Thursday, May 4, 2006

“Backlash” is one of those words with an iffy reputation, connoting an angry or even unreasoned reaction to a benign or just plain immutable reality. Like a tantrum, a backlash is widely regarded as an emotional spasm that inevitably subsides, leaving the supposedly benign or just plain immutable reality to unfold unmolested. In the meantime, backlash is cluck-clucked as unenlightened (Backlash to Feminism), mean-spirited (Angry White Men Backlash), xenophobic (Dubai Ports Backlash) or, in the case of the burgeoning reaction against the illegal-alien amnesty movement, all of the above.

But by whom? Backlash opponents. More often than not, “backlash” is the word mainstream liberals use to describe the sound the silent majority makes when it finally gets around to piping up. The family unit is shattered: That’s progess. Somebody says, Uh, maybe it was better when it wasn’t shattered: That’s backlash. The nation’s borders are breached by millions of illegal aliens, who not only provide an immorally cheap labor force but also more than 29 percent of prisoners in Federal Bureau of Prisons facilities: That’sprogress. Somebody yells, Hey, put up a fence: That’s backlash. The following headline in The WashingtonPost, summing up reaction to May Day amnesty demonstrations, crystallizes this cracked-prism vision. “After Protests, Backlash Grows: Opponents of Illegal Immigration Are Increasingly Vocal.”

Who, The Post seems to wonder, do these increasingly vocal “opponents” think they are: illegal aliens?

Of course, such “opponents” not only became “increasingly vocal” this week, but some of them actually went to the polls. In Herndon, Va., voters elected what the cultural mainstream would probably dub the nation’s first Backlash Legislature-a new city council and mayor who oppose Herndon’s “day-laborer center,” that law-flouting tax-payer-funded facility that opened last year to match up illegal alien workers with employers of illegal aliens. The Herndon vote seems highly significant: With one exception, no incumbent was re-elected who didn’t oppose the center, and all new council members, including the new mayor, oppose the center. According to the Post report, last year’s 5-2 majority in favor of the facility now becomes a probable 6-1 majority against. Not surprisingly, the online edition of The Washington Post headlined the election story “Immigrant Backlash in Herndon.”

But this is no fit of pique. Indeed, it could be part of an ad hoc movement. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 463 immigration bills have been introduced just this year in 43 states, “the biggest crop of state immigration proposals ever recorded,” The Post writes. Most of the measures, the newspaper continues, “are designed to get tough on illegal immigrants, on employers who give them jobs and on state officials who give them benefits” — in other words, to fill the breach left by Congress ever since a patriot-lite Senate failed to pass Rep. Tom Tancredo’s eminently sensible immigration bill (complete with border fence) that came out of the House last year.

Will these get-tough — or, at least, get-tougher — state measures pass? The answer will tell us a lot about whether what we’re witnessing is a passing “backlash,” or a durable national movement, kicked off by the Minutemen Project, that has emerged from the vaccuum on border protection and national preservation left by our leaders in Washington.

I’m not sure if it’s simply because I’m looking, but I feel as though I’m seeing more anecdotal reports of American citizens taking local action, whether it’s a story out of Arizona — “Sheriff’s posse to patrol desert” — or from Connecticut, where the appearance of infectious diseases among illegal-alien populations has convinced the Board of Health in Milford effectively to ban local restaurants from employing illegal workers. The fact is, if Americans can find a sustainable level of outrage and concern to drive such reform at the state level, we, as a nation, might actually have a chance to survive the hand-wringing, no-can-do gridlock in Washington.

Of course, a sustainable level of outrage and concern is no small feat for the extremely comfy people that we are. Then again, times being what they are, the extreme comfort levels to which we have grown accustomed could well become a thing of our past. Which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. Surely, it’s time to wean ourselves from immorally cheap labor and immorally cheap goods. Surely, it’s time we learn that some things cost more than we want them to, even — no, especially — American citizenship.

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