration would have looked markedly different than with the corresponding immigration
With post-1965 immigration
Without post-1965 immigration
Less than 1
- Furthermore, as of 2014, the estimated number unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. was 11.3 million.
And Democratic political tacticians took notice...
In 1970, President Kennedy’s aforementioned election expert and Census Bureau Director Richard Scammon had gone on to write The Real Majority: An Extraordinary Examination of the American Electorate with American commentator Ben J. Wattenberg. Scammon and Wattenberg had reviewed the 1968 presidential election returns and found that the typical voter was "unyoung, unpoor and unblack." Given this demographic profile and the party’s increasingly punitive liberal posture, Scammon warned the Democratic Party would be risking its electoral fortunes if it persisted down this ideological path.
Fatefully, Scammon and Wattenberg titled one chapter “Demography is Destiny.”
In 2002, American journalist John Judis and American political scientist Ruy Teixeira wrote The Emerging Democratic Majority. Judis and Teixeira acknowledged Scammon and Wattenberg’s findings, but instead boldly predicted demographic trends would favor the Democratic Party, enthusiastically noting how their typical "unyoung, unpoor and unblack” voter was now in the minority. Between the shift to the modern economy, the feminist movement, and historical levels of immigration, the McGovernite coalition of liberal white-collar professionals, single women, and non-white minorities would soon constitute a Democratic presidential majority.
Presciently, Judis and Teixeira titled one chapter “George McGovern's Revenge."
In 2008, Barack Obama, the first black to be nominated by a major political party for president, succeeded in his historic run.
Obama was the heir to McGovern, had resurrected his coalition, and shared the punitive liberal conception of America -- the assignment of collective guilt, the assertion of structural inequities, and the requirement for paternalistic government. Obama’s prescription for governance was orthodox punitive liberalism -- the wealthy will pay redistributionist taxes, all citizens will be mandatorily enrolled in federal entitlement programs, and the party’s various interest groups would not be held accountable for shortcomings within their purview.
In the current Democratic Party nominating cycle, the contest to succeed the country’s first black president is between a woman whose campaign is predicated, in part, on becoming the country’s first elected female president, and a democratic socialist who asserts the country’s economy is rigged and the political system is corrupt.
The former is heavily favored and, as sure as the sun rises and sets, she has already been pressured to select -- and she probably will select -- the first ever Hispanic vice-presidential nominee. Of equal import, the Democratic Party has begun exploring how to grant the right to vote to illegal immigrants.
While punitive liberals would hail the ticket as a sign of progress, its occurrence would only confirm the country’s oldest political party is prepared to rotate its presidential nomination according to whichever purportedly aggrieved minority’s “turn” it is, akin to Lebanon or Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Redeeming the Creed
At this juncture, given demographically and ideologically polarized political parties, two questions arise. One, are the American Creed and American white voters inherently inimical to civil rights for blacks and other minorities? Two, and more concretely, can conservative ideas appeal to blacks and should blacks begin considering conservative ideas?
The response to the first question is no.
Modern conservatism’s original sin was to oppose progress on civil rights by choosing to conserve a narrow liberty (association) and tradition (segregation) within the American Creed that did not merit conserving.
In assigning sin, recalling the word's origins is instructive.
To sin is to miss the mark -- in some instances, the act may have fallen short, but the act was not without good intent or the opportunity for redemption.
In this vein, the Creed, as manifested in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution holds, as Martin Luther King Jr. declared, the promise of its own redemption.
And conservatism remains fundamentally a defense of the Creed.
Conversely, modern liberalism’s original sin was greater and unfortunately beyond redemption. Modern liberalism renounced the broader tenets of the American Creed at the very moment achieving progress on civil rights and preserving the country’s cohesion had demanded their defense.
In its espousal of multiculturalism, modern liberalism, as with all leftism, has essentially attempted to subordinate the reason, logic, and aspirations of the individual, in this case to the well-being of the ethnic collective. Moreover, multiculturalism precludes the need for new arrivals to assimilate, adopt, uphold, and defend the American Creed as their own. At its worst, multiculturalism, nominally an ideology of tolerance, all too often reverts to totalitarianism, denouncing any and all dissent in the purported defense of an ethnic collective arbitrarily defined by whomever stands at the helm.
Without respect for the reason, logic, and aspirations of the individual or the American Creed to provide the basis for assimilating immigrants, a consensus on the solutions to the public’s enduring challenges will never be achieved.
In particular, the continuing dysfunction within the black community.
Accordingly, the response to the second question is yes.
America broadly recovered from the tumult of the Sixties and Seventies, but the complementary goal of civil rights -- the political and economic advancement of blacks -- remains unattained. Even under the country’s first black president.
Liberals may blame conservative obstructionism, but the recent historical record shows blacks thrived under conservative ideas.
During President William Clinton’s second term between 1997 and 2001:
- the number of recipients of federal welfare programs would decline from 14 million to 5 million, the lowest level since 1961;
- the number in poverty, after increasing 7.4 million during Presidents Ronald Reagan’s and George H.W. Bush’s between 1981 and 1993, would decline by 6.4 million.
As cited in American journalist Joy-Ann Reid’s 2015 book, Fracture: Barack Obama, the Clintons, and the Racial Divide, American analyst David Bositis characterized the period as a “golden age [especially for black Americans].”
Notably, William Clinton won the Democratic nomination and presidency as one of the aforementioned moderates emphasizing centrist policies and electability in the wake of the party’s post-McGovern era. However, after an initial dalliance with punitive liberal ideas, the voters’ historic election of Republican congressional majorities prompted the admitted latter day Eisenhower Republican to declare the “era of big government [is] over” and proceed with “ending welfare as we know it.”
The results are noted above. Tellingly, the key differentiator as to why Clinton succeeded where Reagan had failed is because the latter only reduced welfare spending, whereas the former approved its end.
Americans can rightly take pride in electing a black to the presidency and, in part because of this milestone, blacks remain the most optimistic group.
However, if demographics are indeed destiny, the aforementioned rotation dynamic means blacks have had “their turn” in the presidency and, according because of aforementioned immigration rates and prevailing birth rates, they may never attain power again. (As noted above, without post-1965 immigration, blacks would have remained the largest minority group; with it, blacks are already a smaller proportion of the population than Hispanics.)
In the Balkanized Democratic Party, a declining proportion of the votes is a diminishing claim to power.
For their part, conservatives and their ideas, drawn from the American Creed, may, in time, recede.
Accordingly, the moment for reconciliation between conservatives and blacks is now.
Conservatives must recognize the American Creed will not endure without wider political support. Blacks must recognize their fate cannot be bound up in the fortunes of one political party.
Conservatives must recognize the blind spot arising from their ideology’s original sin, while blacks must forsake the ideological confines and economic impediments erected by liberalism’s espousal of the multicultural chimera.
If one of the country’s two political parties has turned its back on the American Creed and the other is destined for the minority (and national security alone isn’t reason enough to reconsider unrestricted immigration), then the American Republic will go the way of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a stagnant oligarchy teetering atop a powder keg of minorities eager for their moment of Sarajevo infamy.
If enough blacks choose to diversify their community’s votes and help to elect a genuine conservative, then America will have a second chance at becoming a normal country.
A change in the loyalty of black voters once heralded the onset of major political realignments.
Another one could again change America.