Making it safe for progressives to talk about population

Barack Obama for President

I’ll be honest about this. I had hoped that by now my video about the U.S. Census Bureau would have created some media buzz and drawn attention to the unprecedented and unsustainable growth in the U.S. population. Indeed, my dream goal was to have a question about U.S. population growth asked of the candidates at the upcoming presidential debates.

So, with less than two months to the election, how’s that going? Not all that well, actually. It just seems, for some reason, that when an unknown guy from Vermont comes out and argues that the Director of the Census Bureau has intentionally misled the American people about the scale and significance of our population growth, most people are going to ignore him and accept the assessments of slowing growth offered by the Census Director.

Am I disappointed? Yes.

Am I surprised? Not by a long shot.

Am I discouraged? Not in the least. I am going to continue to draw attention to the disingenuous emphasis on slowing growth that was put forward by the Census Bureau in the midst of the largest demographic expansion in the history of the developed world. And eventually I believe people will see that the emperor has no clothes.
At the moment, however, the race for the White House is far too close, both in terms of the polls and in terms of the calendar, for me to risk aggressively promoting a claim of blatant falsehoods that, with the poorly developed reasoning skills of far too many American voters, could be used as a weapon against our president as he seeks re-election. I have a case to make for slowing the growth in the U.S. population, but this is not the optimal time for making that case, and I don’t want to provide anything that the Republican liars could use as ammunition. Perhaps I overstate my potential influence. So be it. The same could have been said for Ralph Nader in 2000. Remember how that turned out?

So today, in spite of my disagreements with Obama over immigration policy as proposed by his administration, I urge you to re-elect Barack Obama for President of the United States of America. He is the only reasonable candidate on the ballot. And considering the mess he was handed, and the evil-minded obstructionism of an opposition party that would have the whole economy implode in pursuit of their goal of complete control of our political system, he’s done pretty well so far. In fact, my biggest concern when he won his historic battle for the presidency was that the American people would expect too much of him in too little time, and what began as an infatuation among progressives and independents would soon turn into a bitter and irrational disdain. On that forecast, I seem to have been pretty close to the truth.

It seems a good time, however, to elaborate on my ambitious plan for bringing the issue of U.S. population growth into the public arena for an honest and far-reaching national debate. For starters, it’s worth noting that I am often wrong in my predictions about the political outcomes of various elections. I thought Al Gore would win in 2000. I still think he did, in fact. I thought John Kerry would win, but in that I underestimated the extent to which a core constituency of the voting public could come to the polls motivated by a fear of same-sex unions but also pull the knob to re-elect a village idiot that had already been missing from a Texas community for four long years. And I thought that Obama would beat John McCain, and in that case I was actually right, but you get my point.

More recently, I was quite astonished at how quickly the Romney/Ryan ticket was crashing and burning in the wake of the remarks by Todd Akin of Missouri and his reference to “legitimate rape.” Given that Akin and Ryan had worked on various bills and that Ryan’s views were indistinguishable from Akin’s, I thought the whole thing was as good as over and that Obama would see an easy road ahead. But even with that flurry of attention to Ryan’s Cro-Magnon-compatible views on women’s rights and the blame-the-victim focus on rape in particular, the polls were still virtually tied going in to the conventions. So, yeah, I know that just because I intuit a certain political trend, that reality is not necessarily reflected by the broad-swath of the American electorate. And so I’m worried that Romney could still win, and this makes me far less eager to aggressively draw attention to what I still believe is a campaign of deception implemented by the Census Bureau. We’ll talk about population growth in your second term, Mr. President, but until November 6th you can count on my support.

When I launched a protest action on the campus of Hampshire College in May, I was likewise incorrect in my estimation of how the news of this action would reverberate throughout the Pioneer Valley and eventually the entire progressive community in America. I left the campus feeling energized and having no regrets, but in the weeks that followed I did not witness that kind of response. No big deal, though. Before long I soon realized that I didn’t need an uproar; I just needed to point out the fallacies and unfairness of the campaign against populationists like myself, a campaign with substantial linkages to the Population and Development Program at Hampshire College. I believe I made that case reasonably well. Someday there may be closer scrutiny of this program for training smear artists and getting them to post their lies on the smear-based website, Imagine2050, and if that moment arrives, I have a time-stamped statement documenting my protest. In the meantime, I hope the folks at the Hampshire College Population and Development Program have reconsidered what had been until then an unchallenged effort to teach Hampshire students the subtle skills of character assassination in pursuit of de-facto censorship of legitimate progressive viewpoints.

Having made that point with little apparent impact, I then turned to the second part of my grand scheme, the release of a video exposing the disingenuous (and intentionally deceptive?) strategy by the Census Bureau to describe the largest two-decade expansion of population in the history of the developed world as “. . . …a slowing of growth.” At the time, I thought this would surely get people’s attention. But as I mentioned above, most people don’t find it easy to believe an unknown individual could have a point in criticizing a highly respected and supposedly incorrigible nonpartisan statistical agency. So there sat my video on Youtube, with but a small number of views listed.

I did take further measures to draw attention to it–sent the link to every U.S. Senator; sent the link to board members of the Population Association of America; sent the link to a bunch of senior staff at the Census Bureau itself and a handful of media outlets. No one commented. No one “liked” it. Each time I invested time in these kinds of efforts, I would see a minimal flurry of additional views on Youtube. About 350 views so far–the only evidence that any of this had any impact at all, and now the election looms with a great deal of uncertainty. Knowing that many of the people who saw a draft of the video before its official release had lots of questions, however, I followed up with my second video about carrying capacity, to fill in some of the blanks about how this would affect Americans and the economic challenges we face.

