Sunday, March 6, 2011

Just Say "NO" (To Ethno-Political Lobbying)!

In our previous post we touched upon the topic of ethno-political lobbying, something that I view as unfavorably as any other special interest. Most progressives won't hesitate to criticize corporate lobbyists who seek to influence politicians to further their narrow interests, but are reticent or even supportive of ethno-political lobbyists who do the same. Like their corporate counterparts, such groups seeks special privileges, subsidies, programs or exemptions from the law that do not broadly benefit the American People. In addition, they have contributed to the erosion of a sense of shared civic responsibility, national identify and interests. Before I continue I must emphasize that I am not advocating the suppression of the healthy pursuit of self interest, in favor of economic collectivism. Individual initiative and the pursuit of profit are essential to capitalism. Nor, do I oppose civic cooperation to advance the welfare of one's ethnic compatriots. Free association and cooperation among like minded citizens is a healthy part of civil society. Corporate lobbying is a perversion of the 1st and ethnic lobbying is a toxic version of the second. History shows that seeking economic advantages over another company or community via political connections, rather than market participation, is both economically and politically corrosive. And during times of economic scarcity, the ethnic spoils system contributes to inter-communal conflict.

Nostalgia for the land or our ancestors and affection for our ethnic compatriots are only natural, but loyalty to the shared interests of our fellow Americans is our responsibility. As a Jew, I feel this most strongly, because no other nation in history has offered as much freedom and opportunity to my people as the United States. Thankfully, in a free society, love and loyalty to one's ethnic compatriots and one's nation very, very rarely clashes. In fact, they almost always complementary. For example, when Catholics worked together to establish parochial schools and scholarships in their communities, they benefited the nation by producing more educated, capable and productive citizens. Early German and Jewish mutual aid societies helped foster the economic and cultural assimilation of new immigrants, for the benefits of their respective communities, as well as the nation as a whole. But, over time the self confidence and sense of nationhood of the American elite declined, engendering a multicultural philosophy that eschewed assimilation and a sense of shared culture, identity and loyalty. Naturally, new waves of immigrants responded to the changing cultural, educational and political milieu, as well as the (lack of) expectations that greeted them. Organizations emerged that eschewed assimilation, instead promoting ethnic egoism, a sense of victim hood and participation in the spoils system.

The word "loyalty" is jarring to the ears of many liberals, yet we must not be afraid to call out individuals and organizations who lobby against the interest of the American People. Just as we call upon the wealthy to adopt policies that may not be in their own interests or desires, such as accepting the need for higher taxes or environmental regulations, so should we do with ethno-political activists and their supporters. We should not be afraid to tell citizens of Jewish descent who lobby a broke American Government to shell out billions in aid to Israel that although this may be in our "tribe's" interest, it is not in the interest of their fellow Americans. And we should not hesitate to tell citizens of Hispanic descent who oppose the enforcement of basic immigration laws, that it is their responsibility as Americans to help uphold the rule of law. Like all Americans, they are duty bound to temper the pursuit of their political interests and work together towards the pursuit of a greater good. Anything else would be paramount to not treating diverse individuals and groups as civic equals with the same rights and responsibilities as other citizens.

In no way does this imply that there is a single, valid vision of what constitutes national interests. In a pluralistic society, different visions of how to achieve the greater good should exist and compete in the marketplace of ideas. The point is to re-orient political discourse away from ethnic activism towards shared interests and causes, be they liberal or conservative. Certain commentators noted with concern that Tea Party Rallies were overwhelmingly white, believing this to be indicative of their racist nature. But ironically, John Stewart's"Rally For Sanity" was even more homogeneous, as were past environmentalist and feminist rallies. This is indicative of a political culture that encourages whites towards the pursuit of broad public interests and diverse populations towards ethnic self interest. Again, the point is not to discourage members of ethnic and religious groups from the pursuit of self betterment through civic and community cooperation. I see no problem in having individuals band together to create a college scholarship specifically for African-Americans, as long as long as they are not funded by tax payers. And I encourage Jewish communities to continue their financial support of Israel with their own time and money.

Admittedly, the line between national interests and special interests is not always so well defined. For example, a company that lobbies for increased subsidies for green energy, could stand to gain millions, while also helping the environment. AIPAC does present some reasonable arguments that foreign aid to Israel serves America's strategic interests. And La Raza argues that comprehensive immigration reform is in America's economic interests. Yet, in most cases these arguments seem to be justifications for a pre-determined position. And that position trumps all others, at all times. One sign that indicates that a political is not focused on broad national interest is when they will push for policies that benefit their constituencies, even in instances when they are clearly not in the interests of the general public. For example, Luis Gutierrez (D - IL) opposed the E-Verify Program that would allow (not mandate) employers to verify the social security numbers of job applicants. He cited supposed glitches in the social security data-base as his reason, yet he never proposed measures to address these supposed issues. Mr. Gutierrez's resistance to any efforts to limit the flow of legal and illegal immigration is especially galling considering that the economy cannot provide sufficient employment for the native born and immigrant workers that already reside in the United States. In fact, if he would check the statistics, he would learn that unemployment is most acute among the immigrant workers he purports to represent.

As with corporate lobbyists, most ethno-political activists only present the benefits and not the costs of their proposed policies. Questions are never posed about possible risks. While there are proponents of amnesty who believe that they have the broad interests of the American people at heart, Mr. Gutierrez is certainly not one of them and we should be called out for this. The same goes for those who lobby for Jonathan Pollard, the individual who spied on the United States on behalf of Israel. Rather than lobby to reduce his "long sentence," Pollard should be a source of ire and embarrassment for the Jewish community, eliciting no more pity than a captured Russian spy. Another sign that narrow group interests motivate an individual or organization is that they will not alter their positions no matter what new circumstances present themselves. For example, my friend did not even re-consider the merits of providing billions in government aid to Israel, even though the United States is trillions of dollars in debt. And in spite of the fact that he agrees with most of Dr. Ron Paul's positions, he rejects him outright because of the extremely unlikely scenario that foreign aid to Israel would be eliminated.

All Americans should be proud of their religious traditions and cultural heritage, but we cannot allow the United States to become a nation of disunited tribes pursuing their narrow group interests. We cannot continue to maintain a spoils system in which corporate and ethnic lobbyists use political connections to pursue subsidies and exemptions from the law. Throughout history, this has occurred in almost every multicultural empire and has always been inimical to democracy, peace and prosperity. So, whether your friend, family member or senator, engages in it, just say "NO" to ethno-political lobbying! It is just as noxious as corporate lobbying. And I promise, it won't make you a "racist" or even an "anti-semite."

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