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Ann Coulter the “Know-Nothing”

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In a recent article taking Senator Marco Rubio to task because of his proposals to modify our immigration policies, Ann Coulter took positions consistent with a major American ideological tradition -- unfortunately, one that was fashionable 150 years ago: Nativism.

In the United States, the term Nativism was first used in connection with political and social movements that proliferated between 1830 and 1925. It expressed hostility against newly arrived immigrants who did not fit the mold of a "real" American. Nativism called upon "real" Americans to protect the nation from these "foreign" interlopers. Nativism continues to impact our political life in the form of anti-immigrant and "English-Only" views like the ones espoused by Ann Coulter.

In her article in the conservative publication Human Events (February 9, 2013) she writes:

"[U]nder Rubio's scheme, all the children born to the 11 million newly legalized illegal's will be instant citizens, able to collect welfare for their whole families and vote as soon as they are old enough. Which won't be long: The vast majority of illegal aliens are Hispanic, and Hispanics have a higher teen birthrate than any other ethnic group. In California, a majority of all Hispanic births are illegitimate. That's a lot of Democratic voters coming."

Let's begin with the facts. In an article by the conservative Heritage Foundation in which the author referenced a report by the Center for Immigration Studies entitled Illegitimate Nation: An Examination of Out-of-Wedlock Births among Immigrants and Natives, the author notes that, "about one-third of births to both immigrants and natives are now to unmarried parents." (See Conservative Heritage Times, April 24, 2007). The article continues, "Looking at family structure with Census Bureau data shows that 75 percent of the U.S.-born children of immigrants live in a household headed by a married person, compared to 70 percent for natives. The rate is 70 percent for Hispanic immigrants and 79 percent for white natives."

It is understandable that Coulter does not want the facts to get in the way of her rhetorical flourishes; but what is truly astounding is her conclusion that Hispanics will inevitably became democrats. She makes this assertion in the face of evidence that a Republican with a message can erode the Democratic Party's hold on the Hispanic vote. In 2000 President George W. Bush received 35% of the Hispanic vote and then in 2004 increased his margin to 44%. If he had been able to run for a 3rd term, I am convinced that he would have won a majority of the Hispanic vote.

As I mentioned earlier, Ann Coulter's believes and ideology are consistent with those of the Nativists of the 1800's'. The U.S. population expanded significantly between 1820 and 1860. Much of the growth came from immigration. Not surprisingly, widespread anti-immigrant sentiment fueled Nativism.

This sentiment found its most impactful expression with the creation in the 1850s of the Order of the Star Spangled Banner known popularly as the "Know Nothings." The secretive group admonished its members that in response to inquiries about their involvement with the movement to say they "knew nothing" about the organization. The roots of the Know-Nothing movement lay in the fear of immigrants in general and Roman Catholics in particular. Based in New York State, the group recruited members nationwide. The Know Nothings' appeal was largely due to their willingness to blame immigration for the structural changes forged by the Industrial Revolution that seemed to make skilled work obsolete.

In was in this cauldron that the Republican Party was forged. The major impetus for the creation of a new party was the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 which repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820. The compromise admitted Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state. With the exception of Missouri, it prohibited slavery in the Louisiana Territory north of the 36° 30' latitude. The Kansas-Nebraska Act over-turned this prohibition by allowing slave or free status to be decided in the territories by "popular sovereignty."

The elements coming together to form the new Republican Party included northern Whigs opposed to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, northern Democrats who opposed slavery and the Free-Soil Party which formed in New York State where the Democratic Party divided into contending factions: the Barnburners, who were strongly opposed to slavery, and the Hunkers, who were neutral or supportive of slavery.

Finally, and ironically, the Know-Nothing movement supported the Republican Party. They were opposed to the spread of slavery because they did not want to compete against unpaid labor in the lands being settled in the West. They were not the champions of African-Americans, slave or free. They were not advocates of freedom and were virulently anti-immigrant.

But German immigrants who formed an important voting bloc in the mid-west opposed BOTH slavery AND anti-immigration policies. They played a key role in nominating and electing the Republican Party's first president, Abraham Lincoln, and in molding a more tolerant racial, ethnic and migration platform for the new party.

In 2012, the focus of Nativism has shifted from Roman Catholics, specifically, to all immigrant groups and particularly Hispanics. It is no wonder that the GOP, the party that was the greatest source of hope for African-Americans, both free and slave, and which found a way to embrace the aspirations of immigrants managed, in 2012, to achieve such an improbable outcome: Losing 93% of the African-American vote, 71% of the Hispanic vote, and 73% of the Asian vote.

Opposition to the "Dream Act" by the likes of Ann Coulter made it almost impossible for the Republican Party to appeal to young, Hispanic voters. The Dream Act sought to allow immigrants brought to the United States by undocumented parents as children, to continue their education into college and beyond and ultimately, to have a path to citizenship: In other words, to achieve the promise of the American Dream. It is the most benign form of immigration reform.

Senator Marco Rubio and Congressman Paul Ryan are not promoting a radical vision when they propose modifying our immigration policies to allow hard working Hispanics--many of whom were brought here as children, many of whom have served in our armed services--to be able to live and contribute to our society. They also understand that unless the Republican Party continues the work of George W. Bush, the GOP will not be able to breach the electoral blue wall erected by the Democrat Party. Mitt Romney proved we cannot scale this wall without appealing to Hispanic and Asian voters.

He garnered 59% of the white vote: A greater percentage than the 56% that Ronald Reagan received in 1980 and the same as George H.W Bush did in 1988 (59%). Romney's margin among white voters almost tied the record 60% that Dwight Eisenhower received in 1952. And still it was not enough nor will it ever be enough because of seismic demographic shifts that are transforming the US.

Ann Coulter and several other "Know-Nothing" Republicans remind me of the Japanese soldier who continued fighting World War II for 29 years after the Japanese surrendered. He didn't know that the war was over just as Coulter seems not to know that Nativist ideology was discredited over 150 years ago by no other than the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln.

While serving as a state legislator in Illinois, Lincoln wrote a letter condemning the Know-Nothing Party. "I am not a Know-Nothing…. As a nation we began by declaring 'all men are created equal.' We now practically read it, 'all men are created equal, except Negroes.' When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read, 'all men are created equal, except Negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.' When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty—to Russia, for example, where despotism can be taken pure and without the base alloy of hypocrisy."

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