The Romeike family. (Photo source: AP)
Along with mourning the death of Hugo Chavez, dancing on Margaret Thatcher's grave, and other masterpieces of shrill progressivism, Salon Magazine seems to love nothing so much as accusing conservatives of being racists. So it's no surprise that they decided to attack Glenn Beck for it, though the particular form their reasoning took may surprise you.
According to Salon write Sally Kohn (whose name you might recognize because she's a Fox contributor), Glenn Beck is a racist because he -- wait for it -- opposes deporting a family of immigrants. Yup.
Specifically, he opposes deporting the Romeike family, who originally immigrated legally from Germany seeking asylum from their country's mandatory public schooling regime (and want to homeschool), and whose case the Department of Homeland Security is now pursuing. (The family was legally in the U.S. for 90 days but filed its asylum paperwork three days late. More on that later.)
Why is this evidence of Beck's racism? Because, according to Salon, the only reason Beck and other conservatives like him are alright with the German Romeike family immigrating to America is because they're white, unlike (according to Salon) most other immigrants who are "brown."
The evidence for this brutally uncharitable assumption? Well, there really isn't any, but that doesn't stop Kohn. Here are four arguments she makes to support her position, in order from least absurd to most.
4. Supporting one set of illegal immigrants means you ought to support all of them, and if you don't, you're racist
I'm not sure foes of immigration reform would be so generous as to excuse three days of tardiness nor the fact that the family misled immigration authorities by not declaring their intention to file for asylum immediately upon arrival on our shores. Writes one commenter on the Home School Legal Defense Association Facebook page, "Even on a tourist VISA, the point is they came here legally, not sneaking across the border." But reports show the same is true for nearly half of the 11 million aspiring Americans seeking a road to citizenship in the United States today. But that doesn't stop conservatives from demonizing them.
Still, for those trying to draw some distinction that the Romeikes followed the rules while other (brown) immigrants don't, here's an important point: Germans qualify for the U.S. visa waiver program (as do citizens of New Zealand, Hungary, Iceland and Estonia). But the visa waiver program does not include people from Mexico (or China or India or the Philippines). The Romeikes had an easy, legal path into the United States that is simply unavailable to many non-white would-be Americans.
Got that? The Romeikes originally entered the U.S. legally, albeit under a system of laws that isn't available to every foreigner, and overstayed their Visa by three days before applying for asylum. On the basis of nothing but intuition, Salon extrapolates from this that "foes of immigration reform" should consider them to have cheated the law on the same level as more severe lawbreakers, and therefore ought to "demonize" them the same way they allegedly demonize other immigrants. Moreover, because they entered legally on the basis of a policy that doesn't apply to people from countries with a majority non-white population, Salon concludes that race is the determining factor in conservatives' supporting them.
Let's unpack this.
First of all, supporting people following the law doesn't imply support for all facets of that law. One might think the Visa policy that let the Romeikes in should be extended to other countries, but still disapprove of people from other countries immigrating illegally in the absence of that opportunity, because it undermines the rule of law. Thinking a law is bad doesn't mean you think other people have license to break it. So the Visa program only being available to certain Europeans and New Zealanders is irrelevant. The fact is, the Romeikes entered legally and other immigrants didn't. That's a meaningful distinction, even if you think the law is wrong.
Secondly, even if you think the Romeikes committed an offense, which they technically did by being late on their application, there are degrees of offense. One can favor loosening the penalties for, say, manslaughter, without wanting all murderers to get off scot free, or find a particular manslaughter case pitiable enough that it's not worth punishment without thinking all murderers are objects of pity, nor even that people guilty of manslaughter in general aren't breaking the law. Similarly, there are plenty of reasons for conservatives to find this particular case worthy of empathy that have nothing to do with race (more on that later), and those reasons don't demand that they favor illegal immigration in the abstract.
At best, the Salon author has proven that 40 percent of illegal immigrants (the percentage who overstay their Visas) are worthy of more sympathy from the Right. There's still plenty of room to disapprove of the remaining 60 percent. And furthermore, it doesn't follow that all of the people who comprise that 40 percent of Visa overstayers have equally compelling reasons to do so from a conservative perspective, nor does it follow that people who overstay by three days are equally as contemptuous of the law as people who overstay them by three months or three years.
3. The only reason anyone could support the Romeikes is because they're white
The Romeike family aren't just any immigrants. They are evangelical Christians from Germany. And, oh yeah, they're white.[...]
The simple fact is that, whether they own up to the racial disparities or not, conservatives do not want mercy -- let alone amnesty -- for starving families from Mexico, nor for women facing genital mutilation in Africa. But white Christian evangelical home schoolers from Germany? Willkommen, one and all.
