PHOENIX -- The demographic death spiral of the conservative movement has a laugh track. It was recorded live in Barry Goldwater's hometown on Saturday night, in front of a 1,000-person ballroom audience, during a banquet roast of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the gala conclusion to the annual Western Conservative Conference, known until last year as Western CPAC.
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne laid down the basic comic framework for his fellow roasters, totaling a dozen conservative dignitaries of local and national reputation. "Apologies to the Civic Center," said Horne, "but half of the kitchen staff was arrested tonight upon arrival of Joe and his deputies. Because of a budget crunch, the sheriff's cutting way back. No more green baloney for prisoners -- just an extra beating at suppertime. Over the years, Joe's touched many people. We know because many are now pressing charges."
Chuckling throughout Horne's routine on stage next to Arpaio was Russell Pearce, a recalled state senator with a documented fondness for neo-Nazi websites, and the primary architect of Arizona's controversial immigration bill S.B. 1070. Pearce smiled as his one-time ally in the 1070 fight, Arizona State Rep. John Kavanagh, began his set asking, "How many Hispanics did you pull over on the way over here, Arpaio?" He later added, "All these years I figured he was rounding up Hispanics because you had a grudge from [fighting in] the Spanish-American War. But if you were in the Korean War, how come you're not rounding up Asians?" Kavanagh was doing a bit about the difficulties of dining out with Arpaio -- "When we go into a restaurant, most of the wait staff and cooks dive out the back window" -- when he spotted a passing waiter who appeared to be Hispanic holding a platter of stuffed chickens, and screamed, "There's a brave one! Get him! Sic 'em!"
The crowd roared; the waiter turned red. Thus did a day of strategy sessions on how to reclaim the White House and build a new conservative majority end with national movement leaders affectionately teasing a divisive deport-'em-all drug-war dinosaur, whose roast material revolved entirely around the three facts of his being old, sadistic, and having a bit of a brown-person problem. The Tea Party's loud rejection of immigration reform shows it has also refused the message of electoral emergency delivered by Barack Obama's 2012 victory map. But if anyone needed another reminder, they now have the image of Joe Arpaio receiving a "Medal of Freedom" award in recognition of his rough detainment and deportation techniques, and a taste for racial profiling so aggressive it has resulted in a federally appointed monitor in Maricopa County.
The man behind the Western Conservative Conference, Floyd Brown, has never been very good at helping the GOP build bridges. In 1988, he created the infamous "Willie Horton" ad that has dogged his party's outreach efforts ever since. But Brown's interests and achievements are more diverse than scorched-earth political advertising. He has been a Zelig-like presence on the right for the better part of three decades, zig-zagging his way through and connecting the worlds of conservative organizing, publishing, opposition research, campaigning, fundraising, marketing, and predatory investment advice.
A co-founder of Citizens United, Brown now runs a marketing company, Excellentia Inc., helping clients "achieve success in the conservative and Christian marketplace." He works as a traveling speaker for groups like the Oxford Group claiming to offer "insider" stock tips and advice. He also pushes gold coins and municipal bonds, sometimes in mutual exclusion of the other, depending on his audience.
All of which makes Brown a perfect impresario for today's conservative grassroots activist circuit, where organizing and politics can seem incidental to the interests of an interlocking constellation of thinly veiled data mining, fundraising, and precious metals operations. This was sometimes the case in Phoenix, where an older, nearly all-white group of activist-attendees from Western states paid $399 to train under the tutelage of organizers from Heritage Action and the Leadership Institute, as well as hear national figures pitch gold coins and radio shows. The bold-face names who appeared live or by video included Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. Rick Perry, and embattled National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent, who was welcomed despite being under fire for racist attacks on President Obama.
Fox News distorted comments by Democratic congressional candidate Alex Sink about the need for immigration reform, completely misinterpreting the meaning of her remarks to cast them as outrageous and beyond the pale. In fact, as the Miami Herald noted, Republican lawmakers have made similar comments in the past without the hint of the conservative outrage Sink's comments have received. Moreover, the comments broadcast by Fox were not Sink's full remarks on the topic.
