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Wash. Examiner Opinion Piece Slams Gilchrist

A pretty harsh attack piece by Eve Fairbanks of the Washington Examiner:

At first glance, Jim Gilchrist seems like your typical, easily dismissed small-party candidate. Running for the Orange County, Calif. House seat vacated by new Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Chris Cox, Gilchrist is a retired certified public accountant and the founder of the Minuteman Project, the organization that sends vigilante volunteers to patrol U.S. borders. He is campaigning on a single issue — illegal immigration — and is being sponsored by the American Independent Party, the party that was originally spawned to support George Wallace in his 1968 segregationist presidential bid.

He has compared himself to “that lone Chinese patriot in Tiananmen Square, standing before an oncoming Chinese army tank.” He recently refused to take part in a candidates’ debate because the League of Women Voters was one of its hosts.

Sounds like a throwaway 1 percent of the vote, that breed of lovable and under-qualified eccentric who adds humor to political races across the country by running obsessively on some bizarre platform involving Scientology or a harder line on feral cats. But Gilchrist, in the first round of voting in October, received 15 percent of the vote — nearly twice as much as the leading Democrat — a showing that has forced the election into a Dec. 6 runoff.

What is going on in Orange County? How did American Independent Party candidate Gilchrist gain so much momentum? In short, he has taken up an increasingly potent political issue — uncontrolled immigration — that the American political establishment has been dangerously slow to address. Election pundits predict that immigration will be one of the biggest issues in the 2006 elections, yet — perhaps because it’s often considered an exclusively far-right concern — many mainstream politicians have failed to speak or act compellingly on it. Such lethargy opens the door for homegrown politicians, fanatics or even mere cranks to commandeer it.

This is a version of the phenomenon that brought ultra-rightist Jean-Marie Le Pen to the fore in France in 2002. In the first round of the French presidential elections, Le Pen, who had claimed that the Nazi occupation of France was “not particularly inhumane” and that the different races are not equal, came in second, garnering almost 17 percent of the vote. European leaders, who often dismissed the immigration issue, were stunned.

Fortunately, Le Pen was resoundingly defeated in the subsequent runoff. And likewise, Gilchrist almost certainly will not win his runoff on Dec.6. But, even though voters turned against him, Le Pen had a pernicious effect on immigration politics that lasted well beyond his brief flare of success. He corrupted and doomed the discussion that France desperately needed on immigration by conflating legitimate mainstream concerns about immigration with extremism and xenophobia. He caused panic in Brussels, provoking the European Union to adopt hasty, ill-conceived Band-Aid measures instead of real fixes. His success damaged France’s reputation abroad and its self-image at home. And he gave inspiration to similar movements, like the nationalist Vlaams Blok of Belgium, which at one point advocated sending all non-European immigrants home and took nearly 25 percent of the vote in the 2004 elections. Even after Le Pen was defeated, Marcel Boogers, a Dutch political scientist, told The New York Times that “[a] new political wind is blowing through Europe. That wind is carrying a distrust of political leaders. That wind is carrying a kind of anger because of [their] arrogance.”

Gilchrist is not nearly so extreme and malevolent a figure as Le Pen. And there is, as yet, no truly national politician like Le Pen in the United States. But Gilchrist’s success should alarm us nevertheless, because, in a void of strong leadership on immigration, politicians like him threaten to gather people with legitimate, mainstream concerns about immigration under more extremist banners and the resulting backlash threatens to de-legitimize their concerns altogether.

Our current system of dealing with immigration is deeply flawed. But the warm welcome we have always prided ourselves on extending toward newcomers who wish to partake in the American project deserves a better steward than Jim Gilchrist. To stave off a European outcome, won’t somebody — some liberals, especially — step up and give the Gilchrist voters, most of whom are not fundamentally racist but have been spooked by rhetoric, a better option?

5 Responses to “Wash. Examiner Opinion Piece Slams Gilchrist”

  1. undercover_ararchist Says:

    I think Gilchrist is a fascist, but this article is just as fascist as he is in its outright dismissal of third-parties. It’s like the “liberals” who would ban Nazi demonstrations.

  2. Joe Says:

    I hope the article is right and Gilchrist does win the election. However, most of the article does not make much sense. One the one hand the author says we need to worry because Gilchrist’s election because it would indicate an extreme shift in the immigration debate, yet on the other hand she says that Gilchrist is not an extremist like Le Pen. France needs Le Pen, and America needs people in Congress like Jim Gilchrist.

  3. Kyle B Says:

    any polls showing how Gilchrist is doing? I would guess he will get between 20% -25% of the vote

  4. Stuart Richards Says:

    Gilchrist could yet win this, although it’s a long shot. And I hardly think the man’s a fascist-there are so many horrible, disgusting things that go on at our borders that honestly, a little civilian oversight, and even deporting the lot of them, is better for the Hispanics themselves than what’s happening right now.

    Ideally, we’re better off with open-but protected-borders, but Gilchrist’s better than what we currently have.

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