National Review

Aftermath of a Perfect Storm

Senior Fellow and Director, Center for American Common Culture

A Race for the Future: How Conservatives Can Break the Liberal Monopoly on Hispanic Americans, by Mike Gonzalez (Crown Forum, 288 pp., $26)

In this new book, Mike Gonzalez tackles the debate among conservatives on Latino political assimilation. Gonzalez, who was born in Cuba, is a former deputy editorial-page editor of the Asian edition of the Wall Street Journal; he served in the George W. Bush administration and is currently a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation. The question he asks here is, How did Hispanics become overwhelmingly Democratic and what can conservatives do about it?

Gonzalez’s diagnosis of the problem and his historical analysis of the past 50 years of left-wing cultural aggression against our nation’s assimilationist ethos (and thus against Latino newcomers, as well as America’s civic heritage) are compelling. Nonetheless, his proposed solutions, while offering plenty of good ideas, ultimately fall short of what is necessary to sustain American conservatism.

Gonzalez begins with an overview of Latino groups (Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Central Americans, and Dominicans) and examines how they differ. He then explains the bureaucratic creation of “Hispanics” in the 1970s as a new racial and minority “victim” group. All Americans with Spanish names, whether of Mexican, Spanish, Puerto Rican, Colombian, Dominican, or Chilean descent, became “Hispanics,” designated as a “protected class” and eligible for “affirmative action.” Under both LBJ and Nixon-Ford, Hispanics were categorized as part of a racially oppressed “brown” minority.

Gonzalez skillfully analyzes a series of big-government programs, cultural shifts, and ideological wars that combined to create a “perfect storm” of social pathologies. The immigration legislation of 1965 emphasized family reunification and led to a large increase in immigration from Latin America. At the same time, LBJ’s Great Society expanded the welfare state and “crowded out” many of the mediating structures of civil society; the minority-rights revolution promoted ethnic-group preferences; and American schools advanced multiculturalism and bilingual education, weakening assimilation. Simultaneously (and very significantly), the sexual revolution undermined the bedrock institutions of marriage and family.

This “perfect storm,” Gonzalez tells us, has had “dire consequences” for Hispanics. They include an increase in out-of-wedlock births, growing welfare dependency that hinders social mobility, and an education gap. Out-of-wedlock births among Latinos in 2013 rose to 53.4 percent, up from about 40 percent in the 1990s and increasing at a faster rate than for either whites or blacks. Census data reveal that 53 percent of Hispanics live in households that receive some form of government assistance and that Latinos are “overrepresented” in various federal welfare programs. Also, Gonzalez laments the “education gap” evident in the fact that almost 37 percent of all Hispanics “have not completed high school” and that the Hispanic school-dropout rate is “much higher than for other groups.”

All of these factors create huge barriers to successful Latino assimilation. Conservatives, Gonzalez says, “must offer policy solutions” and eschew what he mischaracterizes as the “scholarly grousing” of civilization theorist Samuel Huntington. Gonzalez suggests a series of solid policy proposals, including support for school choice, ending the marriage tax penalty for low-income Americans, tripling the child credit for children younger than three, and strong opposition to multiculturalism, bilingual education, and ethnic-group preferences.

Gonzalez nonetheless puts his greatest emphasis on a “culture first” strategy that emphasizes marriage and the family. Marriage is the highest priority, he writes, the “key to the continuation of the American experiment in freedom.” His “marriage agenda” includes measures such as launching community-oriented campaigns promoting marriage. He insists that “eventually the private sector will need to get involved in the effort to reverse the unmarriage culture in the Hispanic community.”

No doubt strengthening marriage among Latinos would be good for families, the economy, the nation as a whole, and, yes, for conservative politics. But figuring out the way to reach Gonzalez’s grandiose goal has eluded some of our best minds. Marriage expert Kay Hymowitz of the Manhattan Institute, when asked how to combat family fragmentation, said, “This is something I have been thinking about for over a decade now and I don’t have an answer” (except, she noted, to push for a societal consensus that broken marriages are a problem). How could Gonzalez’s “culture first” approach “break the liberal monopoly on Hispanic Americans” short of a full-scale cultural counterrevolution (and particularly a sexual counterrevolution)? How long would this take? What are its chances of success?

To be sure, Gonzalez is not politically naïve. He states: “It is clear that Obama wants to use the support of Latinos to transform the country increasingly into a European-style social democracy.” To achieve “this transformation, the president and progressives” offer “protected status” and the “redistribution of wealth” to Hispanics and others.