During a candidate forum in Florida hosted by the Chamber of Commerce, Sink addressed the need for immigration reform by stressing the fact that coastal communities rely heavily on immigrant labor and that without reform, employers are put "in a position of hiring undocumented and illegal workers":
SINK: Immigration reform is important in our country. It's one of the main agenda items of the beaches' Chamber Of Commerce for obvious reasons. Because we have a lot of employers over on the beaches that rely upon workers, and especially in this high-growth environment, where are you going to get people to work to clean our hotel rooms or do our landscaping? And we don't need to put those employers in a position of hiring undocumented and illegal workers.
Discussing those comments on Fox & Friends, guest host Clayton Morris twisted the meaning of those words, claiming what Sink really said was "we need immigration reform so we can have illegal immigrants doing landscaping and cleaning hotels." Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck added: "Because what would we do without that, she's saying." Morris continued: "How would our hotels be cleaned?"
Co-host Brian Kilmeade also stated: "She was winning by 2 points prior to those remarks. I don't know if this is going to send her numbers south."
In fact, Sink was making the opposite point: We need immigration reform so that employers, particularly those in high-growth areas like coastal communities, don't resort to hiring unauthorized labor. For a network that has been stridently opposed to immigration reform because of the impact such labor has on the workforce, Sink's comments should have been greeted favorably.
Fox News baselessly stoked fears that undocumented immigrants would be able to vote if they received identification cards in New York City.
Mayor Bill de Blasio gave his first State of the City address on February 10, in which he announced a plan to offer identification cards to all residents, regardless of their immigration status.
On the February 12 edition of Fox's The Real Story, host Gretchen Carlson reported on de Blasio's announcement and falsely suggested that the plan is intended to permit undocumented immigrants to vote. She asked guest Emily Tisch Sussman:
CARLSON: So, Emily, am I to assume that the reason that de Blasio would want this is so that people can move on to vote? I mean, I don't really understand -- what do you think his whole effort is in this?
SUSSMAN: We do really see that having these either ID cards or driver's licenses for the undocumented, does actually promote public safety. You know, those who are involved in fatal car crashes, one in five have not gone through the proper training of a driver's license, it would bring them into that kind of system. It would have more economic security for those. It would have better trust with the police -- it really does bring them in in a number of ways.
From the February 11 edition of Courtside Entertainment Group's The Laura Ingraham Show:
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Two Fox anchors are not buying the latest Republican argument against passing immigration reform, further defining a Republican Party civil war over the issue that is pitting Fox News personalities against one another.
Following House Speaker John Boehner's comments that "the main obstacle for moving forward" on immigration reform "is a lack of trust in President Obama," a number of Fox News commentators used the opportunity to validate that Republican talking point and continue conservative opposition to immigration reform.
Fox News' Bill Hemmer seized on Boehner's argument to push the false claim that Obama's historically low number of executive orders constitutes a "presidential record" high. Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer agreed that "the Republicans are absolutely right" to delay on immigration and "to say that if you cannot trust the president to carry out the law faithfully ... how do you expect him to carry out faithfully a law in which he's gonna have to compromise on enforcement?"
Fox News co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle also agreed, asking on The Five: "Why am I going to go ahead and reward you if I'm the American people or the senators, anybody else, and say, 'Go ahead and do immigration'?" She added: "I, quite frankly, haven't been shown that you've been able to do a good job on any of these other things that preceded. You haven't fixed Obamacare. More jobs are going to be lost. So why are we going to just shove through immigration quickly, without support, and then have another big mess for the American people?"
By contrast, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace and Fox News host Bill O'Reilly dismissed the Republican talking point as flawed.
On Fox News Sunday, Wallace stated: "I think it's fair to say that President Obama's trustworthiness, or lack of same, didn't really change dramatically in the last week. I mean, isn't the real issue here that Republicans in the House and in the Senate are deeply divided on immigration reform and they didn't want to expose that division in the middle of an election year?"
