In a recent New York Magazine article, David Frum, a former George H.W. Bush speech writer, wrote, “The reality is, however, that the big winners in the American fiscal system are the rich, the old, the rural, and veterans — typically conservative constituencies.” He was pointing out the irony that these Conservatives, associated with a belief in small government, actually benefit from big government most. They are big winners because of the government largesse they receive – be it tax breaks, Medicare, farm subsidies, or veterans benefits.
In a Republican Party debate on November 22, 2011, Newt Gingrich startled America by voicing pro-immigrant sentiments at a debate. He said, “If you’ve been here 25 years and you have got three kids and two grandkids, you’ve been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don’t think we’re going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out.”
Pundits immediately began debating just to what degree Newt Gingrich committed political suicide by saying this, with the popular wisdom being that Republicans hate illegal immigrants and are wary of legal immigrants while Democrats accept them and even welcome them, and he shot himself in the foot, if not the heart. In the weeks since, his poll numbers surged. It is possible, Newt made an astute political observation. His embrace of immigrants actually was not simply a matter of principle (morality), not necessarily Newt’s strong suit, but rather pandering to his base – the rich, the old, the rural, and veterans.
Capitalists, the owners of capital, i.e., the means of production, and the richest amongst us, benefit from cheap labor. Immigrants provide this. High-tech capitalists benefit from technically skilled labor, and cheap is good too, so foreign engineers and scientists provide great benefit to high-tech businessmen and those that invest in high-tech businesses. Thus, the rich benefit disproportionately from immigration.
Go to a nursing home and see who is washing Mom or Grandmom. Go to a hospital and see who is emptying Dad’s or Grandad’s bedpan – or nursing and doctoring them. Go to the park and see who is wheeling around the elderly. The elderly are benefitting disproportionately from immigration.
The rural folk
The rural economy is agriculture. Look who picks the crops. Look who serves as doctors. Look who runs the rural grocery. The rural economy benefits disproportionately from immigration.
Look at who is fighting our wars. The romantic view is that the armed forces are composed of white Middle American high school ace pitchers who enlist after graduation with the blessing of their moms and dads. While I am sure that happens, this is not who makes up our armed forces, which are made up of many rural and inner city poor and immigrant people looking for a way up and out. The diverse platoon like in the “Naked and the Dead” is more diverse than ever, as discussed here and here. With this composition of the force, the military benefits from immigration.
While the activists and ideologues who vote in Republican primaries may have strong negative views about immigration, the Republican constituencies that are the big winners may not. It is instructive to recall that President Reagan signed IRCA, arguably the most “pro-immigrant” legislation in modern times, while President Clinton signed IIRIRA, arguably the most “anti-immigrant.” Published December 10, 2011.