Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Scariest Word In The English Language

The Scariest Word In The English Language

Immigrant.  Might as well get it out there as quickly as possible.

We have moved into Phase II of the immigration discussion, as the Gang of Eight compromise bill has now been properly strung up in the classic piñata position.  The sticks are out, and the swatting has begun.  I am not seeing any candy yet.

But, before we get to what’s inside the piñata, it is helpful to understand how a Bill becomes a Law.  The Senate passes a bill.  The House passes a bill.  If it happens to be the same bill, it then goes to the President for signature.  If it happens to be different, it goes to Conference; a compromise version is agreed to, then back to the respective chambers for ratification, and then, to the President for signature.   All very simple, and in normal times, the way things have been done for more than 200 years.  Some bills don’t make it out of committee, some bills fail in conference, some even get vetoed by the President, but, we have managed to accomplish this about 20,000 times.  There are good laws and some absolute stinkers, but the process has always gone on and the nation’s business (mostly) done.

However, let us not forget that past performance is no guarantee of future results.  Think of legislating now as a sort of game of Mad Libs, where the quotes and the parentheticals really tell the story.  So, “House” means “Tea/Limbaugh Block of not less than 115 to approve.” That’s just to get a vote.  And “Senate” means “Sixty Votes Because We Said So” for the same.  And just voting to vote doesn’t actually win.  There are a few old-fashioned types who will vote to vote out of respect for the institution, then vote against the bill itself.

Still with me?  The Founders likely wouldn’t be.  In Federalist 10, Madison wrote “If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote.”  

Silly Madison.  How quaint.  He never had the privilege of meeting the people who really run things these days, the ideological nihilists like Ted Cruz, and the cold-blooded operators, like John Cornyn.

Cruz has been getting a lot of press, but it is actually Cornyn who is more interesting. He was a judge on the Texas Supreme Court for seven years, which would imply at least the ability to be impartial.  But he’s also one of the most conservative Senators, one of only three to vote against John Kerry’s nomination for Secretary of State, and an expert in the game of naked power politics.  Cornyn doesn’t care what a majority of the Senate would vote for.

And Cornyn has just delivered on the GOP’s most troubling issue, how to deal with that word, immigrants. The GOP is in a bind.  It has what are three essentially hormonal imperatives.  The first, very clearly, is to deal with the wing of its party that simply cannot abide non-white, and particularly Latino immigrants. The second is to satisfy the business and farm interests, who are major campaign contributors and who very much like cheap, undocumented labor to do dirty jobs and depress wages in general for American workers.  And the third is purely electoral; since Latinos (and other immigrants) voted for Obama, anything that keeps down their vote is considered a positive.   

So, while Marco Rubio’s dalliance with the Gang of Eight made many Republicans queasy, Cornyn has just provided the deus es machina.  The Gang’s bill is by no means a waltz into full citizenship—it couldn’t be.  Instead, it is a compromise two-step.  Undocumented aliens can gain provisional status, permitting them to remain in the country legally and work. Following that, there could also be a green card and even citizenship, but only if certain border security measures were met to trigger the second part of the plan and allow it to move forward.

Cornyn's amendment makes the trigger threshold essentially unattainable. The Gang’s threshold would require 90 percent apprehension of border-crossers and full operational security at designated high-traffic areas of the border, which was pretty formidable, and tougher than liberals wanted. But Cornyn's amendment goes further, by extending that to every place along the border, meaning, in effect, that you could theoretically be interdicting 99% of all border-crossers, but have one or two small trouble areas, and that would be enough to kill the entire second stage.  Cornyn also goes further than the Gang’s pilot biometric entry and exit system for airports.  He requires full implementation in all airports and seaports.  And, he adds 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents.

It is a huge tactical victory for the GOP.  It keeps the cheap labor in the country for their business and agricultural supporters, massively graces Red States with huge dollops of pork, and prevents Latino immigrants from ever voting Democratic, because they will never be able to vote.  It’s a trap for Democrats.  If they oppose it they are soft on enforcement, and will get the blame for not passing something.  Support it and they have doomed the possibilities for any normalization.  We will end up with a permanent underclass of guest workers and even more restrictions on legal immigration.

And, it makes Cornyn the key player on immigration.  Marco Rubio now works for Cornyn.  Despite his promises to the Gang of Eight that they move together, he’s now embraced what another Gang member, John McCain, calls a “poison pill.”  Whatever the Gang of Eight may be saying in public, they all know Rubio sold them out.  That may help Rubio with his Presidential ambitions, but it’s not likely to help him be an effective legislator.  Integrity, even among thieves, matters.  Rubio, by stepping away from his own compromise and his personal commitments, is showing he may have a deficiency.

But Cornyn’s coup may only be a tactical, albeit an important one.  Because there is one demographic fact that will not go away; for the first time, the death rate among whites in this country was higher than the birthrate.  The total number of whites increased because of white immigration from Europe, but the white “rootstock” is withering.  Population growth is coming entirely from the non-white populations, because of higher birthrates and immigration.

And that is a monumental problem for any Republican who isn’t driven simply by cultural fears. Because the face of the party right now is unwelcoming to immigrants in general and distinctly hostile to Latinos.  This doesn’t just come from obscure Congressmen from safe Districts spouting nonsense.  Romney himself, to my great surprise, went out of his way to be critical in a very personal way, even going so far as to criticize Sonia Sotomayor on a trip to Puerto Rico, where she is universally considered a hero.  Maybe he thought that the base’s baser instincts needed to be fed, but it was a very peculiar decision.  Romney is a very smart man, and if he didn’t get how people would take that, it is only because he didn’t care what immigrants think. He didn't think he would need them, and so he didn't want them.

The one person I am sure does understand it is Jeb Bush.  He tried to communicate it this week at the Faith and Family Forum (the new branding for Ralph Reed’s Christian Coalition.)  Bush went there to tell conservatives that immigration reform was really a conservative idea. "Immigrants create far more businesses than native-born Americans…. Immigrants are more fertile, and they love families, and they have more intact families, and they bring a younger population. Immigrants create an engine of economic prosperity."

It is unfortunate that one inelegant word (fertility) muddied the rest of his message because Jeb was clearly trying to show a path forward.  His own brother got 44% of the Latino vote in 2004, and Latinos are much closer to the GOP on social issues than they are to the Democrats.  Latinos are gettable, and so are Asians and South Asians, if only the GOP would try.  But the Faith and Family folk weren’t buying it, and neither, it seems, is the rest of the party.  That they don’t seem to want to, despite the urging of Jeb Bush and people like Haley Barbour, tells you about the stranglehold the extremists have.  They aren’t worried about demographics.  They obviously think that voter suppression, gerrymandering, and even changing the Electoral College will keep them in control.  After all, they still have the House, despite the fact that a majority voted Democratic in House races in 2012. 

I am betting they are right.  For the moment. 

“Immigrant.”  Not unlike saying “Frau Blucher” in Young Frankenstein.