rac•ism: a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others.

na•tiv•ism: the policy of protecting the interests of native inhabitants against those of immigrants.

Is the wave of popular revulsion against the immigration compromise among Republicans fueled by racism and/or nativism?

If you ask the opponents of a comprehensive compromise, they mostly say no. Most take profound umbrage at the suggestion.

I have argued that this debate is not really about illegal immigration; it is, in fact, about who and how many. That is, we could end the problem of illegality by waving our magic legislative wand. Therefore, "law and order" is not at the core of our emotional standoff; rather, our fight concerns the future of our culture as determined by the composition of the next generation.

The opponents to this particular immigration compromise have diverse reasons for their opposition. However, among the grassroots revolt is a vast multitude of Americans who believe that Mexicans are not educable and/or absorbable because of cultural differences and/or their limited capacity for ambition, comprehension and self-improvement.

Are these particular voices of skepticism racists? Are they nativists?

Part of the problem with this debate is that the label racist and nativist have become vile epithets.

Culture of Intolerance for Intolerance.

We live in a curious moment in time in which our collective rhetoric claims that we prize nonconformity, critical thinking and dissent. Dissent is the highest form of patriotism. Certitude is tantamount to ignorance. Truth is in the eye of the beholder.

On the other hand, the forces of nonconformity and tolerance exert enormous peer pressure on public figures and private individuals to conform to the ideology of tolerance. So much so, intolerant dissenters put their livelihoods and tranquility at risk when they question the creed of tolerance.

Examples: academics who suggest that Asians score higher than persons of African descent on standardized tests are immediately suspect (at best) or ostracized (in the extreme). Woe to the politician who suggests that a larger percentage of African Americans go to prison for any reason other than systemic racism built up in our nation over the course of four hundred years of oppression. Race and abortion? Race and single-parent families? Race and wealth and poverty? You get the picture. All taboo subjects in our current climate, unless you tow the party line.

Moreover, "racism" has become the most powerful condemnation in our society on the personal level. You meet a person at an event who seems perfectly engaging and affable, but someone whispers in your ear: "he's a racist." A look of revulsion comes over your face. You take an extra sip of your drink because it suddenly takes great effort to get your food down. You begin to plot your immediate exit strategy, and you make sure you avoid eye contact with this person for the duration of the engagement.

Understanding that "racism" has become the deadliest of political poisons, conservative proponents of the immigration compromise should never have brought up racism or nativism as political cudgels with which to beat their brothers in temporary opposition--no matter how relevant the charge.

The Fair Solution: We should allow racists and nativists to make their case in the simplest terms in a non-hostile environment. I disagree with the assumption that White Europeans are inherently superior stock for democratic citizenship--but it is a reasonable argument for which serious people can produce reams of evidence from all kinds of disciplines including history, the social sciences and the hard sciences. It is a claim that is eminently more defensible that the 9-11 conspiracy theory. Why not let the racists and nativists have their day in open court?

But that is impossible. So, the folks who might ordinarily make their case in clear and logical terms must cloak their arguments in professions for "law and order," anti-terrorism warnings and outlandish projections concerning the budget and the already doomed and despised social safety net.

Of course, as I have said many times before, the most frustrating thing about this debate is the misdirected fury and dread. The anti-illegal-immigrant impulse is actually a manifestation of the completely understandable frustration with a changing culture, but, unfortunately, currently it has no place to surface other than stalking horse issues.