We'll get to the accusation that conservatives, and specifically Glenn Beck, don't care about starving families from Mexico. For now, let's apply Salon's logic to its full extent. Suppose the Romeike family's last name was Ramirez instead, and they were devoutly Christian Mexicans fleeing from Mexico over an anti-religious public policy. According to the Salon writer's logic, conservatives should simply brush them off as Mexicans, and therefore conclude they're unworthy of consideration. For that matter, to use an example of something that might actually happen, suppose the family in question were Chinese and fleeing from communism in order to practice their religion safely. Are conservatives going to react to that with contempt because they're Asian?
One suspects not, and indeed, there is evidence that such a thing would not occur because the relevant element of this story is religious liberty, rather than race. In fact, conservatives have defended members of minority populations when their religious liberty has been threatened, both at home and abroad. And when those threats involve education? That's a sticking point, too.
The fact is, conservatives have an overabundance of reasons to be sympathetic to the Romeikes. They are devoutly religious people, for one. They are trying to immigrate to the United States in order to home school their children, for another. They are fleeing from a government that forces public education on its people, for yet another. Every socially conservative fighting fighting Common Core, or who's just had one too many run-ins with the local school board, can see themselves in this family. Every conservative concerned with government overreach in general arguably has a reason to sympathize with them. And one imagines that would be the case, even if their last name was, say, Chen or Gonzalez.
2. Other conservatives have said dubious things about immigrants, and since Beck is a conservative, he must agree
Up until this point, we've confined ourselves mostly to the article's attacks on conservatives generally, without touching their choice of example in Beck. Now, it's time to do so. Salon writes:
Look, this is how racial stereotyping works. No one comes right out and says, "We only like the immigrants who look like us." They say things like, "The immigration system worked very well up until the mid-1960s" (Rep. Michele Bachmann) and "White America was kind of unified" in the 1950s, which "made it easier for society to function" (Bill O'Reilly, ignoring that Irish folks like him were once considered non-white). They call undocumented immigrants an "invasive species" that "contributes to the overall deterioration of the culture of this society" (Rush Limbaugh). The racialized message is mostly implied but nonetheless crystal clear -- white immigrants, especially from Europe, are good, and dark-skinned immigrants, especially from Mexico, are bad. Which explains how a swath of conservatives so opposed to immigrant rights could be shouting from the rooftops in support of one family from Germany.[...]
Republicans don't even want physical or sexual abuse back home to be grounds for asylum here, one of the main reasons conservatives tried to block reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. But deporting a family back to their home country to face quality public education? Oh, the humanity! There could be "nothing more un-American than this," said Glenn Beck. Really, nothing?
Now, some might agree with some of the quotes/policies cited here, or at least disagree that they're meant to be racially coded, but even if they were racially coded, offensive statements and/or policies, what does that have to do with Glenn Beck? And why should these quotes be cited in an article referring to Beck as a racist for supporting the Romeikes? Is there any evidence that Beck agrees with the people making the statements about immigrants above?
No, there isn't, which makes this part of the article a classic association fallacy.
What Kohn is basically saying is: Some conservatives have said unpleasant things about immigrants. Glenn Beck is a conservative. Therefore, Glenn Beck must agree with them.
The trouble is that plenty of people who are considered "conservative" say things that other major conservatives disagree with. Saying that other conservatives may believe objectionable things about immigrants, therefore Beck is the same, is rather like saying that because Andrew Breitbart, S.E. Cupp and Rob Portman favor gay marriage, therefore Rick Santorum must believe the same thing. It simply isn't true, and guilt by association with controversial statements tells us nothing about what Beck believes. As to mentioning what Republicans have done, that's even more of a stretch, considering that Beck doesn't even consider himself a Republican, and has made his displeasure with the party clear on multiple occasions. This is a smear.
Mind you, this isn't all Kohn's evidence. She does say she has evidence from Beck to back up her assertion. If you're wondering about those quotes, have no fear, we'll get to them...
#1. Glenn Beck has said racist things about immigrants, and opposes illegal immigration
Now we get to the crux. The headline of the article is "Glenn Beck's Favorite Immigrants." The article takes a campaign spearheaded by Beck as its cue. So if Beck's alleged racism and hypocrisy fall apart, then the article is surely crippled in its effectiveness.
Let the crippling begin.
The article quotes a grand total of one statement by Beck related to immigration. That's right. One.
Many conservatives, especially on the far right, have been vociferous in their opposition to immigration reform and a road to citizenship for the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States. Glenn Beck himself said that there are only three reasons to be an "illegal immigrant" in the United States:
One, they're terrorists; two, they're escaping the law; or three, they're hungry. They can't make a living in their own dirtbag country.
