As many of us ex-Republicans (and ex-Democrats) on this website already know, becoming a libertarian wasn’t a comfortable transition. It’s always stressful to have your views challenged, especially if they aren’t fully developed, and it’s even more stressful when you realize that you were wrong. It seems like human beings will jump through any loophole in order to prove themselves correct despite overwhelming evidence against them.
I can only assume this dance of diversion has something to do with the conservation of pride.
So in this article, we’ll look at how to use a debate on immigration to help Republicans realize that they are wrong without getting caught in the dance of diversion. Looking back on my political experiences, I see one common theme in the arguments that successfully persuaded me to agree with the libertarians’ opinions: the tactic of nicely disagreeing.
Remember that it’s crucially important to make friends over enemies in this time more than ever, especially with so much misinformation about us antistatists floating around the Internet and other communication media. Make peace with the fact that a libertarian community will take a long time to create.
Different audiences require different tools, and being an overly aggressive debater will get you nowhere in terms of making new friends. When converting a Democrat, discuss civil liberties and anticorporatist measures. But when converting a Republican, it’s best to discuss things like free trade and taxes.
On immigration, forget about ethics. The position that all people have an inherent right to move freely across any state borders won’t do anything when it comes to debating Republicans. Not to collectivize the parties any more than they collectivize themselves, but I tend to find that it’s Democrats who are the most receptive to arguments based on morality and sympathy. Republicans are all about utility and patriotism; and that means they’re thinking about (1) the “Founding Fathers,” (2) the Constitution, and (3) economics.
From the cultural worries of Benjamin Franklin to the governmental worries of Thomas Jefferson, it’s clear that the Founding Fathers were skeptical of immigration. You can’t get around that fact. The Founders may mean nothing to you, but they mean a lot to the GOP’s supporters, and these are the people we need to convince. It’s a serious hurdle, and you’ll need good arguments to overcome it.
So start into economics: list the many, many economists from foreign nations who have sustained free-market thinking in the United States up to today:
Ludwig von Mises might not have escaped from the grip of Hitler and Nazi Germany if it weren’t for his successful emigration to the United States. Friedrich Hayek only lived in the United States for twelve years, but his book The Road to Serfdom still manages to widely influence free-market capitalists, especially after being featured on Glenn Beck’s television show. (Tossing in this reference to one of the most watched political commentators in the Republican sphere gives you a nice connection to your audience.)
And don’t forget to mention that Milton Friedman was born just after his parents moved to the United States from Hungary — I highly doubt Republicans would refer to one of President Reagan’s top economic advisors as an “anchor baby.”
The Constitution is another tricky matter, because it explicitly enumerates to Congress the power to “establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization.” Note that naturalization doesn’t necessarily equate to immigration and emigration; you can still freely enter and leave a country without becoming a citizen. However, the case made by border proponents is that Congressional regulation of immigration rates into the country is vital to its control over the citizenship process and therefore the latter encompasses the former. Introduce this sentiment without expansion, and then give your opponent the benefit of the doubt; it’ll help you sound reasonable, and it can alleviate the natural tone of combativeness in debate.
But you need to make it clear that the Constitution has been wrong. The libertarian disagreement on immigration isn’t a landmark. The most modern example of constitutional incorrectness enumerates to Congress the power to “establish post offices and post roads.” The creation of the United States Postal Service was a bad idea in the 19th century, it was a bad idea in the 20th century, and it continues to be a bad idea in the 21st century. We need to ask, couldn’t the Constitution be incorrect about immigration, too?
But economics is the easiest case for free immigration. Your opponent will mostly likely spout out a few statistics on how the illegal immigrants are (1) forcing the government to spend a ton of money each year on immigration enforcement; (2) draining the welfare system; and, perhaps my favorite excuse, (3) “stealing American jobs.”
The second point might make sense in theory, but it just fails to take into account the reality of American bankruptcy. The federal government’s $61.6 trillion in unfunded obligations is over four times as large as the annual GDP of the United States. It will never be paid, unless it is through either a massively inflationary policy — after which the US dollar will be worthless — or a tremendous slashing of the government’s budget. Using illegal immigrants as scapegoats for a failing welfare state is like trying to cool down the sun with an ice cube.
The third point — “they’re stealing our jobs!” — could be taken care of with the good, old-fashioned broken-window story. But there’s another possible approach here.
Republicans, unlike their left-wing counterparts, are not supposed to believe that everyone has the right to a job. Your opponent’s belief that illegal immigrants are “stealing American jobs” is inconsistent, because it implies that an American does, in fact, have the right to keep his job when his employer might want to give it to a different — quite frankly, more productive — individual.
Now you can paint these border hawks as unionists. The idea that people shouldn’t be allowed in the United States workforce unless they pay annual taxes (dues) and are legally accepted into the government’s system as citizens equates to the rules of membership in a union. So the US government forcibly unionizes its citizens — and will your opponent admit to being in favor of that?
Disagreeing in a nice, relaxed manner can win you the affection and respect of your opponent and your audience. Wait until the end of the debate to strongly attack your opponent; otherwise you’ll seem too aggressive throughout the entire thing. But then you can leave your opponent with an unanswerable, inescapable question, so that his final response is limited to a few words and an even less significant meaning.