AT LAST WE SEE what $12.6 million in federal funds can buy. For Pat Buchanan, who has been unable to take over the White House the way he conquered Ross Perot’s Reform Party, the cash has paid for a new ad campaign.
Its target is immigration. Its weapon is a meatball.
The TV spot currently runs throughout California and in 11 other border states, and it is set to go national. It begins with a white, 50-something, middle-class Everyman, sitting down to a dinner after a long day’s work. He’s just put the first bite in his mouth when a nearby radio announces some startling news: “English is no longer our national language.”Never mind that the claim isn’t actually true -- Everyman doesn’t know that, and Buchanan apparently hopes that a fair number of voters won’t either. Shocked by the bulletin, Everyman chokes on a meatball. His eyes bulging, his face turning red, he rushes for the telephone and dials 911 as his distressed dog watches in terror.
Instead of being greeted by a helpful operator, he reaches an interminable voice-mail system. “For Spanish, press one. For Korean, press two. For Bengali, press three…” Before English is ever even listed as an option, the cursed meatball has effectively sealed Everyman’s trachea -- and his fate. He clutches his throat and falls to his death.
The announcer delivers a eulogy in the form of a rhetorical question: “Do you ever miss English? Immigration is out of control.” For Everyman, the only consolation is that he’s headed for a better place, one where a 1,500-mile-long wall and a phalanx of Border Patrol agents keep non-English speakers safely on the other side -- a Buchananite heaven.
For the rest of us, the taxpayer-funded message is less upbeat: Immigration has brought Everyman a quick and early death -- America’s next. Buchanan charges that immigrants have overwhelmed the language and the culture. Or, as the onetime Nixon aide puts it, “The Mississippi River is like immigration -- it’s enormously nourishing … but if it floods its banks, it can become a problem. And that is what’s happened here.”
But the American immigration experience, despite a long history of such dire predictions, has never brought about the destruction that its opponents have feared. In the past, it was Poles, Germans, Italians and Buchanan’s ancestral forebears, the Irish, who were assumed incapable of assimilation, but instead embraced and contributed to the American culture. The reality is that immigrants come to America because they want to become Americans -- independent, industrious, successful.
And that requires learning English.
Buchanan concedes as much, but points out that the country adopted strict immigration controls between 1924 and 1965, and this “immigration timeout” allowed newcomers to assimilate. Without another such break, he argues, English will soon be spoken nowhere, and Everymen everywhere will be left choking on their meatballs. (Serves them right for eating foreign foods.)
But by all indications, Hispanics, who comprise the vast majority of immigrants these days, are assimilating more quickly and learning English faster than previous immigrant groups. The 1999 Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Study, a report on second-generation immigrants in Southern California, finds that among those born in Mexico, 61 percent prefer to speak English. That figure jumps to 79 percent for the second-generation immigrants who were born in the U.S, and the data suggest that their kids -- third-generation immigrants -- will speak English exclusively.
Immigration is not killing scores of Everymen, nor is it showing signs of endangering the culture or the economy, as Buchanan alleges. Its real challenge is in dealing with illegal aliens, who, because of their undocumented status, are unable to participate in civil society. But that’s a problem that won’t be resolved by freezing legal immigration -- and cutting off the “enormously nourishing” stream of talent and determination that it provides.
Californians, who have witnessed the effects of immigration firsthand, are unlikely to be swayed by Buchanan’s fear-mongering. Chances are, he knows as much.
Ever since falling from GOP grace and adopting left-wing policies on economics and trade, Buchanan has no doubt realized that he doesn’t stand a meatball’s chance of claiming the presidency. Winning is no longer the goal. Buchanan now aims only to offend. That’s why last month, out of all possible places, he chose the campus of Bob Jones University to re-launch his campaign.
The “meatballs” ad won’t appeal to anyone outside of the one percent of Americans who already supports him, but if Buchanan gets his way, it will offend many. Thanks to federal campaign-financing schemes and the $12.6 million the government must give to the Reform Party, the American public is picking up the tab.
It’s enough to make a taxpayer choke.