How could the Senate amnesty bill have possibly failed? It was supported by the president, the majority party and prominent members of the minority, plus Big Business, Big Labor, Big Media, and Big Religion.
And yet the motion Thursday night to end debate and move to a final vote on the bill was soundly rejected, failing to garner even a majority, let alone the necessary 60 votes.
The reason was simple — public outrage.
Immigration is one of those areas where public and elite views differ widely (for instance, see here and here). But most of the time that doesn’t really matter, because immigration seldom ranks high enough in voter concerns for politicians to take much notice. This gives lawmakers and bureaucrats a relatively free hand to cater to the preferences of businesses and racial-identity groups and anti-borders activists in promoting ever-higher immigration levels and ever-looser enforcement.
But that only works when you’re pushing bills or administrative measures that are relatively narrow and targeted. Most people have no idea what H1b visas are, let alone whether they should be increased or decreased. The attorney general’s decision to extend Temporary Protected Status for hundreds of thousands of Central American illegal aliens is something most reporters — let alone ordinary readers — don’t understand, and thus receives little scrutiny in the media.
The accumulation of such small measures has a large effect, but it’s hard for non-specialists to see, and so it continues, like the proverbial frog sitting still in a pot of water while the temperature approaches boiling.
But when you assemble a huge “comprehensive” Frankenstein’s monster of a bill, stitching together body parts from all different aspects of the issue, it’s a different story. Then the media, and thus the public, start taking notice. And people don’t like what they see.
The result has been an intense outpouring of sentiment against the bill. Senators Chambliss and Graham were actually booed at their own state Republican conventions. Protesters gathered at the district offices of Senators Lott and Kyl . Sen. Alexander made the mistake of holding a town meeting — at which he got an earful about the bill. Republicans in Arizona were tearing up their registration cards and the Republican National Committee saw a 40 percent drop in small-donor contributions.
And every Senate office was inundated by phone calls and faxes — hundreds-to-one against the bill.
The role of blogs and columnists and think tanks in fueling and directing this outrage was essential, with National Review Online and the Heritage Foundation deserving special honors. But senators can still write them off as part of the Washington game rather than real people and real voters. One of the key groups focusing actual grassroots outrage was Numbers USA, which soared past a third of a million members because of public anger over the bill — and these are real citizen activists busily phoning and faxing, not a tally of passive small donors.
It seems that the overreaching of amnesty advocates has politicized a lot of people, and not just conservatives, over the non-enforcement of the immigration law. And that’s a good thing too — if the White House concludes that amnesty is unattainable, there will be a strong temptation to end the enforcement show that’s been staged over the past six months or so, with workplace raids designed to bolster the administration’s credibility on the issue. A vigilant citizenry will be required to ensure that doesn’t happen — that enforcement is not only not discontinued, but that it’s expanded, so we can end the Bush administration’s “silent amnesty” and get to work implementing a real strategy of attrition through enforcement.