Far be it from me to defend Arianna Huffington. I have every reason to wish her campaign nothing but bad news:
1. Every vote she gets puts Arnold Schwarzenegger one vote closer to being Governor of California.
2. She’s allied with the Greens, and had a joint press conference with Peter Cornejo, the Green candidate, and the execrable Ralph Nader. (She gets no credit for the delightful fact that Nader got a cake — not, as previously reported, a pie — in the face [*] at that press conference, as the cake was not a predictable results of her actions, but publicity for Nader’s campaign to keep Bush in the White House for another term was.)
3. She’s entitled to change her mind, but she at least owes us an explanation why she’s gone from being the reputed brains behind a fairly extreme right-wing candidate for Senate and being herself a fairly extreme left-wing candidate for governor.
4. I’ve heard her speak and read her writings, and she appears to be an almost complete fool: Entertainment Tonight‘s version of an intellectual in politics.
Still, I’m not convinced that, in this particular case, the charge really sticks. Welch points out that, a week before her husband’s defeat in the Senate race, she said:
One-eighty-seven is strictly about the anger and the frustration of taxpayers, who work extremely hard, often having two jobs in one family, to take care of their families, to take care of their children. And then, their hard-earned money is being used to pay for taxpayer services for illegal immigrants. This is at the heart of 187. And if you try to portray it in any other way, you’re missing the point.
But last week she was singing a different tune:
HUFFINGTON: Well, because Arnold Schwarzenegger is a Bush Republican. He is going to back the Bush economic policies all the way. He is for the tax cuts. He has Pete Wilson, for heaven’s sake, chairing his campaign committee.
I mean, how insensitive can you be? The man who introduced Proposition 187 about illegal immigration into California and the man who is despised by Latinos, the very people Schwarzenegger needs. So there is some kind of disconnect between the moderate image and the reality. Incidentally, Schwarzenegger himself was in favor of 187.
PAUL BEGALA: But now did you support Proposition 187? Because I know that your husband did when he was in the Congress. He was running for the Senate.
HUFFINGTON: Yes, my ex-husband did. I voted against it.
Welch doesn’t provide any context, or a link, so I’m not sure what Huffington was actually saying in 1994. But it sure sounds as if she was talking about the politics of 187, and explaining why a bunch of decent people might vote for it, against the liberal presumption that they must all be a bunch of stone racists. The quote doesn’t say, or clearly imply, that 187 was good public policy, or that she was going to vote for it. And surely she would have been justified in passing over in silence her disagreement with one of her husband’s key political positions the week before an election in which he was a candidate.
That is, she might have then believed, and still believe, the following three propositions, without any inconsistency:
1. Prop. 187 was bad public policy.
2. It was offered by Pete Wilson and his friends in bad faith, as a way to exploit ethnic tensions.
3. Many of the people voting for it were voting their reasonable concerns; all pro-187 voters shouldn’t be assumed to have shared the bad motives of its sponsors.
Nativism is an issue in American politics whenever immigration is high. Franklin and Jefferson were concerned about the Germans. The Know-Nothings were concerned about the Irish. The Californians were concerned about the Chinese and the Japanese. The Republicans and of the rural Democrats after World War I were concerned about the Jews and Italians and Poles. In each case, there were legitimate concerns about the impact of the newcomers on politics, on culture, on crime, and on wages. And in each case, it was possible to point out that the new immigrants were completely different from, and much more threatening than, the previous group. The Germans didn’t even speak English. (Fifty years later, during another spike in immigration from Germany, Lincoln was spending money to subsidize German-language newspapers.) The Irish weren’t even Protestant. The Chinese weren’t even white. And the Jews were … Jewish.
And often enough it’s the recent immigrants who want to shut the door. [Amin and Ali come to New Jersey from Baghdad, and agree to a contest: the one who has become more Americanized after a year wins. When they meet twelve months later, Ali says to Amin: “I had to stop on the way to church this morning to drop my daughter and three of her friends at soccer practice; the SUV was big enough to hold all of them comfortably. On the way home from church, I went to the Sam’s Club to pick up beer and burgers for the barbecue tonight. How’s that for becoming American?” And Amin replies: “Up yours, raghead!”]
None of that tells me whether to be for or against tighter restrictions on immigration.
(It’s obvious that we would be better off, at any given level of immigration, if more of it were legal and less of it illegal, which suggests that higher quotas and tougher enforcement against illegals might together be a dominant package over current policies, but even if that were true the deal is easier to make than it is to enforce, as the anti-immigrant forces learned after Simpson-Rodino was passed.)
But even if concern about immigration is reasonable, its political expression tends to be ugly, and sometimes gets very ugly indeed (“They…keep…coming!“) You can be for tighter immigration restrictions and still think that Pete Wilson made a deliberate play to bigotry, and that anyone who presents himself as Wilson’s political successor needs to come to account with that legacy. The fact that what Huffington says now about Schwarzenegger could legitimately have been said then about her husband isn’t really on point.
So though I’m happy to have my friends on the right doing my work for me by helping Arianna self-destruct, in this particular case I’m not sure they have the goods on her.
Do keep trying, though.
Update Matt Welch points out that he accused Ms. Huffington only of inconsistency, eschewing the stronger language used by Glenn Reynolds. And today he has another pair of dueling Huffingtonisms [*], which are more blatantly inconsistent than the previous set. For the record, he also disclaims being part of “the right.” I stand corrected.