Nevertheless, despite the many solid arguments in the book, Gonzalez fumbles the most important issue, the proverbial “elephant in the living room”: the continuous mass low-skilled immigration that inevitably creates an electoral bloc much more open to the political arguments of the big-government Left than to those of the limited-government Right.

Gonzalez talks repeatedly about removing “barriers” to assimilation, but the largest barrier of all is the status quo of perpetual mass low-skilled immigration. He preemptively attempts to answer critics. Thus, Gonzalez admits that “the collision between a massive immigrant flow and the unmarriage culture will be explosive.” He quotes Robert Putnam to the effect that “massive immigration” puts “strains on communities,” but he counters that “this is not a reason to . . . clamp down on immigration.” He concedes that critics of mass immigration, including Heather Mac Donald, who have raised the alarm about the Latino illegitimacy rate, have a “powerful argument” when contending that rapid immigration growth contributes to myriad social problems. But the answer, Gonzalez declares, is not to cut immigration but to take “the issue of illegitimacy seriously and try to reverse it.”

He writes that we have “opened the country again to high immigration (from which I benefited and with which I have no problem).” Like many conservative supporters of mass immigration, Gonzalez repeats the shopworn cliché that “America has absorbed many, many previous waves of immigrants” and concludes that we can, therefore, do so again.

But as Gonzalez himself explains, American society in 2014 is very different from the culture of 1914. Yes, America did “absorb” the great wave of Ellis Island immigration, but we did so because of rather heavy-handed “Americanization” policies (i.e., “tough love” assimilation) implemented by our elites, and, most important, because of the immigration-restriction legislation of 1924.

President Coolidge favored reducing immigration, stating that “new arrivals should be limited to our capacity to absorb them into the ranks of good citizenship.” Coolidge signed the 1924 bill cutting immigration because he believed it would make it easier to Americanize the millions of immigrants who were already in America. My Sicilian-immigrant relatives opposed this legislation at the time, but Coolidge’s judgment that cutting legal immigration would facilitate the crucial goal of Americanization was sound.

Gonzalez repeats the arguments of the mass-immigration Right that the Bracero program (1942–64) for Mexican agricultural workers reduced illegal immigration because it permitted low-wage workers to come to the U.S. legally. But Philip Martin, chairman of the Comparative Immigration & Integration Program at the University of California, Davis, has pointed out that “this argument was proven wrong.” Between 1942 and 1964, about 4.6 million braceros were admitted legally, and at the same time 4.9 million illegal immigrants were caught entering the U.S. Thus, illegal immigration increased during the Bracero program. Not surprisingly, however, the end of the Bracero program did result in higher wages for American workers.

Another chimera of the mass-immigration Right that Gonzalez endorses is the Krieble Foundation’s guest-worker plan. Under the Krieble plan, the importation of millions of low-skilled “temporary guest workers” from the developing world would be unlimited and subject only to the market’s demand for cheap labor. Private businesses would set up recruiting offices throughout the world and conduct background checks for potential “guest workers,” who would be expected to eventually return home. Since the workers would be permitted to bring their families, they would inevitably have children who would be American citizens, so good luck on the “temporary” guests’ returning. The only certainty about this quixotic plan is that it would lower the wages of millions of American workers at the bottom end of the economic ladder, including, of course, blacks and Latinos.

Many tell us that Latinos and other immigrants are “natural conservatives.” But as the Pew Research Center reveals, they are much more likely than native-born citizens to support left-wing policies. Pew posed the question: Would you prefer a bigger government with higher taxes and more services or a smaller government with lower taxes and fewer services? Native-born citizens preferred smaller government by 48 percent to 41 percent. Latino immigrants favored bigger government, higher taxes by 81 percent to 12 percent. Hispanics overall preferred big government by 75 percent to 19 percent.

A 43-page booklet published by Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum titled “How Mass (Legal) Immigration Dooms a Conservative Republican Party” examined the political attitudes of immigrants in detail and found that, on issue after issue—Obamacare, affirmative action, gun control, even environmental regulation—all immigrant groups (Latinos, Asians, Muslims) preferred positions championed by the Left to a much greater degree than did the general public. The obvious conclusion is that the status quo (mass legal low-skilled immigration) will, unless reversed, ultimately doom conservative politics and our limited constitutional government.

A realistic solution, therefore, to the existential issue of how to sustain a conservative regime in the future cannot (pace Mike Gonzalez) be dependent on the success of a pro-marriage cultural counterrevolution (although this would help), but must depend upon our success in emulating Coolidge and cutting mass legal immigration.