A purported debate between conservative pundit Ann Coulter and the Daily Caller's Mickey Kaus at the Conservative Political Action Committee highlighted the ugly rhetoric conservative media have used to discuss immigration and showed how far right conservative media have shifted compared to a Republican Party that has maintained that immigration reform is necessary and important.
In what was billed as a "debate" between a liberal and a conservative on the last day of CPAC, Coulter sat down with Kaus to discuss various issues but ended up talking mainly about immigration reform or as they call it, "amnesty." After repeating the debunked claim that President Obama was selectively enforcing immigration laws, Coulter and Kaus, both well-known opponents of immigration reform, launched into an attack on reform that touched on many of the conservative media's favorite discredited myths, including:
- that reform will result in "30 million" new Democratic voters;
- that reform, which Kaus called a "suicidal rush," will have a "negative effect" on the "wages of unskilled and poor Americans" -- a claim Coulter also repeated, saying that low-wage workers, African-Americans, and Hispanics are hurt most by reform;
- that "Hispanics don't care about amnesty";
- that undocumented immigrants are eligible to apply for subsidized health insurance;
- that "most Americans do not favor a path to legalization" for undocumented immigrants.
Interspersed within these myths was language that has found favor among nativist and anti-immigrant fringe groups such as the term "anchor baby," a derogatory phrase for the American children of undocumented immigrants.
At one point, Kaus stated that immigration reform represented "the triumph of ethnic politics over economic politics." Coulter for her part bizarrely accused immigrants of trashing national parks while arguing for stigmatizing illegal border crossers and unwed mothers:
COULTER: Now at all these national parks in California where the littering is coming from recent immigrants -- oh, we can't suggest any one group is doing it. Let's just shut the park. And that's what they're doing. This is always the solution now. We don't want to stigmatize anyone. No sometimes stigma is good. They've stigmatized smoking out of existence, how about stigmatizing unwed motherhood, littering, running across the border illegally. How about stigmatizing it? Can we just do that?
She also complained about the "browning of America" and claimed that "if you don't celebrate it, you're a racist." She concluded the discussion by threatening Republicans who support reform with "death squads."
As Right Wing Watch reported, during another event before her discussion at CPAC, Coulter likened the country's changing demographics to being raped because "demographics are changing by force."
Coulter and Kaus' rhetoric on immigration is typical of what passes for discourse on the issue in right-wing media circles. Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham has been especially inflammatory, routinely using racially tinged speech while talking about immigrants. Conservative radio host Mark Levin has accused undocumented students of lowering U.S. education rankings and has said that reform represents the "suicide of the nation." Rush Limbaugh has used talking points from nativist groups to argue against immigration reform. Fox News has traded on fears of undocumented immigrants to advance absurd claims, including that photo ID cards will allow them to vote (even though legal and undocumented immigrants constitutionally cannot) and that allowing undocumented immigrants to drive legally with a state-issued driver's license will endanger American lives.
It's no wonder then that GOP strategists publicly complained in January that conservative media have helped hinder congressional action on reform by using the "perceived threat of xenophobia" to drive opposition on the issue and distort lawmakers' ability to engage meaningfully in a fair and honest debate on possible legislation.
There is absolutely considerable value in debating immigration reform and discussing how it will impact the country, especially in light of recent polling showing that a majority of Americans, including Republicans and those who identify with the tea party, favor some kind of path to legal status for immigrants here illegally.
But conservative media have shown plainly that they're not really interested in doing that. What they have done instead is push congressional Republicans to embrace their version of ideological purity or face a threat to their job. As conservative columnist Matt Lewis commented after the CPAC event, "Could you blame any Hispanic for hating conservatives after watching this?"
Image via Gage Skidmore using a Creative Commons License