August 16, 2006

Why the American government wants to elect a new people

One of the more extraordinary documents relating to immigration is an essay for the Center for Immigration Studies by the unusual figure Fredo Arias-King, a Harvard MBA, a Sovietologist, and an advisor to Vicente Fox during his 2000 Presidential campaign. He was the first to point out to me that the mother of Fox's first Foreign Secretary, Jorge G. Castaneda, and wife to a previous Mexican Foreign Secretary, was a Soviet woman working a the UN and might have been a Soviet spy.

Working for Fox, Arias-King met with 80 members of the U.S. Congress , and discussed immigration in detail with 50. Of those, 90% were enthusiastic about boosting immigration from Mexico.

Immigration and Usurpation: Elites, Power, and the People’s Will

Fredo Arias-King

The familiar reasons usually discussed by the critics were there: Democrats wanted increased immigration because Latin American immigrants tend to vote Democrat once naturalized (we did not meet a single Democrat that was openly against mass immigration); and Republicans like immigration because their sponsors (businesses and churches) do. But there were other, more nuanced reasons that we came upon, usually not discussed by the critics, and probably more difficult to detect without the type of access that we, as a Mexican delegation, had.

Their "Natural Progress" Of a handful of motivations, one of the main ones (even if unconscious) of many of these legislators can be found in what the U.S. Founding Fathers called "usurpation." Madison, Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and others devised a system and embedded the Constitution with mechanisms to thwart the "natural" tendency of the political class to usurp power—to become a permanent elite lording over pauperized subjects, as was the norm in Europe at the time. However, the Founding Fathers seem to have based the logic of their entire model on the independent character of the American folk. After reviewing the different mechanisms and how they would work in theory, they wrote in the Federalist Papers that in the end, "If it be asked, what is to restrain the House of Representatives from making legal discriminations in favor of themselves and a particular class of the society? I answer: the genius of the whole system; the nature of just and constitutional laws; and above all, the vigilant and manly spirit which actuates the people of America …"4 With all his emphasis on reason and civic virtue as the basis of a functioning and decentralized democratic polity, Jefferson speculated whether Latin American societies could be governed thus.5

While Democratic legislators we spoke with welcomed the Latino vote, they seemed more interested in those immigrants and their offspring as a tool to increase the role of the government in society and the economy. Several of them tended to see Latin American immigrants and even Latino constituents as both more dependent on and accepting of active government programs and the political class guaranteeing those programs, a point they emphasized more than the voting per se. Moreover, they saw Latinos as more loyal and "dependable" in supporting a patron-client system and in building reliable patronage networks to circumvent the exigencies of political life as devised by the Founding Fathers and expected daily by the average American.

Republican lawmakers we spoke with knew that naturalized Latin American immigrants and their offspring vote mostly for the Democratic Party, but still most of them (all except five) were unambiguously in favor of amnesty and of continued mass immigration (at least from Mexico). This seemed paradoxical, and explaining their motivations was more challenging. However, while acknowledging that they may not now receive their votes, they believed that these immigrants are more malleable than the existing American: That with enough care, convincing, and "teaching," they could be converted, be grateful, and become dependent on them. Republicans seemed to idealize the patron-client relation with Hispanics as much as their Democratic competitors did. Curiously, three out of the five lawmakers that declared their opposition to amnesty and increased immigration (all Republicans), were from border states.

Also curiously, the Republican enthusiasm for increased immigration also was not so much about voting in the end, even with "converted" Latinos. Instead, these legislators seemingly believed that they could weaken the restraining and frustrating straightjacket devised by the Founding Fathers and abetted by American norms. In that idealized "new" United States, political uncertainty, demanding constituents, difficult elections, and accountability in general would "go away" after tinkering with the People, who have given lawmakers their privileges but who, like a Sword of Damocles, can also "unfairly" take them away. Hispanics would acquiesce and assist in the "natural progress" of these legislators to remain in power and increase the scope of that power. In this sense, Republicans and Democrats were similar.

While I can recall many accolades for the Mexican immigrants and for Mexican-Americans (one white congressman even gave me a "high five" when recalling that Californian Hispanics were headed for majority status), I remember few instances when a legislator spoke well of his or her white constituents. One even called them "rednecks," and apologized to us on their behalf for their incorrect attitude on immigration. Most of them seemed to advocate changing the ethnic composition of the United States as an end in itself. Jefferson and Madison would have perhaps understood why this is so—enthusiasm for mass immigration seems to be correlated with examples of undermining the "just and constitutional laws" they devised.

