Saturday, August 19, 2006

Campaigning for the hearts and minds of North Carolina

This morning as I was surfing the web I found the campaign site for a guy who is running against Brad Miller who is a democrat from North Carolina. Miller is running for re-election and seems to be a pretty traditional democrat. The 13th district looks a lot like any other gerrymandered district in the country. It has pieces of Greensboro and Raleigh and goes north to the Virgina border. I suspect it is what most political people call a "lock." He is a lawyer.

Mr. Miller's opponent is a guy named Vernon Robinson. Robinson seems to have a lot of dough to run ads. Two are especially interesting. One, a radio ad, set to the tune of the Beverly Hillbillies is a rant about immigrants. North Carolina is one of the second tier states in the country that has experienced a significant influx of Mexican immigrants in recent year. Robinson's ad is catching but it is also xenophobic. It makes a series of charges against Miller which suggest that he (Miller) supported extending benefits to illegal aliens beyond any reasonable measure.

The second ad rips the Twilight Zone and suggests that Brad Miller's positions on a number of issues including abortion and gay rights and supporting illegals are in the Twilight Zone. The ad uses the theme music from the original show.

I have two comments - first, these ads are interesting parody. I suspect at some point that some intellectual property attorney will get all hot and bothered about the use of copyrighted material - although this certainly seems to be within the bounds of the standards for parody. Second, I wonder whether these commercials will be effective. Clearly, Mr. Robinson thinks Miller is not in touch with his district. And, indeed, he may not be. But I am fundamentally concerned about how Mr. Robinson phrases his issues. In the 1840s we had the Know Nothings - which was a nativist movement to respond to the big influx of Irish Catholic immigrants. In the next couple of generations we had a series of movements that resisted the influx of various groups of immigrants. In each of those movements there was a subtle mix of racism and xenophobia. The difference with the most recent wave of immigrants is the level of public subsidy that goes to this group. The concern about the level of subsidy is based in part on the actual cost and in part as a way to respond to significant new influxes of people. But if you look at the data - this generation of immigrants is doing what prior ones did - except a bit faster. They are simultaneously assimilating into our culture and in some subtle and non-subtle ways changing it. Change is tough but the tradeoffs are mostly worth it. As Julian Simon pointed out in his ground-breaking study on the economics of immigration - the net tradeoff on immigration in the country is positive. That does not mean there are not strains. It also does not mean that we should not re-look at the policies in this country designed to either support or deter immigrants.

One would wish that there would be a more thoughtful discussion about the appropriate level of support and the appropriate level of interdiction that we as a society should offer to these immigrants instead of using charactures of either the noble hard working immigrant or the lazy freeloader.

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