E.J. Dionne thinks he detected “the odor of. . .nativist compost” when the Republican presidential candidates discussed immigration during their debate on Wednesday. If he did, it was the result of Dionne’s bias rather than anything the candidates actually said.
Nativism is a preference for the interests of long-time inhabitants as opposed to foreigners and those who arrived recently. What the Republican candidates expressed was a preference for those who are in the U.S. legally or trying to get here that way. Indeed, when they spoke of the unfairness of granting amnesty for illegals, several candidates emphasized the interests of immigrants and potential immigrants who are willing to play by the rules and wait in line. That line of argument plainly is not nativist.
This is not to deny that some of the candidates sounded less than presidential in discussing the issue. Certainly, that was the case with Rudy Giuliani when he attacked Mitt Romney because the company Romney hired to take care of his lawn employed illegal aliens. As Romney replied, it’s not the responsibility of a homeowner to check the status of a service-provider’s employees, nor is it particularly appropriate for the homeowner to do so.
But taking a cheap-shot is not the same thing as nativism, and by leveling that charge without any basis Dionne himself was taking a cheap-shot.
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