“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
This is the end of the Emma Lazarus poem which is on a plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty. It was written as part of a fundraising effort to construct a podium for the statue, back when it was first gifted to us by France in 1885, as a sign of the deep ties between our countries and the dedication to individual freedom which the United States represented.
Ken Cuccinelli, former Attorney General of Virginia and current acting Director of the Citizenship and Immigration Services office caused a stink recently when he attempted to revise the meaning of the poem in defense of a new policy more in line with Trump’s views. During an interview with an NPR reporter, he was asked if the new self-sufficiency rules were in keeping with the ethos described by the Statue’s poem, The New Colossus. His reply : “”Uh, they certainly are. Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”
He has since gone further and attempted to explain that the poem was meant to refer to Europeans, who were coming from class-based societies and whose people, even if self-sufficient, were considered “wretched refuse” if they were from the wrong class. By making an obviously false statement (when the end of the poem specifically mentions the poor and the homeless, arguing that it was only meant to reference the self-sufficient is either idiotic or based on the expectation that your supporters are ignorant and actively working to remain so) he opened the door to further questions… in this case whether or not his Eurocentric position, at a time when there was also considerable migration from places like China and Mexico, was intentionally racist.
I remember when Cuccinelli was considered one of the bright young stars of the modern conservative movement. It is possible that he was always secretly a racist, but I would posit there’s an entirely different mechanism at play, something I’ve seen play itself out repeatedly in recent years. It’s what happens when people who are well-versed in conservative ideology find themselves pushing populism instead.
The choice to get put into that position is entirely their own. At any point, they could stop, risk the fury of the populists, and continue to walk the conservative line. This is what we saw with Amash, and some writers. Those who decide to follow the pack of Trump acolytes and instead attempt to redefine “populism” as “conservatism” tend to damage themselves because they inevitably find themselves defending racism and big government.
Let’s examine the difference, as an aid to Mr. Cuccinelli.
The Populist standpoint on immigration, on this point, is that many immigrants shouldn’t be allowed in because they will be drains on society. They come in, they steal our resources, and they don’t contribute. If people come in and are immediately beneficial, they can remain. Otherwise, stay home.
This has a simplistic appeal. It’s very straightforward, and if the nationalist sentiment involved mingles with racist sentiments, the nationalists believe that can’t be avoided.
It’s the opposite of Conservative, though. It grants all authority to the government for the determination of individual value, as opposed to setting baseline standards of conduct and health which can theoretically be met by any decent person irrespective of race or wealth. It also takes as a given that the government’s duty is to use wealth confiscated from the populace, then returned to it in the form of “benefits”, as a tool with which to control the people’s behavior.
This is Leftism 101.
The Conservative position is that programs such as food stamps and housing assistance should be kept to a bare minimum, with very rigorous standards based purely upon need…. and that the money which would otherwise be distributed should instead not be confiscated, or spent in the form of accrued debts, in the first place. If there are to be programs for those who are in less than dire need, those programs should be provided by the private sector, via churches and secular benevolent organizations. Moreover, any public dispersal of money should be done at the local level, with the understanding that local officials will best know the needs of their communities.
There are nuances to the Conservative position; how to diminish abuses by local officials, for example, and in what ways private organizations may interact with public ones. But the basics are there. They haven’t changed. That was the difference between Conservatism and Populism back under Reagan, back under Coolidge, back under Lincoln. Populists are corrupting the term and joining it at the hips with racism in an effort to promote massive government control and spending on the things they want. Many Republican politicians, including Cuccinelli, have decided to go along with that.