Dirtbag country. Nothing racially coded there. Anyway, now all of a sudden we can add to Beck's list a fourth reason: home schooling![...]
Even then, let's return to Glenn Beck's schematic. Being poor in your own "dirtbag country" is not enough of a reason to justify immigrating to the United States, let alone getting asylum -- even if your economy was ruined by U.S. trade policy favoring American corporations.
Now, at the risk of spoiling the writer's fun, there seems to be a category error here. First of all, taking those two sentences from Beck as our guide, the Romeikes clearly fall under category two, IE escaping the law of their own country requiring them to put their children through public school instead of homeschooling them. But this doesn't get to the point -- if Beck did say this, surely that means he agrees with the insensitive, awful things that were quoted above, and thus is a racist just like the other conservatives they're using as examples, right?
Well, funnily enough, the author of the Salon article doesn't seem to have read the link she uses -- a Media Matters story from 2006, when Beck was still on CNN -- because it helpfully includes a transcript of Beck's full remarks. It is below (emphasis added):
We could figure this out. These weasels in Washington are never gonna get it done. You wanna solve the immigration thing? Here's how you solve the immigration thing. You hit the companies that are hiring these people. How is it that I can be painted as somebody who is intolerant of people that are different than me? How is it that I can be painted as somebody who just hates Mexicans when the cornerstone of what my problem on illegal immigration is they're breaking the law and they're not alone in doing it. The people who are really breaking the law are the companies that are trying to get rich on the -- you know, let me ask you something. Somebody comes across the border in the middle of the night, why are they doing that? Really, three reasons: One, they're terrorists; two, they're escaping the law; or three, they're hungry. They can't make a living in their own dirtbag country.Well, how could I possibly want to hurt the people who are hungry, who want a better life? How can I possibly demonize those people? I can't. So, now I say, "Hey, we need these laborers over here. It helps them." No, it doesn't. What are the jobs Americans won't take? I'll tell you what those jobs are. Those are the jobs where you're picking tomatoes for below minimum wage, and you're working in conditions that are illegal for everybody else to work in. That's the jobs that Americans won't take, and we shouldn't give them to Mexicans. We shouldn't give those jobs to people who are coming here just because they're trying to put food on the table. That's obscene. Just so you can have a cheaper meal, just so I can have a cheaper box of strawberries? It's obscene. You wanna solve the immigration [problem]? You know it and I know it. You put up a giant fence. You stop the people who are coming here because they're criminals or they want to do us harm. Then, you go after the companies and you stop those jobs from being given to illegal immigrants. Then on top of that, you make it easier for people to come through the proper door. That's how you solve it. Why can't they do it? I just solved it. I'm a recovering alcoholic, former DJ, and I just solved it in two minutes!
So let's review: When Beck talks about the "dirtbag country" in question, he's not impugning the people from that country at all. In fact, as he explicitly states above, he "can't" bring himself to "demonize" (where have we heard that word before) those people because he empathizes with them too much. And his reason for opposing them coming here is because the jobs they would get under the current regime are too inhumane. So what's his solution? Yes, strengthen the border, but also make legal immigration easier so these people can come here more easily.
Oh, and who does he "demonize?" The companies that hire these people to work in "obscene" working conditions. In all likelihood the same companies who Salon accuses U.S. trade policy of unfairly favoring!
But that quote's from 2006. Perhaps Beck's changed since then. Perhaps he really has shifted toward being nativist. How about we look at the transcript of Teusday's Glenn Beck radio program to find out? Here's Beck on the issue as of yesterday:
We need people with green cards. We need people. You know how crippled our kids are. You tell kids they're going to do hard work. They're going to have to bus tables. They look at you like you're from outer space. What? No, no, no, I'm going to college. And they have no interest in that, and they have no disclosed to it at all. At all. And so they're going to look to to us bail them out. No. No. No is the answer. Because there's nothing left at the end of that road. But how about farm work. I mean as kids my sister used to drive a pea-viner. We'd work in the fields in the summertime. What? Not a problem with it. I didn't like it. I was pretty lazy but we did it. Now, you can't get American kids to do that. They won't do that. They won't save for something, and they won't do it. So we have to have workers that will keep the country moving. Until we can get our own kids to do it. But society is not teaching that. You talk to farmers I can't get anybody to work. So we have to have an easier way to get here. But an orderly way to get here. I don't mind if you come from another country and work here. I'm fine with that. Just come in the front door. If anything I said is racist against American white people, racist against people like me, I didn't like doing it. I think I was probably one of the last generations had to do it.
This is racism? Apparently, according to Salon, it is. Somehow, it seems unlikely that they will find many who agree with them. Or at least shouldn't.
More on the Romeike family: