Immigration Reform and the Wingers

| Tue Mar. 30, 2010 4:04 PM EDT

Earlier this morning I mentioned that political issues usually stay fairly subdued until something happens to make them salient. Only a few wonks care about Social Security until the president proposes to privatize it. Healthcare stays on the back burner until the president proposes to reform it. Etc.

The hook for that post was immigration reform, and over at the Boston Phoenix David Bernstein says there's more to it:

I would add to that, that in today's conservative marketplace the rhetoric and anger boil up when it pays. Health care reform is a great example. Drum is only half-right when he writes that "Opposition to healthcare reform was mild until 2009, when Barack Obama turned it into an active issue." In fact, I would argue, opposition remained mild well after Obama started actively pushing it, and even as it moved well on its way toward nearly becoming law last summer.

Truth is, it's really not a core money-maker for the right. A year ago, or two years ago, conservative organizations couldn't raise a dime off it, and conservative radio shows couldn't keep listeners by talking about it — even when it became "active" last spring. But eventually they found ways to make it pay; the first to find a way to do it was Dick Morris, in his June bestseller Catastrophe, with the argument that Obama's health care plan would inevitably lead to rationing, meaning bureaucrats deciding which old people to let die; Sarah Palin then coined "death panels" and a thousand direct-mail solicitations were launched. Dick Armey and others swooped in for their piece of the profit, leading to the summer recess Townhall Meetings, and the ball was rolling.

Unlike healthcare reform, immigration/nativism always pays in the conservative marketplace — although Drum is quite right, that it doesn't pay nearly as well when there's nothing in the news about it. Nevertheless, last summer when I asked the head of a conservative direct-mail-funded organization what topics were money-makers for him and others in the business, his top answers were the old stand-bys of amnesty and English as the official language.

Among the hard core right-wingers, this is probably true — though they sure seem able to pivot mighty fast to pretty much any topic at all when they put their minds to it. But yeah: some topics are basically always on tap, just waiting for any old nudge to put them back into the fundraising rotation.

David then goes a bit further and suggests that this explains why Rahm Emanuel and Chuck Schumer plan to introduce immigration reform this year even though it has no chance of passing. Basically, they want to drive the tea party right crazy, thus helping to turn out lots of Hispanics in November to vote for Democrats. Very Machiavellian! And plausible, too.