My headline is my own conclusion about the thrust of today’s Greg Sargent piece. Sargent himself doesn’t come right out and say that the media is the problem but that’s the unavoidable conclusion if you read between the lines. As is often the case with progressive opinion writers, what they don’t say is just as important as what they do. Let’s walk through this starting at the top.
When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sent planeloads of migrants to Massachusetts in the fall, it received an extraordinary amount of coverage. Though that stunt said nothing about how to fix our immigration system, DeSantis amplified a message nationally that painted asylum seekers as a dangerous, unmanageable threat — and himself as a disciplinarian determined to get the southern border under control.
So right off the bat, we’re talking about media coverage. What Sargent curiously fails to mention is that the rush to cover the DeSantis flight to Martha’s Vineyard was driven not only by the novelty of the action but also by the left-wing outrage in response. Case in point, here’s Greg Sargent from last September in a piece titled “Ron DeSantis’s repulsive Martha’s Vineyard stunt is made for Fox News.”
The approximately 50 migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard represent the latest example of a vile stunt in which GOP governors bus migrants to Democratic strongholds to protest President Biden’s border policies. Just as has happened elsewhere, island officials were surprised but are welcoming the new arrivals.
What’s striking is how the DeSantis administration appears to have deliberately orchestrated this event for maximum cruelty and confusion. “There was no advance notice to island officials,” Julian Cyr, a Massachusetts state senator who represents the area, told me…
To most people, this use of migrants might seem like a cruel stunt. But on Fox News — and, importantly, among GOP elites seeking their next standard bearer — it will have very powerful appeal.
Set aside the fact that a wealthy resort that routinely welcomes 150,000 visitors a year needed advance notice about the arrival of 50 migrants as if they were Ebola patients. Set aside the fact that Texas and other southern states don’t get advance notice when 5,000 people show up on any given day. Instead focus on the fact that Greg Sargent is once again focused on the media coverage, in this case Fox News.
But getting back to today and Sargent’s present concerns that this stunt got too much coverage, the glut of stories about this weren’t driven by Fox News. This story received maximum coverage because every left-wing crank with a journalism degree wanted in on the chance to bash DeSantis, just as they’d done for most of 2020. In short, what Sargent is leaving out here is the fact that he and people who are ideologically just like him are partly to blame for the “extraordinary amount of coverage” the Martha’s Vineyard flight received. This is very much a ‘physician, heal thyself’ moment, though of course he doesn’t admit that.
Now, with the focus intensifying on this matter — President Biden is discussing border security with the president of Mexico this week, and senators have renewed talks on a proposal — DeSantis’s ability to hijack the debate with empty agitprop points to a larger problem for Democrats. DeSantis and other Republicans often set the frame of our national argument over immigration. Democrats badly need to seize control of it on their own terms.
The spin here is subtle but unmistakable. What Sargent leaves out this time is that President Biden has been avoiding the topic of immigration for months. When he visited Arizona in December to give a speech about computer chips he was asked why he wasn’t also making a trip to the border. Biden responded, “Because there are more important things going on.”
So Biden’s “intensifying focus” on this issue happened very recently and seems to have been a surprise to everyone. When his first trip to the border (not just of his presidency but in his entire career) was announced last week, he said the details still hadn’t been worked out. You get the impression he may have seen some bad polling on the issue and suddenly decided to change course.
But again, for months prior to that sudden shift, Biden did ignore it and kept it at arms length. So if you want to credit him for seizing the initiative now you also have to discredit him for failing to seize it earlier. If “Republicans often set the frame” for the argument over immigration over the past year or two that’s partly because Democrats like Biden are hiding in a corner hoping the problems will all go away. This is what he’s been doing since the very start of his administration when the number of migrants arriving at the border started rising he claimed it was nothing but seasonal variation. (It wasn’t.) Sargent continues.
Here’s one idea: Democrats should find ways to elevate the voices of lawmakers from Southwestern and border states on this issue. These are mostly dynamic, relatively young public servants who can speak from direct experience about immigration in a nuanced, compelling way. Why don’t we hear more from them when Republicans roll out their stunts?…
Democrats just won high-profile races in the region against leading MAGA Republicans who ran not just as immigration restrictionists but as virulent demagogues. Notably, Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) defeated Blake Masters, the Great Restrictionist Hope of the GOP, who featured machine gun fire at the border in his ads.
Yes, Sen. Mark Kelly won reelection and from the way this is written, if you didn’t know better, you might assume he’s some kind of missing voice for the progressive side of this argument. In fact, Kelly has been pretty vocal about his views on the border. Here’s what he told the Post in November.
When you’re running for the United States Senate or any statewide office, you’ve got to go and talk to everybody and talk to them about things they care about, whether it’s the cost of gasoline or, especially in Southern Arizona, about the border, which is a crisis. You can’t ignore that in Arizona. It’s been chaos down there at times, for decades.
Here’s what Sen. Kelly had to say last year about the end of Title 42 which was being pushed by immigration activists and the Biden administration.
I warned them about this months ago, talking to CBP about it and the Department of Homeland Security, and they do not have a plan in place on how to deal with the increased numbers. And it’s going to be … to be honest, it’s going to be a crisis on top of a crisis.
So, yes, by all means let’s hear more from Sen. Kelly on this issue. He’s quite a bit to the right of where President Biden has been for all of last year. Here’s Sargent’s conclusion.
Democrats who live and breathe these issues regularly need to take charge of this debate and explain clearly to the American people that legal immigration, managed humanely and effectively, is a positive good for the country.
Democrats have been running scared from this issue for years. The fact that Biden has finally decided to engage means it’s now safe for Sargent to push others to engage. Quite simply, he couldn’t have written this piece two weeks ago because urging Democrats to engage when the president is disengaged would have looked bad. But of course Sargent doesn’t say any of that.