From the February 9 edition of Fox Broadcasting's Fox News Sunday:
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Fox News is attacking the Obama administration's new rules regarding asylum for refugees by portraying the move as an "open door policy" and an invitation for terrorism. In reality, refugees still have to pass "lengthy" background checks, and the government states it will only accept "individuals whom the United States does not consider threats."
On February 5, the Obama administration announced new immigration rules concerning political or war zone refugees. The changes were prompted by restrictive rules that have prevented nearly all asylum-seeking Syrians from entering the United States. Reuters reported that the changes will grant exemptions "on a case by case basis," for those seeking political asylum that do not pose a national security or public safety risk. The New York Times explained that "the exemptions apply if the refugees provided only minor material support, such as meals or medical aid, to armed groups that have not been officially designated as terrorist organizations, or if they gave such support under pressure."
Echoing Republican lawmakers, Fox has misleadingly portrayed these exemptions as an "open door policy" for refugees and misrepresented the definition of refugees with "limited terror connections" to spread unwarranted fears of increased terror attacks due to these new policies.
On February 7, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy interviewed Jessica Vaughn, director of policy studies at the nativist and anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies. Vaughn hyped fears that these exemptions could be given "to all applicants for any kind of visa or green card who have been identified as possibly supporting terrorism," while Doocy suggested that these exemptions could apply to someone who "was simply Bin Laden's au pair."
On February 8, Fox & Friends Saturday hosted Michael Cutler, who has an extensive history of association with anti-immigrant and nativist groups. Cutler is also a regular contributor to the white nationalist Social Contract Journal. During his Fox appearance, Cutler heavily criticized the exemptions and argued that "we must never allow compassion to compromise national security," while Fox News co-host Tucker Carlson suggested that these exemptions were made by the Obama administration to gain new voters.
But these exemptions are not an "open door policy" for potential terrorists. As Reuters reported, the "advocacy group Human Rights First said, for example, that the existing law had been invoked to bar a refugee who had been robbed of $4 and his lunch by armed rebels, and a florist who had sold bouquets to a group the United States had designated as a terrorist organization." Such standards have already barred thousands of people from refugee status.
The new rules still require refugees to pass eligibility requirement. The New York Times reported that "refugees have to pass through the lengthy existing series of criminal and national security background checks, lawyers said, and the exemptions do not come into play until the refugees have already passed all the other eligibility hurdles."
A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson told the Times that "these exemptions are for individuals whom the United States does not consider threats ... Nothing in these exemptions changes the rigorous, multilayered security screening we do."
Right-wing radio has been urging Speaker of the House John Boehner to back away from the immigration reform guidelines he had outlined last month -- this week he cowed to their demands, prompting The Wall Street Journal to highlight his fear of a talk-radio backlash.
Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham launched an ignorant smear against Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor, suggesting that she has to choose between her "immigrant family background" or the Constitution.
Ingraham's smear is both rooted in the premise that immigrants are separate from mainstream American culture and is completely off the mark given the fact that Sotomayor is an American citizen and the daughter of American citizens.
In a February 3 speech before Yale Law students, Sotomayor commented on the fact that she was the first Supreme Court Justice to use the term "undocumented immigrant," instead of "illegal alien," saying "[t]o call them illegal aliens seemed and does seem insulting to me."
Ingraham highlighted Sotomayor's comment on her radio show the following day. Ingraham suggested that using the term "undocumented immigrant" demonstrated a failure of Sotomayor's duty "to defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America." According to Ingraham, the word choice shows that Sotomayor's "allegiance obviously goes to her immigrant family background and not to the Constitution of the United States."
Sotomayor is a Puerto Rican American who is both an American citizen and the daughter of American citizens. Puerto Ricans have had U.S. citizenship since President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones-Shafroth Act in 1917. Ingraham's claim that Sotomayor's heritage somehow conflicts with her mission to uphold the Constitution is both baseless and nonsensical.
