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What It Takes to Be Ignored in Washington

The dreary Robert Samuelson, who can always be counted on for a “both sides are ignoring the real issue…” column, complains this morning that both sides in the immigration debate, and the press (except, of course, for his own mustache-of-understanding) are ignoring Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation and his projections that the Senate immigration bill would cost $30 billion a year and allow millions more legal immigrants to enter the country. (“One obvious question is why most of the news media missed the larger immigration story,” Samuelson writes. “On May 15 Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama held a news conference with Heritage’s Rector to announce their immigration projections and the estimated impact on the federal budget. Most national media didn’t report the news conference.”)

He considers various explanations for this neglect, from Rector’s theory that the media has a liberal bias and favors immigration, to his own “more complicated” view that the media tends to follow the story as its been defined, and it has been defined as a question of amnesty.

I mean no disrespect to Samuelson’s obviously nuanced and complex worldview, but perhaps we might consider a simpler explanation for the media ignoring Robert Rector: Perhaps, just perhaps, Rector has finally crossed the line - hard to do in Washington - where he has no credibility. Remember, this is Robert Rector who spent the 1990s arguing that there wasn’t really much poverty in America, because some poor people are fat and many have color televisions, and simultaneously telling the Senate Finance Committee that “we spent $5.4 trillion on the war on poverty and poverty won.” (What about all those televisions? And to come up with $5.4 trillion, at a time when welfare and food stamps together cost less than $50 billion a year, involved throwing in all sorts of programs for health care and education unrelated to welfare or the short-lived “war on poverty,” adding up 30 years of spending, adjusting it all upwards for inflation, and then rounding up.) This is also the Robert Rector who has spent the ‘00s concocting studies trying to show that abstinence education and virginity pledges are something other than a dangerous and nasty bit of social engineering that seems to have demonstrably hurt teens’ health by restoring ignorance and shame to  sexuality. Rector is a political operative.

A specific rebuttal to Rector on immigration is here. Apparently Rector assumes that most legal immigrants will receive “welfare,” but as with the “$5.4 trillion war on poverty,” he has defined “welfare” to include all general costs of education, courts, etc., and disregarded the taxes immigrants - most of whom will work -- will pay.

I say congratulations to the press for ignoring Rector. It’s only 15 years too late.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on May 31, 2006 | Permalink


"I say congratulations to the press for ignoring Rector. It’s only 15 years too late." I agree with you wholeheartedly. How it can be that the public allows such political wish-wash to go on for so long is beyond me. It is interesting to see the media now here in the states be much less forgiving and gracious than they were even five years ago. The people need to know. Thank you for you thorough article.

Posted by: Joel | Jun 3, 2006 10:28:44 AM