These characterizations can leave the impression that opposition to Syrian refugee resettlement is a fringe position — right-wing nuttiness from the folks who brought you FEMA concentration camps and birtherism. (Well, come to think of it, Syrian refugee opponent and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump actually is the guy who brought you birtherism — most publicly, at least.)
But as the week wore on, it became clearer and clearer: Politicians who don’t want Syrians fleeing their country’s civil war to come to the United States are well within the mainstream. It is actually those who support refugee resettlement who are disconnected from what most of the country wants. So you can call opponents of welcoming Syrian refugees whatever you want, but you're extending that label to perhaps a majority of Americans as well (including plenty of Democrats).
A Washington Post/ABC News poll published Friday found 54 percent of Americans do not want to accept any Syrian refugees at all. That result aligned closely with a Bloomberg poll taken a few days after last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris that put opposition at 53 percent, with another 11 percent supporting the idea of admitting only Christian refugees. That’s nearly two-thirds of the country — and 45 percent of Democrats — backing a total end to resettlement or a religious test for asylum. Another online poll showed 56 percent disapproved of allowing Syrian refugees to come to the United States.
And when the House voted Thursday on a bill imposing ultra-tight restrictions on the refugee program, it passed in a landslide. Forty-seven Democrats — more than one-fourth of that party's caucus — voted in favor.
None of this means that closing the door to people escaping a war-torn country (or leaving open just the tiniest crack) is the right thing to do. In the spring of 2003, 72 percent of Americans supported the war in Iraq, according to Gallup. A slight majority of the country now views the war as a mistake. Clearly, the prevailing opinion on important foreign policy issues can be wrong or, at least, change over time.
And some of the political rhetoric surrounding the Syrian refugee debate truly has been significantly more extreme than simply closing our borders; Trump’s apparent endorsement of a federal registry of all Muslims on Thursday comes to mind.
But mere opposition to welcoming people who come from a place known for producing terrorists is not extreme — unless the American populace and the Democratic Party is composed largely of political extremists. And calling that many people extreme is probably not a great way to win an argument.
Even Mother Jones recognized this, speaking to fellow flabbergasted liberals:
Mocking it is the worst thing we could do. It validates all the worst stereotypes about liberals that we put political correctness ahead of national security. It doesn't matter if that's right or wrong. Ordinary people see the refugees as a common sense thing to be concerned about. We shouldn't respond by essentially calling them idiots. That way lies electoral disaster.
Others in the left-leaning media should probably acknowledge the same reality.