You offer a perfectly sensible explanation, Mark, and, no, I don’t have any other ideas. But Bush’s motives are on my mind, in part because of an editorial in the Wall Street Journal the other day. Reagan, the Journal, argued, was a cheerful, inclusive figure. He would therefore have stood about where Bush stands, welcoming the new immigrants to this country.
I’m not at all sure. Reagan was indeed cheerful and inclusive. But he was also in touch with the American people. He shaped his conservative ideas during the years he worked for General Electric—years when he traveled from factory to factory, speaking to tens of thousands of ordinary Americans. And as president he wrote most of the eight thousand or so letters he composed to simple citizens, not to Cabinet officals or grandees, explaining his views—and, now and again, adjusting them. Reagan would therefore have known just how strongly the American people feel about the need to control our borders. Reagan would indeed have taken care to avoid insulting immigrants, legal or illegal. But he’d have stood with the great body of ordinary Americans.
Which brings me back to Bush.
To the extent that he’s a good working politician, he’ll respond to his base, recognizing that his speech the other evening angered ordinary Republicans at least as much as it placated the press. He’ll announce in the next few days that he’ll be taking actions on the border a lot more substantive then trundling along a few thousand National Guardsmen to help with administration. He’ll do something real.
But to the extent that Bush is instead convinced that he’s right and the American people are wrong—to the extent, and I suppose one may as well say it, that’s he being self-righteous—he’ll simply hunker down.
Again, I keep thinking of the position of Republicans in the House. Their telephone lines are jammed with calls from furious constituents while their president is telling them, in effect, to stand with him, offering their constituents only a couple of sops. Can Bush be moved? Or will House Republicans have to break with him? With floor votes coming at them, Shadegg, Pence—all the guys who are on the right side here—have very little time in which to get this figured out.