From the January 31 edition of Courtside Entertainment Group's The Laura Ingraham Show:
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Now that the Republican Party has settled on a set of principles to guide its action on immigration reform, media outlets have turned to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) as a credible source on immigration reform, validating his arguments that reform will slow U.S. economic recovery and further depress Americans' wages. These talking points, however, have been repeatedly discredited as experts agree that immigration reform would have a positive impact on the economy and Americans' wages.
As The Washington Post reported, Republican leaders released a list of "principles" on immigration reform, declaring that "there would be 'no special path' to citizenship for illegal immigrants, but that, in general, they should be allowed to 'live legally and without fear' in the United States if they meet a list of tough requirements and rules." The statement concluded that "none of this can happen before specific enforcement triggers have been implemented to fulfill our promise to the American people that from here on, our immigration laws will indeed be enforced."
In reporting on the debate, media are validating Sessions' bogus economic arguments against reform. Discussing the issue on Fox News, for example, contributor Tucker Carlson highlighted Sessions' arguments, saying that Sessions is "no liberal and is not either some kind of fiery demagogue populist" and that "he's making an intellectual case against more immigration in a down economy."
CBS News similarly highlighted an "analysis" by Sessions, reporting that it "said increasing the number of immigrants would hurt an already weak economy, lower wages and increase unemployment. He cited White House adviser Gene Sperling's comment earlier this month that the economy has three people looking for every job opening." The article continued:
He said the House Republican leaders' plan that's taking shape would grant work permits almost immediately to those here illegally, giving them a chance to compete with unemployed Americans for any job. He said it would lead to a surge in the future flow of unskilled workers and would provide amnesty to a larger number of immigrants in the country illegally, giving them a chance to apply for citizenship through green cards.
Politico also quoted Sessions' criticism that the GOP proposal "provides the initial grant of amnesty before enforcement; it would surge the already unprecedented level of legal lesser-skilled immigration to the U.S. that is reducing wages and increasing unemployment; and it would offer eventual citizenship to a large number of illegal immigrants and visa overstays."
In fact, Sessions' arguments are actually repackaged talking points from anti-immigrant groups and, as the libertarian Cato Institute noted, "are based on misinterpretations of government reports, cherry-picked findings by organizations that engage in statistical chicanery, or just flat-out incorrect." Cato, which released a point-by-point rebuttal of many of Sessions' claims, added that his assertions "do not advance a logical argument against immigration."
Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham revived the nativist myth that "fanatic" supporters of immigration reform, which she identified as the National Council of La Raza, are motivated by "Reconquista" -- a movement that believes Mexico has a right to reclaim land it lost in the southwestern United States. She played on those fears, that immigrants will overrun the United States, to support her contention that English "is in decline" and is "actually a sign of jingoism."
On her radio show, after a caller stated that immigrants "have learned to game the system" and that there are parts of Colorado she cannot go into because she doesn't speak Spanish, Ingraham replied:
INGRAHAM: No, your language is gone. Your language -- in fact, your language is not only in decline, the English language, Chris, it's actually a sign of jingoism. Because remember the La Raza is all about -- the movement underneath La Raza, which defines the race - right, translates as "The Race" -- is: This is our land. You took our land. We're coming to take it back.
That's what the fanatics really think. That's not what Paul Ryan thinks, but that's what those people think. And Nancy Pelosi and La Raza are licking their chops about this immigration reform.
Conservative media figures have repeatedly attacked the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) to discredit the immigration reform movement and have tried to smear the group as racially motivated. NCLR, which has been lauded as "one of the nation's most respected Latino organizations," previously refuted several of the most inaccurate claims, including the fact that translating "La Raza" to mean "the race" is "factually incorrect."
Republican strategists admitted to BuzzFeed that a "loud minority" of voices that includes conservative media have helped hinder congressional action on immigration reform. Strategists and lawmakers maintain that this "small cadre of Republicans in the House, talk radio hosts and activists," use the "perceived threat of xenophobia" to drive opposition to reform and make House Republicans leery of the issue.
