May 15, 2008

A New Myth of ‘06

Throughout the primaries, John McCain instructed us that the Republicans? congressional ass-whipping in ?06 had nothing to do with the war, nothing at all, and that it was in fact those nefarious earmarks, symbolized by the ?bridge to nowhere,? that did them in. While attending this Tuesday?s immigration conference put on by the Manhattan Institute, I witnessed a new ?myth of ?06? taking shape, this one just about as plausible as McCain?s. The progenitors of this latest whopper were the leading lights of open-borders conservativism, including Michael Barone, Alan Ehrenhalt, the executive editor of Governing, and Jason Riley of the Wall Street Journal editorial board. The outlines of the myth are as follows: 1) the leaders of the anti-immigration movement are the ultra-conservative ?Social Right?; 2) the Republicans lost because the good-hearted American public was sick of all the mean, nasty anti-immigrant rhetoric.

I very much wish that the Religious Right, Catholics, and Pro-Lifers were all solidly against amnesty in ?07 and supportive of restrictionism now; however, the fact is, they weren?t and they?re not. Within social conservatism, the status of immigration is actually very equivocal. On issues like abortion and the war, ?social rightist” Sam Brownback stands as the bogeyman of secular progressives everywhere (the good senator?s even been linked to Opus Dei, oh my!) and yet, on the issue of immigration, Brownback?s basically indistinguishable from George Clooney or Nancy Pelosi (or Dubya or McCain for that matter). 

What Barone & Co. don?t want to admit is that immigration reform actually isn?t one of those Republican wedge issues that backfired, much like Congress’s grand standing during the The Shaivo affair; to the contrary, it has appeal across the board and is used by Republicans and Democrats alike. (Whether this bipartisan opportunism will actually lead to any good is another question altogether.) This past summer’s anti-Amnesty rebellion against Bush, Kennedy, and McCain was by no means simply a conservative movement thing. Rush Radio might have gotten people angry, but it was non-partisan, and by no means manifestly ?conservative? groups like NumbersUSA that were organizing the mass faxing and phone calling of senators. Today the SAVE Act actually has a fairly good chance of going through because of its support among liberals. 

Barone actually cites some evidence for his myth, mentioning that border hawk J.D. Hayworth was ejected in Arizona due to his insensitive anti-immigrant tone. Well, the fact is, Hayworth?s opponent, Harry Mitchell, promised to ?Station more Border Patrol agents along the border,? ?Extend existing fencing in urban areas,? and ?oppose amnesty and will not support it.? Put simply, Mitchell deftly neutralized the immigration issue by promising to be just a Hayworthian as Hayworth. In multiple cases in ‘06, Democrats would prevail even when their districts would approve of tougher immigration laws in a series of related state referendums

Whether Barone & Co. admit it or not, immigration is not some extreme conservative issue that killed the Republicans in ?06, it?s perhaps the only the thing the GOP has going for it. 

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