To a modest degree, all of this was timed with an awareness of the timetable for the presidential election. If it had gone as I had hoped, there would have been a minor scandal, with the Obama administration called to task for manipulating the release of the Census 2010 results. In my admittedly optimistic fantasy, there would be time for me to then express my support for the president and point out the obvious problems that populationists would face with the frightening prospect of another Republican in the White House. Granted, the Republicans are more aggressive on persecuting undocumented immigrants, but their policy regarding LEGAL immigration is clearly dictated by the Wall Street Journal, which essentially endorses unlimited immigration in the pursuit of cheap labor and the resulting profits for the wealthy. And then there is the Republican campaign to limit reproductive freedoms and the integration of family planning services and education into our health care and educational systems. When it comes to reproductive rights, the Republican policy goals are beyond atrocious.

Some Republicans, while complaining about illegal immigration on one hand, have at the same time worried publicly that American women were not producing enough babies. From a populationist perspective, this is inconsistent because both legal and illegal immigration, and the logistically compromised delivery of family planning services and education, are resulting in unsustainable population growth. But for conservatives, the issue is not population growth at all. Instead, their concern is primarily cultural, although there are some who do endorse higher birth rates for economic reasons. This contrast, in fact, offers a good basis upon which to delineate between those who advocate for reducing immigration rates out of a concern about population growth, and those who advocate for reducing immigration rates for other reasons. Indeed, the distinction between social conservatives and progressive populationists is never more obvious than when one contrasts their approach to immigration, which increases the population but reduces the proportion of Caucasians in that population, against their efforts to restrain the delivery of family planning services and education, which in some cases is favored with an unstated preference for higher fertility among Caucasians.

And this is where I really don’t get the complaints offered by those who accuse populationists like me of being closet racists. Yes, we do worry about high rates of immigration and the resulting growth in the number of people participating in the high-consumption American lifestyle, but we also call for reducing the shameful number of unplanned pregnancies in our country, regardless of the racial composition of the births that result. This is a good way to tell the difference between the call for reducing immigration among the social conservatives, many of whom see it as a threat to the dominant position of white Christian Americans in our cultural makeup, but who believe that larger families among the right groups—read: white people—should be surreptitiously encouraged by reducing government support for family planning services and education. That to me is not consistent with a concern about population growth, but it is consistent with an anxiety about the declining percentage of Caucasians in the American community.
For me and the other populationists attacked by the folks at the POPDEV program, there is an overall desire to slow down the growth in our population, and our consumption and waste, on many fronts. We want to reduce immigration because we know that the U.S. is already hogging far too much of the global resource stream and generating far too many of the poisons that accumulating in our oceans, our atmosphere and our soil. But unlike the social conservatives, we do not flip that argument on its head when it comes to domestic fertility. Here, too, we consistently call for slowing the growth of the population, not just in some families, but in all families whose children will grow up to contribute to that disproportionate consumption and climate-altering greenhouse gases. The folks at POPDEV love to talk about how the U.S. population is not the problem; the American lifestyle is the problem. implying that we populationists don’t share that concern. In fact, populationists, across the board, adamantly call for reducing not just the growth of the U.S. population but also the aspects of our lifestyle that so heavily bloat our overall consumption and waste streams. But unlike the Pro-Open-Borders/Anti-Free Speech zealots at Hampshire, we believe that increasing the size of the U.S. population is inseparable from an even more unsustainable American footprint. We don’t deny that changing the American lifestyle is a necessary part of the picture, but we don’t see that challenge as trumping the benefits of working at the same time to slow the growth in the number of people participating in that problematic lifestyle.

On immigration, Obama has an approach that I find to be far too willing to ignore the implications of unprecedentedly rapid U.S. population growth, but I think that Obama’s views can be changed over time if the concerns I raise in my videos are given a fair hearing in the public square. As I said, I had hoped to have that national debate in the context of the election season, but now that the month of September is already here, I don’t feel the need to ignite such a potentially significant and truly complex debate with the potential of interfering with a very critical but very close election.

As a progressive, I offer my support of Obama because there are so many issues on which I agree with him and on which I find the Republican approach to be appallingly bad. And as much as the choice seems obvious to me, I fear that the frustration of the American people, and their lack of sophistication in the political shouting match, resting as it does on so wobbly a capacity for critical thinking, could be enough to lead them to the polls with an anyone-but-Obama mindset. A focus on the manipulation of reality as exhibited by the Census Bureau’s portrayal of “a slowing of growth,” while potentially helpful to an issue I consider to be central to America’s future wellbeing, also has the potential to be twisted into an argument where that frustration could be directed against the narrowly focused topic of illegal immigration and used against Obama in the same way that same-sex marriage was used to bring about Bush’s election against John Kerry in 2004.

The issue of Census Bureau obfuscation, and the issue of smear artists in training at a liberal arts college in Western Massachusetts, are kind of like two sticks that I’ve been rubbing together in the hopes of generating a helpful spark. No significant sparks yet, and I don’t want to take the chance, however remote, that my efforts to draw attention to the Census Bureau’s obfuscation of our current pace of growth could be manipulated by Romney and Rove to trigger some kind of anti-Obama backlash among the groups that are least supportive of Obama’s policies.
If I decide to post anything else here between now and the election, it will not be focused on my concerns with the sincerity of the Census Bureau as it characterized the results of the 2010 Census.

But stay tuned, folks, stay tuned.

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Progressive Populationist

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