Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Great Silence (On Race & Culture) Part VII

In our previous post, we explored the paradox of how on an individual level, culture can be positive, while still leading to negative political and economic outcomes on a group level. Culture clashes are the exception for individuals, but the rule for groups. From personal experience, I can affirm that if you sit an Israeli and a Palestinian together, an Indian and a Pakistani, away from their countrymen, with few exceptions they will get along. The examples we presented were ones of stark incompatibility, such as the clash between secular western and conservative Islamic societies. But, there are many instances of  low level friction, caused by more subtle, cultural incompatibilities that rarely escalates to outright conflict. We hear this in the social and political narratives of different communities, that at times diverge to the point were it is hard to believe that two people are witnessing the same occurrence. Within the United States, this subtle friction is occurring between Anglo-American and Latin-American cultural spheres. This is most apparent to those who follow the polarized debate on immigration. The point is not to determine which narrative is more factually or logically sound, because in personal and political conflict, perception is reality.

Before I continue, I must emphasize: The said cultures are compatible in virtually every aspect, except for some political and civic values and traditions. For this reason, a great many Hispanic-Americans and European-Americans have formed friendships, families, businesses and communities together. And even in the political sphere, there is quite a bit of overlap, with a good many Hispanics supporting traditional American political values, while a growing number of European-Americans are drawn to corporatist and populist visions that are  reminiscent of Latin-American politics. But, never the less, there is evidence of a real divide. The most obvious is the recent presidential election, in which Obama received 71% of the Hispanic Vote, while only 41% of the white vote. Many commentators believe that this is because of the current Republican position on immigration, but a closer look at our electoral history casts doubts on this. In 1986 President Reagan and much of the Republican Party supported the Amnesty of 2.9 million undocumented immigrants, yet in the 1988 presidential election, George H.W. Bush received only 30% of Latino votes. And in spite of the immigration friendly legislation that he enacted during his own presidency, in the 1992 election, George H.W. Bush only received 25% of the Latino vote.

While immigration is important, the two most significant factors that draw many Hispanic-Americans to the left is income and political values. With some exceptions, families of limited means are more likely to support politicians that promise an expended welfare state. But, even among solidly middle class Latinos, there is a strong perchance towards the statist vision of the Democratic Party. Further evidence for this is found in a Survey of Values published by the Pew Center:

66% of Hispanics and only 36% of whites believe that: "The government should help more needy people even if it means going deeper in debt."  

65% of whites and only 49% of Hispanics believe that "When something is run by the government, it is usually inefficient and wasteful."

59% of Hispanics and only 22% of whites believe that "We should make every possible effort to improve the position of blacks and other minorities, even if it means giving them preferential treatment." 

Some right wing alarmists wrongly conclude that in the context of this divide, the growth of the Latino Vote should be conceived as the imposition of alien political values on the United States. It would be far more accurate to characterize it as an infusion of political blood and electoral vigor into the anemic body of the American Left. While the impact of the Hispanic vote in the last presidential election was overstated, it has allowed the Democratic Party to establish a near political monopoly on the once competitive state of California and make inroads into Republican Strongholds. And several moribund labor unions have stated that Latinos are their only hope for survival, with one commentator even declaring "Latino workers are not imbued with the...individualism which has been used against white workers," they "are often involved in institutions with a collective mentality..." It is doubtful that the growth of Latino Populism will translate into greater wealth and influence for poor and working class Hispanics, rather it will serve to empower the mostly white, liberal, political elite, much as it does in Latin-America.

Originally I believed the statist, clientelist streaks in Latin-America to be a more recent phenomena, taking root in the second half of the 20th Century. But, the Nobel Prize winning author Mario Vargas Llosa presents a compelling argument that almost every form of government that Latin-America has known, from right wing military regimes, to progressive reformists and Cuban Marxism, have all been plagued by the Five Original Sins, bequeathed by Spanish Colonial Rule. They are: Corporatism, State Mercantilism, Privilege, Redistribution of Wealth and Political Law. Absent is a strong tradition of Rule of Law and limited government; in its place is the right of politicians to arbitrarily bend or circumvent the law to reward their clients and punish their opponents. When favors and exemptions from the law are granted to a select few, such practices are decried as corrupt, but when they are used to seduce millions of voters, they are celebrated by many as the legitimate spoils of electoral victory.

I believe that one of the reasons why the immigration debate is so contentious is because to a degree, it represents a clash of political cultures. Many Latinos assume that resistance towards amnesty must step from xenophobia, not realizing that many otherwise welcoming Americans view it as an erosion of the rule of law. When individuals hear declarations that Obama should pursue immigration reform, because he owes Latino Voters, they become ill at ease, because these sentiments are at odds with long established political values and traditions. And even supporters of reform are not comfortable with suggestions that President Obama should simply circumvent the legislative process and declare amnesty through executive fiat.We should embrace the strong sense of work, family and friendship that immigrant communities bring, but the last thing we need is the expansion of Latin-American political traditions, for our own leaders and  institutions are already rotten enough.

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