Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Yesterday, in a special election in California's 48th congressional district -- one of the most Republican districts in the country -- the GOP candidate, John Campbell, won with a mere 45% of the vote.

Good news? Not really -- the Democrat barely came in second, at 28%.

Taking most of the rest of the vote was Jim Gilchrist -- a founder of the immigrant-huntin' Minuteman Project. Gilchrist got 25% -- even though he was regarded as a one-issue candidate, and even though, as The New York Times noted a couple of days ago, his views and Campbell's on that issue "are effectively the same."

I think this is a possible preview of the race for the GOP presidential nomination in '08.

The smart set has already figured out who's going to dominate that race -- Rudy, Condi, McCain, Allen, yada yada yada. I think they're mostly right, but I think they may be leaving out one name: Tom Tancredo.

Yup, that guy -- the Colorado congressman who fantasized about bombing Mecca if America is the victim of another terrorist attack. Immigration is his obsession -- check out the site of his Team America PAC ("A Political Action Committee Dedicated to Securing Our Nation's Borders"); The Boston Globe reported in June that he promises to run for president if no other candidate addresses the immigration issue to his satisfaction.

I think Tancredo could be to 2008 what Pat Buchanan was to 1992 -- the surprise #2 in the primaries who stirs up more passion than the top vote-getter. (By the way, Bay Buchanan, Pat's sister, is the chairman of Team America PAC.)

It'll be, er, a lively campaign. As The New Republic has noted,

When The Denver Post profiled an illegal immigrant high school student with a 3.9 grade point average, Tancredo tried to have the boy deported.... In one recent speech to activists in Washington, D.C., Tancredo averred that the Chinese government is "trying to export people" as a "way of extending their hegemony."

The Boston Globe article shows him in equally temperate form:

He said federal prisons overflow with illegal immigrants, some of whom aim to har[m] people.

"And they need to be found before it is too late. They're coming here to kill you, and you, and me, and my grandchildren," he said, pointing at people in the audience. "It's just despicable."

Why is this such a hot-button issue right now? To some extent, after 9/11, we worry about who's coming across the borders (even though the 9/11 hijackers didn't cross the border on the run in the dead of night). Also, there's a lot of economic anxiety in America, and, obviously, people direct it at "the other" even when "the other" is doing a job the anxious people wouldn't take. (We've been carefully trained not to direct our anxiety and anger toward employers who'd rather hire non-American workers -- overseas or here -- than hire us.)

But I think a big reason for the recent rise in anti-immigrant feeling is conservatives' burning need to be self-righteously, all-consumingly angry at someone -- anyone. Now that overt bigotry is less socially acceptable, conservatives have a harder time blaming everything that's wrong in the country on an entire group of people. Oh, they can bypass bigotry and turn liberals into the new niggers/spics/kikes, but a lot of conservatives know some liberals -- we aren't other enough. But if they blame everything on immigrants, it's almost as satisfying as racism (they're bashing mysterious dark-skinned others who don't really even speak their language), but they get to say they're criticizing behavior, not race. It's as close as they can get to the good old days.

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