One of the most powerful political tactics in a leader’s arsenal is to use your opponent’s program in service of your own objectives. A particularly compelling example of this approach came during the early 1940s, as the Nazis were goose stepping through occupied Europe.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, observing events from the White House, was intent on eliminating that wicked regime from the Earth.
But he faced only one problem.
The general public was fervently isolationist and did not want America involved in another overseas conflict so soon after World War I. Being a democratically elected head of state, FDR had to respect the popular mood and find some way to fight Hitler without sending troops.
Famously, he solved this conundrum by enacting his lend-lease program, which transformed the domestic economy into an arms-producing machine.
The great man persuaded voters that we should send an endless supply of weapons to our foreign allies so they could destroy Nazism. Or else, the Germans would just keep on conquering new territories and eventually invade the homeland.
Then we’d have no choice but to fight.
This was a masterful stroke of genius. Roosevelt crafted a policy that used the isolationists’ goal — avoiding armed conflict — to achieve what he wanted: whooping the Third Reich.
Afterward, Russia would credit lend-lease as being single-handedly responsible for their victory in the war. And history was forever made better in the process.
In 2023, Democrats are faced with a political problem every bit as complex as what confronted FDR. We have a growing white nationalist movement that is promoting paranoia around immigration.
They are portraying the crisis at our southern border as an invasion from Latin America, which, if not stopped, will permanently destroy our society.
Nasty figures like Stephen Miller, former President Donald Trump’s infamous policy adviser, say the current status quo requires not just a massive crackdown on illegals, but also steep cuts to legal migration as well.
One of Miller’s main goals is to repeal the Hart-Celler Act, a landmark accomplishment of the Civil Rights movement, which opened up visa access to everyone, instead of just white Europeans.
If the far right ever returns to power, he may just succeed and push our federal policy in the direction of his bigoted world view. Democrats need to get creative in order to block such an outcome and preserve the dream of America as a true multi-racial society.
A simple way to do this is to support the border wall itself. Like FDR, we can use our opponents’ vision in service of progressive ideals. That’s not as wild as it sounds. Imagine for a moment it’s the year 2028.
Kamala Harris has just been elected to the White House, with a Democratic supermajority in Congress. She has the votes to pass a bold, transformative agenda, but she must be careful about it, in order to avoid a midterm thrashing.
As an opening gambit, the new president proposes legislation to give the undocumented community a path to citizenship. Predictably, the Republicans will howl and say it’s terribly wrong to do that while hordes of folks are still pouring into our country unlawfully.
And to be honest, they’ll have a point. It is crazy to suggest legalizing millions while the border is still in crisis. That’s a bit like deciding to spend an extra $100,000 on home renovations, even though your family budget has a massive deficit.
Before engaging in such lavish improvements, one should ensure their financial footing is sound. By supporting Trump’s most famous idea, Democrats can find a way around this problem and reassure the country that we are leading thoughtfully.
Voters will realize that our goal is to achieve social justice for the undocumented and comprehensively secure the border. How could the GOP possibly protest in response?
What will they say, America should build the wall but then not legalize anyone? That the government should simply engage in mass deportations, on a scale similar to Nazi Germany?
Good luck making that case without looking totally bonkers. We’d put the right in a bind politically and force them to support a path to citizenship. Furthermore, this plan would suck the momentum out of the white nationalist movement.
It will be impossible to scare voters about the peril of being invaded by Latin America, if there is a wall in place that eliminates such a problem entirely. As a result someone like Stephen Miller would find it very difficult to return to power and enact his hateful agenda.
In the tradition of FDR, we’d steal our opponent’s program, but as a means to achieving noble, progressive goals. Now some on the left may claim this plan requires Democrats to embrace xenophobia, but I fervently disagree.
Currently, a large number of migrants try to enter our country by making a brutal trek across the desert. They endure starvation, thirst, disease and exposure to every other natural element.
Many end up dead. After a wall is built, these folks would instead be forced to come through the border towns. With enough government funding, we could ensure they were treated humanely and had generous access to food, shelter and health care.
In other words, it is entirely possible to support my idea as a part of a broader approach founded on decency and compassion.
Sometimes, when confronted with a difficult situation, one needs to think outside the box, in order to make the world new again.
Joshua Heath is a Santa Clarita resident. “Democratic Voices” appears Tuesdays and rotates among local Democrats.