May 16, 2006
The President may say otherwise, but that's exactly what he proposes to do in the short term, and I suppose there was no other choice. There simply aren't enough Border Patrol agents to do the job, and it will take a year or more to train the 6,000 new agents Bush wants to hire. It would be nice if this was more than just a gesture aimed at placating his conservative base, and perhaps it is. Some people think that sending the National Guard to guard the nation's borders is highly inappropriate, but isn't that function a no-brainer? This raises another red herring aspect to this issue, the principle of posse comitatus under which soldiers cannot be used for domestic law enforcment. Is it not obvious that the border region is inherently not domestic? Or are our soldiers supposed to defend our territory on Mexico's side of the border?
To his credit, President Bush said almost all the right things in his brief address to the nation last night (the transcript is at whitehouse.gov), but the real test will be the actions. I wholeheartedly agree with Bush that the idea of deporting all 12 million (or more?) illegal aliens is just not practical, but shouldn't we at least consider deporting, say, the ten percent of them who are least desirable? Allowing 90 percent of the invasores to stay here would still be pretty generous, I would think.
Curiously absent from Bush's speech: any mention of the fundamental public policy distortions that give rise to the problem on both sides of the border. U.S. labor laws (minimum wage, mandated benefits) create a huge incentive for U.S. businessmen to cheat by hiring illegal workers, while the crooked, anti-capitalist economic systems in Latin America create a huge artificial surplus of labor that ends up here. As long as most people don't pay attention, the distortions on each side of the border sustain each other, in an indirect but very real way. Hardly anyone pays attention to those underlying sources of the problem, focusing instead on treating the symptoms. That approach will be futile, ultimately.
Some say that the deployment of combat forces to the border may make President Fox and other Mexicans unduly nervous. Well, perhaps Bush should have spelled out that we have absolutely no intention -- none whatsoever -- of sending American forces into Mexico like we did in 1917. Would that have calmed them down? I should note that Jose Rodriguez suggested to me recently that sending troops to guard the border would jolt Mexicans into facing reality and voting for the conservative (PAN) candidate in the upcoming elections, but I think an anti-U.S. backlash (in favor of the leftist PRD) is just as likely. In any case, the numbers just aren't that great: If you take 5,000 troops and divide by 2,000 miles, you only get one soldier for every half mile -- not even within shouting distance of each other!
In the Washington Post, Dan Balz notes the political aspects, noting correctly that Bush got himself (and the Republican Party) into this vexing predicament by not acting in a more timely fashion. If you ask me, it's probably all the fault of Karl Rove and the folks who base all policy decisions on their likely effect on the next election. Another Post news item spotlighted Gov. Bill Richardson's "Third Way" approach to immigration. (That is the triangulation-obsessed purportedly "moderate" Democrat agenda, popularized by Bill Clinton, borrowing from the success of New Labour's Tony Blair in Britain.) Some think that forward-thinking Western Democrats can take advantage of this issue, but Dems are just as divided by hypocrisy as the Republicans are. Most Dems will be content to sit back as spectators while the Republicans agonize over the responsibilities of governance, making some wonder if winning is really that important. This is one of those issues of vital national urgency -- like the budget crisis was in the mid-1990s -- where some degree bipartisan cooperation will be essential to achieving a real reform.
In the blogosphere, reactions are mixed. At Power Line Blog, John Hinderaker writes that Bush blew his chance as soon as he talked about "guest worker" programs. I too am quite dubious of that concept, and Bush has contradicted himself by talking about "guest worker" status as being a bridge toward ultimate citizenship. Who is kidding whom? I can relate to Hinderaker's anecdote about the African cab driver who could not fathom the possibility that Bush might have a welcoming attitude toward immigrants. There is a huge misperception problem, and it's too late for Bush to overcome it, I'm afraid. Bobby Eberle points out, as I have over and over, that the main problem is lack of enforcement, which is an executive branch responsibility. Get it, Mr. President?
Here's a thought: If enforcing the letter of our laws and deporting those who are here illegally is considered beyond the capacity of our government to do, as Bush says, then what does that say about our ability to create a democratic regime in a country (Iraq) that has never known real democracy before? Why should we be resigned pragmatists at home and starry-eyed dreamers abroad? The "power of positive thinking" has a lot more "oomph" when it is consistently applied.
I got a good chuckle from Al Gore's relaxed, self-deprecating humor on Saturday Night Live, doing a fantasy skit in which he had won the 2000 election, there was never a 9/11 attack, and the whole world loved us. "What a wonderful world it would be!" Unlike his last appearance on SNL, it was not forced at all, which makes me wonder: What is he up to? Andrew Sullivan thinks he may just be preparing to run for Prez in 2008, another unthinkable political comeback a la Richard Nixon.