What could be motivating U.S. legislators to do the opposite, that is, to see their constituents—already politically mature and proven as responsible and civic-minded—as an obstacle needing replacement? In other words, why would they want to replace a nation that works remarkably well (that Sarmiento was hoping to emulate), with another that has trouble forming stable, normal countries? Mexicans are kind and hardworking, with a legendary hospitality, and unlike some European nations, harbor little popular ambitions to impose models or ideologies on others. However, Mexicans are seemingly unable to produce anything but corrupt and tyrannical rulers, oftentimes even accepting them as the norm, unaffected by allegations of graft or abuse.8 Mexico, and Latin American societies in general, seem to suffer from what an observer called "moral relativism," accepting the "natural progress" of the political class rather than challenging it, and also appearing more susceptible to "miracle solutions" and demagogic political appeals. Mexican intellectuals speak of the corrosive effects of Mexican culture on the institutions needed to make democracy work, and surveys reveal that most of the population accepts and expects corruption from the political class.9

A sociological study conducted throughout the region found that Latin Americans are indeed highly susceptible to clientelismo, or partaking in patron-client relations, and that Mexico was high even by regional standards.10 In a Latin environment, there are fewer costs to behaving "like a knave," which explains the relative failure of most Spanish-speaking countries in the Hemisphere: Pauperized populations with rich and entrenched knaves. Montesquieu’s separation-of-powers model breaks down in Latin America (though essentially all constitutions are based on it) since elites do not take their responsibilities seriously and easily reach extra-legal "understandings" with their colleagues across the branches of government, oftentimes willingly making the judicial and legislative powers subservient to a generous executive, and giving the population little recourse and little choice but to challenge the system in its entirety....

During the 18 months when I aided Fox’s foreign relations, in those meetings with what became the new Mexican elite I do not recall so many discussions about "what can we do to make tough decisions to reform Mexico," but rather more "how can we get more concessions from the United States." Indeed, Fox largely continued governing the country as his predecessors did, even appointing as head of the federal police agency an Echeverría loyalist who was allegedly involved in a deadly extortion attempt against a museum owner in 1972. According to several leading world rankings on corruption, quality of government, development, and competitiveness, Mexico actually worsened during Fox’s presidency.14 Lacking internal or external pressure, the Mexican elites have taken the path of least resistance, which is not the best outcome for the country. Paradoxically, as happens in co-dependent relations, a firm but polite defense of American interests by Washington would force the Mexican elites to act and in the end (surely after a brief period of acrimonious recriminations) would be beneficial for Mexico, much as the European Union’s tough accession laws force elites in lesser-developed aspiring members (Spain in the 1980s and Central European countries in the 1990s) to adopt painful and otherwise politically unfeasible reforms that affect special interests but that benefit average citizens. After all, the gap between elite and popular aspirations in these countries is wider than in the United States, and on a broader range of issues.

...This co-dependence is perhaps nowhere more evident than the personal relations of the political classes of Mexico and the United States. When speaking to these congressmen, we noticed an affinity toward the corrupt party we were attempting to overthrow in Mexico. Several had visited Mexico and apparently enjoyed lavish treatment from their hosts, even mentioning how some of the things they enjoyed in Mexico would not be possible at home.

Even though the Mexican political class is notoriously corrupt, they can often count on stronger support in Washington than can several more worthy world leaders who are genuinely attempting to reform and improve their countries. The history of the Bush family is symptomatic.

While snubbing pro-American reformers in the newly liberated Eastern Europe, George H.W. Bush did go out of his way to accommodate Mexico and its leader Carlos Salinas. Then-vice president and presidential candidate Bush openly endorsed Salinas after the latter’s fraudulent election in 1988, a favor that Salinas returned four years later when he met only with Bush and snubbed his Democratic rival, Bill Clinton.

In April 2000, candidate George W. Bush followed in his father’s footsteps when he tacitly but unambiguously endorsed the candidate of Salinas’s ruling party against a then little-known opposition figure named Vicente Fox, perhaps believing that the official-party candidate, the former secret-police chief Francisco Labastida, would engage in a quid pro quo as president. Labastida himself could not receive the honor in person on April 7, 2000, since he had been fingered by the U.S. press as a possible target of the Drug Enforcement Administration because of his record as governor. Instead, he sent his wife to meet with Bush. Florida governor Jeb Bush knew for many years and apparently also received lavish treatment from Salinas’s brother Raúl, before Raúl was arrested on corruption and murder charges and spent the next decade in a Mexican high-security prison. Bush Sr. had a long friendship and business relations with Jorge Díaz Serrano, then director of the Mexican oil monopoly pemex, before he was also arrested in a power struggle and accused of embezzling over $50 million. The long-time politicos of the Hank Rhon family, who were suspected of laundering drug money and who continue to win elections in Mexico, were also reported to have contributed money to the gubernatorial campaigns of George W. Bush from a Texas bank they own.15 To their credit, no overtly illegal practice has been proven against the Bush family in their dealings with Mexico, but the appearance of admiration toward its ruling classes cannot be easily discounted. [See my 2001 UPI article on the Bush family's ties to the Mexican ruling class.]

Though similar stories involving lesser politicians do not make headlines, several lawmakers we met also had a special, giddy mystique of Mexico as a place where moneyed leaders coexist with tame, grateful citizens. It would seem that the American political class has a special affinity for their colleagues south of the border. The appeal of their lavishness and impunity seems to strike a positive chord in the American politicians, who perhaps resent being held accountable by their citizens, who cannot become wealthy from politics, and who may be removed from power "unfairly" and without warning.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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