May 31 2006
I feel like politics in this country has entered the twilight zone. People I respected for brilliant logic and insight and top notch debate have become emotional, simplistically surreal in their proposals. The level of the discussion has dropped way down into fevered accusations in some places and pure denial in others. I was going to title this post “Denial: A Deep River In The Republican Party” because the fact so many people are rushing headlong against popular opinion and destroying the conservative movement. I hate to do this, but I must illustrate this by pointing to Paul Mirnoff’s recent post at Powerline to show the depths of this denial and its implications:
Matthew Dowd, a Republican strategist with an excellent track record, has produced a memorandum in which he argues, based on polling data, that Americans support a “comprehensive solution” to the problem of illegal immigration that includes reform on three fronts: strengthening enforcement at the border, creating a temporary worker program, and providing a way for illegals who are here now to obtain legal status. Dowd concludes that “Republican candidates succeed when they support taking [comprehensive] action on immigration.” He supports this conclusion by noting that, according to the poll, just 25 percent of voters are “more likely” to support a candidate who advocates only sealing the border, stopping illegal immigrants from entering, and imposing criminal penalties on immigrants. By contrast, 71 percent are “more likely” to support a candidate who wants to beef up border security, enforce laws against companies that hire illegals, and create a temporary worker program with safeguards against abuse.
Does this mean that conservatives should stop worrying and support the broad reform package proposed by the Senate and/or President Bush, and are doomed if they don’t? I don’t think so.
First, and obviously, one should not support a bad immigration reform plan regardless of its popularity. The poll results don’t speak to the merits of the Senate plan or the Bush plan.
Second, the poll results don’t persuade me that Republican candidates for Congress are doomeed unless they accede to the Senate’s plan or something similar. Candidates should easily be able to distinguish between the euphemistic “comprehensive reform” posited in the poll questions and the reality of the Senate’s Christmas tree bill. They should also be able to show the inadequacies of that bill’s enforcement provisions. Moreover, they need not embrace the punitive views expressed in the cartoonish alternative to Dowd’s favored position.
Paul’s position is simply denial of reality. The people cannot be right because the bill is ‘bad’. The problem with this logic is most people in this country are not crying fro retribution against people who have worked to make a living and raise a family. The folks who started with “deport the criminals”, and who moved on to “make the criminals felons”, and who have since moved on to “starve them out by making it impossible to get a job”, have rightfully been labled extremists. The anti-reasonable-solutions crowd is motivated by emotion, somne strange combination of a need for retribution and fear of a future they cannot control.
But the second part of the denial is even more stunning if you look at Dowd’s poll numbers:
Dowd’s memo says that an internal RNC poll conducted by Jan Van Louhuzen finds that “pverwhelming support exists for a temporary worker program. 80% of all voters, 83% of Republicans, and 79% of self-identified conservatives support a temporary worker program as long as immigrants pay taxes and obey the law.”
The last time I saw poll numbers this lopsided was when Dick Durbin referred to GITMO by referring to Nazis and the Khmer Rouge. 80-20 is not even close. Read the memorandum (linked in the Powerline excerpt) and realize Paul had to look across numerous questions and various polling sources to come to the conclusion there is not elections risk for going over the top and taking the extreme line here. No matter how the what-we-want-or-else crowd tries to dress up the issue, it is still tarnished with the rantings of people like Michael Savage and Pat Buchanan. Put Pat and Savage together and you get all the makings of a lynch mob.
Dowd said it right at the end of his memo:
“Finally, when discussing immigration reform, tone and language are extremely important. To continue to grow the party, we must conduct this debate with civility and respect for our nation’s heritage — as the President has said, we are both a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. That is why the American people favor a balanced plan that secures the border, improves enforcement, enhances immigration avenues AND deals compassionately and equitably with those who are already here.”
And this is backed up by poll data itself:
Voters donâ€™t consider granting legal status to those already here amnesty. Seventy percent (70%) of voters say illegal immigrants who have put down roots in the U.S. should be granted legal status after they go to the back of the line, pay a fine, pay back taxes, learn English, and have a clean criminal record; just 25% say that would be amnesty and we should instead impose criminal penalties on illegal immigrants in the U.S.
Emphasis mine.Â The extremists who think any sign of compassion (i.e., any deviation from humiliating people working without the proper papers) is ‘amnesty’ are a small minority.Â The American People are a smart, caring, reasonable people who have led the world in many areas solving many problems.Â When I see numbers like these in polls where emotion is not a driver (the Dubai Ports World issue was the one exception in many, many years) I see the wisdom of a great nation.Â To some they see only the ignorant masses who are simply mistaken because the have not seen the light.
Well, from here it is not hard to see what happens.Â The 25% who cannot stomach a comprohensive bill will destroy the governing coalition of conservatism.Â In an 80-20 world you are never going to get what you want.Â The anger in this minority and being rejected is hot and I doubt these people will ever be able to deal with losing.Â The fact they have been forced to say democracy should not lead on this issue because there is not majority in the Republican caucus (which is being whipped by special iinterest money, not the national interest) shows the vacuousness of their position.Â The shifting goal posts from mass deportations to starving them out of jobs indicates these people know, deep down they are losing this debate.Â They do not have the President or the people on their side.Â But my feeling is they have invested too much emotion to come back from the brink.Â Somehow Durbin was able to survive is 80-20 moment.Â The conservative coalition will not survive this I fear.Â But if that is the price we pay to retain our humanity and compassion, then that is the price we pay.Â So be it.