I was a little surprised by Tom Friedman’s column in the New York Times today (7/17/13). It’s an attack on the Republican Party’s position on immigration, and a call for more trade (“We have already derived great economic benefit through the North American Free Trade Agreement”) and less walls and fences. That’s obviously not the surprising part, if you’re at all familiar with Friedman’s work. The real head-scratcher is the fact that Friedman summons Winston Churchill to make his case.
“If Churchill Could See Us Now” is the headline, and Friedman’s point is this:
Whenever we go into political drift as a country, optimists often quote Winston Churchill’s line that Americans will always do the right thing, after they’ve “exhausted all other possibilities.” I don’t think that’s true anymore. Churchill never met the Tea Party, and he certainly never met today’s House Republicans, a group so narrow-minded and disinterested in governing — and the necessary compromises that go with it — that they’re ready to kill an immigration bill that is manifestly in the country’s economic, social and strategic interests.
Friedman makes his case against the Republican position, and closes with this:
The whole approach is shortsighted, does not play to our strengths, increases the deficit and ignores where the world is going and how America can best compete and lead within it. Churchill would be aghast.
It’s always dangerous to imagine what dead political leaders would think of politics today. But what we know about Churchill’s views on immigrants would put him at the far-right end of the Republican party. You would know that if you had a computer and a search engine. Here’s the Guardian (8/5/07):
Sir Winston Churchill expressed alarm about an influx of ‘coloured people’ in Fifties’ Britain and looked for a chance to restore punishment by flogging, newly released cabinet papers from the national archive reveal.
On 3 February 1954, under the agenda item ‘Coloured Workers’, Churchill is quoted, with abbreviations, by Cabinet Secretary Sir Norman Brook as saying: ‘Problems wh. will arise if many coloured people settle here. Are we to saddle ourselves with colour problems in UK? Attracted by Welfare State. Public opinion in UK won’t tolerate it once it gets beyond certain limits.’
If you search around a bit more you see that anti-immigrant websites seem to have a thing for Churchill; according to one account, Churchill thought “Keep England White” would be a good slogan for the Tories, and thus, inevitably perhaps, it became someone’s Facebook page.
And Churchill’s generally racist views of non-whites are pretty well-established. He spoke of his “jolly little wars against barbarous peoples” and declared of the Kurds, “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes…[It] would spread a lively terror.”
Or this quote attributed to Churchill from 1937, speaking to the Palestine Royal Commission:
I do not admit… that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America, or the black people of Australia… by the fact that a stronger race, a higher grade race… has come in and taken its place.
Friedman writes that opposition is coming from Republican politicians
from gerrymandered districts dominated by older white people who have a knee-jerk resistance to immigration reform — borne of fears of job-loss to illegal immigrants and a broader anxiety about the changing color and demographics in America.
Would Churchill really be aghast at this?