Indeed, right-wing media figures have repeatedly used racially tinged language to stoke fears of immigrants and force lawmakers to obstruct immigration reform. In fact, the front page of the Drudge Report this morning provides the perfect example:
Drudge linked to a column by conservative pundit Ann Coulter, a frequent guest on Fox News, who wrote that the Republicans' planned push for immigration reform will "wreck the country" and "solves" only "the rich's 'servant problem.' "
Another example is Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham, who on her radio show today played on nativist fears of immigrants to raise opposition to immigration reform.
In a January 29 article, BuzzFeed reported:
[A]lthough there are a variety of reasons for inaction, one Republican lawmaker recently offered a frank acknowledgement for many members, there's one issue at play not often discussed: race.
"Part of it, I think -- and I hate to say this, because these are my people -- but I hate to say it, but it's racial," said the Southern Republican lawmaker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "If you go to town halls people say things like, 'These people have different cultural customs than we do.' And that's code for race."
There are a range of policy reasons for opposing plans to liberalize immigration or to regularize undocumented immigrants in the country, ones revolving around law-and-order concerns and the labor market. But that perceived thread of xenophobia, occasionally expressed bluntly on the fringes of the Republican Party and on the talk radio airwaves, has driven many Hispanic voters away from a Republican leadership that courts them avidly. And some Republicans who back an immigration overhaul, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and one of the Republican Party's most vocal champions of a pathway to citizenship, acknowledge that race remains a reality in the immigration debate.
BuzzFeed went on to report: "Talk radio, particularly regional and small-market talkers, have also kept up the pressure, Republicans said, explaining that the airwaves back home are constantly filled with talk of 'amnesty' that makes backing new laws difficult." The article quoted Republican strategist Brian Walsh saying that Republicans are " 'listening to a loud minority ... [but] those who oppose this haven't been challenged to say, 'What's their plan?'"
Following an announcement that House Republican leaders will unveil a set of "principles" for guiding debate on immigration reform, conservative media urged Republicans to reject these and any attempts to pass immigration reform legislation this year. This is the latest in a series of conservative media attacks against the immigration reform effort that began in 2013.
CNN cast President Obama and the Democrats' continued push to pass comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship as a false choice between bipartisan compromise or playing politics, arguing that if Obama rejected a Republican deal that included only legal status for undocumented immigrants, he would be risking his legacy over politics.
In his State of the Union address, Obama urged Congress to "fix our broken immigration system," saying:
OBAMA: Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted, and I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same. Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades. And for good reason: When people come here to fulfill their dreams -- to study, invent, contribute to our culture -- they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everybody. So let's get immigration reform done this year. Let's get it done. It's time.
During CNN's post-SOTU coverage, chief national correspondent John King stated that to get immigration reform passed this year, Obama "likely would have to accept something from the House, the Republican House, short of what he wants. The president has said, 'I won't sign it unless it gives a path to citizenship.'" King continued:
KING: What if the House does legal status and sends it to the president? And then [House Democratic Leader] Nancy Pelosi and [Senate Democratic Leader] Harry Reid come to him saying, "veto it, we want the issue to attract Latino voters in the campaign." Does the president look at his legacy and say, "I'll take it, that's 80 percent, and then we'll fight for more," or does he take the politics?
New York Times correspondent Jonathan Martin added that "the question comes down to President Obama and also some of the Hispanic advocacy groups: Are they going to cast a path to legal status but not citizenship as something between either a half a loaf as John put it or is it a poison pill?"
KING: In Ronald Reagan days, 80 percent was a pretty good deal. If the president can get a guest-worker program, can get the high-tech visas, can get some of the other things that he wanted that are not related to the big issue that derails this every time, which is citizenship or status or nothing, if he could get status, does he sign that for his legacy, or do the Democrats say, Mr. President, don't give that to Republicans?
However, defining support for a pathway to citizenship as political gamesmanship is faulty for several reasons: