Not Just Background Noise


Today’s nationwide immigration boycott – in which untold thousands of legal and illegal immigrants will be taking up position in the streets instead of their accustomed supporting roles in the background – is a rare example of unscripted politics in modern America.

Most political discourse these days is so predictable that insiders can recite the lines of both sides on the Sunday-morning talk shows even if the sound is on mute. Professionals handle these sorts of things: you’ve got your Astroturf campaigns, your grass-tops campaigns, email campaigns, talk radio campaigns – all tuned just so for maximum impact on Capitol Hill. Whole armies of specialists take up position inside the Beltway to manage such campaigns every working day of the year. The hoi polloi is often recruited for these campaigns – every army needs an infantry – but the battle plans tend to be drawn up on K Street.

But not today. Certainly the immigration issue has its own collection of political players – see “It Came from Beyond the Beltway” – but the real power in the movement isn’t coming from lobbyists, PR consultants, or PAC directors. It’s coming from outsiders who usually don’t rate, and it will be most interesting indeed to watch the inside-the-Beltway reaction.

Can you imagine the scene at one of Washington’s power-lunch restaurants if the crew in the back suddenly marched out of the kitchen into the dining room, banging pots against pans and belting out the national anthem in Spanish? That’s something like what’s happening today. For once, the insiders are on the sidelines and the outcome is anything but sure.

Days like this are such a rarity any more. We’re so used to the faux politics, the managed politics, the money politics, that a dose of the real thing hits us like an unexpected blast of cold wind on a sunny day. Huh? Where’d that come from? What’s going on here? Who are these guys banging those pots and pans, and when will they stop?