In Saturday’s debate, John McCain called anyone accusing him of supporting amnesty a “liar.” Actually, he wasn’t bold enough to make the accusation directly, instead cravenly quoting his most notable supporter: “Joe Lieberman said, John McCain has never supported amnesty, and anybody says that he does is a liar, is lying.”
Since McCain has accused me (among others) of lying, let’s see where the real deception is.
The perennial controversy over what to call McCain’s amnesty is silly. Every program in the world that has allowed illegal immigrants to stay has been called an “amnesty.” McCain himself called it “amnesty” as recently as May 2003, when he told the Tucson Citizen “I think we can set up a program where amnesty is extended to a certain number of people who are eligible … Amnesty has to be an important part …” But once the focus-group results were in, “amnesty” became a four-letter word.
Fine, spinning the language is what politicians do. But what’s important is that McCain hasn’t just vigorously promoted euphemisms for amnesty — he’s engaged in a years-long, Clintonian campaign of amnesty denial, part of what Mickey Kaus calls “a tactic of gruff, testy dissembling.”
But an even more volatile immigration question has arisen in the New Hampshire campaign — Social Security for illegal aliens. This is one of those nightmare scenarios for politicians, combining two third rails into one. And McCain is again trying to employ deception as a way out of it.
Romney has accused McCain of supporting Social Security for illegals, and McCain has responded with more gruff testiness:
I do not support nor would I ever support any services provided to someone who came to this country illegally, nor would I ever and have never supported Social Security benefits for people who are in this country illegally, that is absolutely false.”
There are two issues regarding Social Security for illegal aliens: 1) Can illegal aliens get Social Security benefits, and 2) can illegal aliens accrue credits toward future Social Security benefits from illegal work. (For more on this, go here and scroll down to “SSA Law Inconsistent on Illegals”; also, this pdf of a Social Security Administration IG report on “Benefits Related to Unauthorized Work.”) McCain’s comment above addresses the first issue, and is a weasely, hair-splitting, depends-what-the-meaning-of-is-is lie, because his bill last year would have made illegals eligible for Social Security as soon as they received the probationary Z visa (no more than 24 hours after submitting an application) — Sec. 606 of S1639 required every amnesty applicant to be issued a Social Security number in a “prompt” fashion, and a legitimate Social Security number (not citizenship) is all you need to be eligible for benefits.