Remember When Republicans Liked Immigration, and Democrats Didn’t?

Set aside what you think of guns or immigration as a matter of public policy or even morality. Instead, think of them as dye-markers of how our cultural politics and the nature of the two parties have changed over time.

In the 1990s, it was common for Democrats to fret over both illegal and legal immigration. “All Americans,” President Clinton said in his 1995 State of the Union Address, “are rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country.”

Barbara Jordan, the civil rights icon and former Democratic congresswoman, headed a commission which concluded that legal immigration rates should be modestly cut.

Meanwhile countless Republicans championed immigration. “I’m hard pressed to think of a single problem that would be solved by shutting off the supply of willing and eager new Americans,” then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey said in 1994. “If anything, we should be thinking about increasing legal immigration.”

After a meeting with the National Restaurants Assn., newly elected House Speaker Newt Gingrich said, “I think we would be a very, very self-destructive country if we sent negative signals on legal immigration.”

Back then, boosting legal immigration was seen by many on the left as a sop to big business. The ruling industrial class allegedly wanted a reserve army of cheap labor. As recently as 2015, the avowed socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders sounded downright Bannonesque in telling that “open borders” was a “Koch brothers proposal…a right-wing proposal, which says essentially there is no United States.”

Sanders is an intriguing example of how political and cultural currents swirl around us. He won his first bid for Congress in 1990 in part because he received the full-throated endorsement of the National Rifle Assn. Sanders, then the mayor of Burlington, Vt., opposed an assault-weapon ban while his GOP opponent supported one.

“It is not about Peter Smith vs. Bernie Sanders,” the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre explained. “It is about integrity in politics.”

By Jonah Goldberg for LOS ANGELES TIMES
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