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Jewish World Review April 25, 2000 / 20 Nissan, 5760

Ben Wattenberg

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Consumer Reports


FAIR unfair to Abraham -- PAT BUCHANAN COMPLAINS that Americans don't get a chance to vote directly about immigration. They may soon, de facto, perhaps with implications for the presidential race. All this thanks to a curious organization with a mainstream front but a sometimes seamy history and curious allies on both the racist right and the hard-green left.

The battleground is in Michigan, one of the Midwestern swing states that will likely determine who wins the presidency. What the Washington Post calls a "raging air war" was set into motion by the Federation of American Immigration Reform, called FAIR, although in my experience it is usually not. Last year FAIR ran an ad with this headline: "Why is a U.S. senator trying to make it easier for terrorists like Osama bin Laden to export their war of terror to any city street in America?"

What is the sin of Spencer Abraham, the young senator in question? In his first term, he has moved the Republican party from its perceived image as a restrictionist, anti-immigration, anti-immigrant, pull-up-the-gangplank party, to one that is fairly seen as open-minded, open-hearted and even ready to give a few more American visas to skilled high-tech immigrants, who can help keep the American economy rolling.

Abraham is the only Arab-American in the U.S. Senate. His team believes that the FAIR ad was purposefully laden with anti-Arab stereotyping. Not so, definitely not so, Dan Stein the executive director of FAIR told me. He actually thought Abraham was Jewish! Of course, Stein later publicly called Abraham a "scumbag," but Stein says he has forgotten the context, or forgotten that he ever said it, or maybe he never said it, or regrets it.

Stein and FAIR do not apologize for the bin Laden advertisement, although Stein noted three times in our conversation that the ad only ran once. (Japan only attacked Pearl Harbor once.) Anyway, says Stein, there is a conspiracy to besmirch FAIR.

It is not a secret conspiracy. Abraham calls FAIR an "anti-immigrant hate group." Materials from the Abraham office and from the National Immigration Forum provide a paper trail of FAIR's history. A 1986 internal memo by FAIR founder and board member Dr. John Tanton, warns of a "Latin onslaught." A 1988 Associated Press story quotes Tanton saying that too many new American immigrants are Roman Catholic. FAIR Board Member and environmental guru Garrett Hardin favors infanticide to reduce population and says not to worry because the child is killed within minutes after birth, before bonding can occur. He thinks the forced abortion law in China is "not strict enough," while Stein describes it as an "international family planning program." FAIR has received millions from the Pioneer Fund, which backs studies in eugenics and comparative racial intelligence, including a large nadian professor who sees an inverse correlation between intelligence and penis size.

Stein, blustering and aggrieved, and Tanton, cool and intellectual, blow away the material: Haven't seen that memo in a while... don't remember that... taken out of context... no longer take money from the Pioneer Fund... this is McCarthyism... don't believe everything you read in the newspapers... this is a mainstream organization with distinguished citizens of disparate views... Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass opposed immigration... we're all learning a lot more about inheritance since Watson and Crick.

FAIR has dropped Osama. Now their ad headline reads: "Senator Abraham is again poised to import thousands more poorly paid foreign workers as a payback to big corporate contributors." Yes, indeed, to line his campaign coffers, Abraham is taking away jobs from American graduates of, for example, Michigan State, Adrian College, University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University. (Unemployment in Michigan is now 2.5 percent.)

Abraham says the visas are needed to keep high-tech firms from taking their shops -- and jobs -- overseas. He believes we've been drenched in anti-immigrant palaver and heard too little about the immigration success story that made America great. He believes immigration rollbacks would be harmful and that a rationalization of the system would be helpful.

Who's winning the air war? FAIR is facing harsh and negative scrutiny by Michigan newspapers, radio and television stations; Republican support in the Congress is shriveling; the public resignation of former Sen. Alan Simpson from the FAIR national advisory board was a symbolic blow. And so it goes. Abraham's campaign ads now denounce his opponent, U.S. House member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., for not denouncing FAIR. Stabenow says it all proves that we need campaign finance reform.

How the immigration issue will play out remains to be seen. Buchanan may get his test. A solid win for either candidate could bring out voters to tilt the presidential race. So far we know this: When the ads started running, Abraham was about five points behind in the polls. Now he's three points ahead. It's a race way too close to call, and way too good to ignore.

Ben Wattenberg is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and is the moderator of PBS's "Think Tank." You may comment by clicking here.

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