One of the human traits that cripples any attempt to assess an election is our tendency to think that any issue that’s crucial to us is crucial to the electorate at large.
In 1992, Ross Perot’s backers thought hostility to NAFTA would boost their candidate to the White House. Nineteen percent is nothing to sneeze at, but it didn’t happen. This year, Ron Paul’s forces believe that a sleeping mass of Republican primary voters will awaken and vote for their man out of discontent with the war and the Federal Reserve System. That won’t be happening either.
Pat Buchanan’s followers thought millions would sign on for a campaign stressing the dangers of (among other things) unfettered illegal immigration. It was not an idea whose time had come.
But has it now? Will 2008 be an immigration election as much as a war election?
There is no doubt that economic and national security issues have vaulted immigration concerns to the forefront. Historians will note that cries of fear went up in the immigration boom years of the early 20th century, but that panic now reeks of xenophobia. Those immigrants were legal, and their work ethic and passion for assimilating into American culture are the basis of our pride as “a nation of immigrants.”
Today, far too many immigrants break our laws while shunning our language and culture. This is not your grandfather’s immigrant wave, and plenty of voters are noticing.
But how many? Enough to hand the White House to a candidate talking tough on this issue?
Maybe. Examine the evidence. Voters who support the president in other areas shake their heads at his passion for giving amnesty to illegals. A presidential campaign on the ropes plunges into free fall after the candidate (John McCain) signs on to a soft and unworkable immigration bill that is ultimately scuttled by public outcry. The other GOP front-runners, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, seem to scramble to see who can appear toughest on the issue of our borders.
It’s hard to see what kind of war stance will best help am ‘08 candidate, but this immigration business is a no-brainer, right?
Not necessarily. My passion for this issue prods me to think (or is it hope?) that border issues rank high at the polls. But objectivity forces me to consider evidence to the contrary.
The strongest candidates on the borders, congressmen Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo, are mired in obscurity. While some states (like Texas) and some constituencies (like talk show listeners) are in high dudgeon over immigration, polls show an appreciable chunk of Americans ambivalent about it, even to the point of favoring the guest worker program that is kryptonite to hard-liners.
Powerful business interests have no intention of waving off the billions they save each year by turning a blind eye to illegal laborers, and a stubborn segment of the GOP power structure and pundit class stand ready to wag fingers and cast aspersions on anyone who suggests it is time to get serious about immigration law.
Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard wrote this month that Republicans stand the risk of alienating countless Hispanic voters if they maintain a stern border stance. Why? Shouldn’t the Latino voter, here legally one would presume, be the first to object to others who cheat?
Republican Party General Chairman Mel Martinez actually scolded the Giuliani and Romney campaigns recently for tough border stances. Is the party power structure this fearful that a strong immigration stance will send Hispanic voters bolting even more lopsidedly to the Democrats? And if that’s the case, what if those fears are well-founded?
President Bush won 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004. Does that number drop precipitously for a candidate who actually seeks to solve our illegal immigration problem? And among voters of all races, does a muscular law-and-order immigration candidate repel one voter for every one he attracts?
Most Republican voters are looking for a candidate strong on the war on terror. This trait has not exactly proven to be a path to Mount Rushmore. Similarly, on immigration, I want my president to default to the noblest instinct a leader can have: Do the right thing, and let the chips fall where they may.
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