DATE: 1/08/2004 10:21:00 AM
Immigration, Again - One of my favorite bloggers, PoliPundit, is understandably upset about the president's immigration proposals. In a post about it today, he makes the following statement: "If this suicidical policy doesn't die in Congress, I will be forced to reconsider my support for the president's re-election." I hate to use a blogger I respect and admire as a negative example, but the Poli is the creator of Wictory Wednesday and somewhat influential.
Most of the news stories on this new policy have focused on the political aspects of it, the outreach to Hispanic voters, the realignment of the Republican party. Conservatives who disagree with the policy in Polipundit's comments are decrying Karl Rove and his electoral strategizing. Both the reporters who write these inside baseball stories and the critical conservatives are ignoring a possibility here: Maybe Bush is doing this not for electoral gain, but because he really believes in the policy.
The immigration policy, I believe, reflects two parts of Bush's character - the 'first-step' president and the religious man.
What is a 'first-step' president? It's one who has big goals, and achieves those goals with small steps. Bush has been most criticized by conservatives for three major proposals: education, Medicare and now immigration. Each of these, conservatives argued, cost a lot of money and gave liberals some of what they wanted. Well, yes. But in each bill, Bush included elements that liberals hated, but accepted. In the education bill, Bush is moving toward accountability and eventually, I believe, vouchers. In the Medicare bill, Bush included a plan to start medical savings accounts, a first step to privatizing the program. In the immigration bill, Bush is not giving a blanket amnesty - there are conditions, and there are expectations. One of those is identification.
At present, we have no idea how many illegal immigrants currently reside in the United States. Sure, we could marshall the enormous power of law enforcement, spend tons and tons of money and find a few of them. That would be a stick. Bush has instead offered a carrot. Bush is making the temporary amnesty contingent upon those illegals coming forward to register and identify themselves to the government. After the three years are up, the immigrants have a choice - work toward citizenship or go home. The only difference from before is now we know where they are.
Personally, I think this proposal is another of Bush's first steps. Liberals have found, to their surprise, that Bush is a canny politician. I think he learned from the mistakes of the Gingrich 'revolution.' The Republicans in 1994 overreached and grabbed for the whole policy pie with both hands. Voters slapped them down in 1996 and 1998. Some conservatives have not learned from that experience, and the minute George W. Bush got a Republican Congress, once again got greedy eyes and a sweet tooth. Unlike Gingrich, though, Bush isn't going to acede to every demand of those with little patience.
The Second Part - The other factor that moves Bush toward this policy is his faith. Bush is a religious man, and he has made no secret of that. In fact, it's something his political adversaries have had great fun with - just read one of Howard Dean's stump speech references to the "fundamentalist preachers." An important component of Bush's faith, I believe, is a desire to help those in need. To take care of "the least of these." as Matthew 25:44-46 puts it.
As governor of Texas, Bush worked with a large immigrant community. That's where my family is from. I think he saw the sacrifices many people were willing to make, the risks they took, to get to America and make a better life for their families. I think knowing and meeting people like that has helped lead him to this policy - he wants to make the dream of America a reality for others. Most immigrants who come over are not looking for a free handout. In fact, many of them do the work most of us won't do. The popular misconception and demonization of mostly Mexican immigrants as people who come over to take welfare makes my blood boil. I've seen the work ethic of this community, and it doesn't resemble the stereotype at all. Bush isn't just looking for potential voters here, as many conservatives have charged. He sees a large community with a strong work ethic and sees potential Americans.
Plus, I'm not so sure Bush is completely enamored with the conservative 'base.' Yes, conservatives helped him get elected in 2000. But four million of them stayed home. He has seen the petulance and fickleness of those who call themselves conservatives, and is rightly not depending entirely on their votes. Judging from the reactions of so-called loyal conservatives to this most recent policy, I think he made the right decision.