Sometimes the world is better off when malformed product of an unwise mating dies in utero. We probably can go on living as a country for the two years it will take for Dems to have almost total control over the legislative process, then Dems can craft a bill that at least has a coherent point to it. Maybe the crazy insane bill that nativists warn about will wreck the country, if so Dems will pay for it in the next election. In the meantime, given politicial and demographic trends, it would have made good sense for Republicans to settle for whatever compromises they could negotiate while they still had any influence at all.
Wonkery aside, the delicious politics of this bill strike me more than anything else. Like most people who support the Democrats I don’t have much passion one way or the other. Having to speak Spanish to get a decent wet burrito doesn’t bother me, I like cinco de Mayo and it strikes me as vaguely fair that our policy should help families stay together. America survived the Irish invasion, the Italian invasion, the Nordic/Germanic invasion, the slavic invasion, the (involuntary) African invasion and the Chinese invasion so it seems ludicrously insecure to think that one more will kill us. Whichever way they went on the issue the worst heat most Democrats are likely to face will come from David Broder.
But lord, what a tough spot for Republicans. At its heart the GOP has two basic camps* – business conservatives who bankroll the party and the social conservatives/theocons who staff it. In that light one could say the towering achievement of Bush’s term as POTUS was that he defied the centrifugal forces of majority power and held the GOP’s unlikely coalition together as firmly and as long as he did. If so, his towering failure will undoubtedly be his adamant support of this immigration bill.
I have tried for days to think of something that could wedge the social cons apart from the business cons than immigration but I just can’t do it. The Chamber of Commerce loves our current system because one can pay illegals practically nothing and they will thank you for it. In their view any fix to the current system has to keep bringing in large numbers of people with poor language skills (can’t have them reading those OSHA flyers on the wall) and a weak bargaining position, e.g. guest workers. Otherwise Americans had better get ready to start paying more for hotel beds, restaurant meals and packed meats.
The key problem is that the thing that the business cons need more than anything is exactly what the social cons desperately want to end. This issue has no conceivable middle ground because the social cons want less of precisely the same thing that business cons need more of. The historical calm between these two camps lasted and could only last as long as party leaders had the good sense to keep the issue off the front burner altogether. Any move to change the status quo would necessarily set off contrary demands that could easily spiral into open warfare.
Pushing immigration now was a dumb move by Bush, but it was far dumber than I think most people realize. Hilzoy has argued that the immigration is really a convenient outlet for Republicans to vent their deeper disappointment over issues J through Z, and I’m sure that there is plenty of that, but I think that the president’s screwup is more profound than Hilzoy lets on. The president’s party is reeling from Iraq, rudderless and lacking in leadership at any level, facing political losses as bad or worse than 2006, and now his own mulish push on immigration has lit the fuse on a wedge-shaped charge** that could split the party in two.
(*) There are two kind of people in the world, those who see two kinds of people in the world and those who don’t.
(**) Alternatively, a Malkin-shaped charge.