In course of a single conversation, a leftist will tell you two opposing stories about the life of the poor in America. One minute they will tell that for a poor, unskilled, person of color, America is a cruel and oppressive place with so many structural impediments to success that no ordinary person can hope to better themselves without significant help from the government. Literally, the next minute, America is a boundless land of opportunity in which such a disadvantaged person can work their way up the income ladder with no special help from the government.
Why this tale of two poverties? Why is it the best of times and worst of times to be poor in America? Simple, when the conversation is about native-born poor, America as a land of opportunity is a cruel hoax which frustrates people’s dreams no matter how hard they struggle. When the conversation is about illegal immigration, America is obviously the land of opportunity for anyone no matter how poor they start out. This contradiction not only highlights the intellectual incoherence of leftism but also reveals the selfish motives that drive leftists to make such fallacious arguments in the first place.
When leftists argue for increasing social welfare spending, increasing education spending, using affirmative action, etc., they portray America as a bigoted place where greedy corporations are so racist they forgo billions in profits just so they can screw people of color out of jobs and loans. They claim that poor people cannot advance out of poverty without ever-increasing levels of education spending and job training. They claim having no specific job skills permanently traps people in poverty. They claim that no one working unskilled jobs can care for their own children and elderly without government aid. They claim that poor people have no choice but to turn to crime to support themselves. In any conversation about any facet of being poor in America, any leftist will tell you that native-born poor people need massive monetary and social assistance from a benevolent government or they will remain trapped in poverty, crime and ignorance forever. Most importantly, they will react with massive indignation at the suggestion that the individual behavior and choices of poor people have any significant effect on their economic and personal lives.
However, when leftists argue for unrestricted illegal immigration, suddenly being a poor, unskilled person of color in America becomes a boon. Greedy, racist corporations will gladly hire a person of color and lend them money. Leftists claim that people without the benefit of an expensive education, indeed people who cannot even speak or read English and who may even be illiterate in their native languages, can nevertheless not only find work but advance themselves into the middle class in just a few years. They claim that people on the streets of America with literally nothing but the shirts on their backs will not have to turn to crime to support themselves. They claim that illegal aliens do not require social services and therefore don’t raises taxes. They claim that immigrants pay for the needs of their own children and elderly. They claim that without any assistance from a benevolent government immigrants can not only make themselves happy and prosperous but contribute greatly to America as a whole.
In short, imagine that you took an unskilled, illiterate, innumerate person of color with no economic resources and showed them to a leftist. If you told the leftist they were native-born poor, the leftist would tell you that the person needed massive government help to thrive or even survive. If you told them that the person was an illegal immigrant, they would say that the person needed no significant help at all.
Same person, two different stories. Clearly, the leftist chooses which story to tell based on the leftist’s political needs and not the needs of the poor person. Leftists need to exploit the problems of others to increase the political power and social status of their subculture. Native-born poor are only of use to leftists when they need government help, help that leftists stake a claim on providing. Native-born poor who succeed without the help of leftists do not benefit leftists and indeed leftists scorn them should they raise their voices. Immigrant poor, on the other hand, tend to vote leftist because they come from cultures that do not reward merit and that block an individual’s success unless that person has the protection of political patrons. This makes the leftist story that America is also such a place an easier sell. Leftists can also successfully make a fascist-light appeal to racial solidarity to many immigrants. Therefore, leftists have the motive to essentially import as many left-voting people as possible. To this end, they try to shoot down arguments that poor immigrants need the same help that they claim the poor native-born require. After all, if we accept the leftist arguments about how hostile a place America is for poor people of color, it makes little sense to import even more of them.
I thought of this leftist incoherence while reading the comments to this article [h/t Instapundit] about the reality of working at Walmart versus its portrayal in leftist literature. The comments are overwhelmingly about how evil and cruel Walmart and by extension corporate American is, and how it is obvious that people need leftists to protect them and help them succeed. However, what would the comments be if the story had been about an illegal alien working at Walmart? We could safely predict comments about how great it was that someone who started with nothing could better themselves and contribute to America by working their way up that great ladder of corporate opportunity.
Objectively, in contemporary America, individual behavior and choice exert a greater effect on an individual’s ultimate success than do broad social forces. Immigrants do on the whole arrive with nothing and work their way up the economic ladder with far, far less support from the state than do native-born poor. They can do so because they behave differently than native-born poor. They work harder, pursue long-term goals and value family and community. Leftists cannot admit this, however, because if individual behavior determines individual success in America then individual Americans do not need leftist policies and leftists to succeed.
We need to understand that leftism is not an intellectual construct but rather a social one. Much like the concept of the divine right of kings, all the millions of works of leftist thought exist solely to elevate the social status of a non-productive class of articulate intellectuals and those who identify with them. As the tale of two poverties shows, they don’t have to create a predictive model that can explain the differing outcomes of different people in the same circumstances, they just need to spin a tale targeted to each particular group.
At its heart, leftism is not an intellectual pursuit, it is marketing and the product being marketed is the leftists themselves.