Politics & Policy

R Stands for “Restrictionist”?

I knew Mark Krikorian was a master of spin, but he took my breath away in “Interesting Opportunities ” (NRO, November 9, 2006) with his distortion of a sentence I wrote in the current issue of Foreign Affairs.

As a proponent of comprehensive immigration reform, I have indeed, as I said in that piece, been eagerly awaiting the day when “the political stars would realign” to make it possible to enact law repairing our broken immigration system. But that need not mean — did not mean — I was waiting for the Democrats to take over in Congress. Much as Krikorian and his allies wish it were otherwise, a great many Republicans, too, favor comprehensive reform: among others, the president, John McCain, Bill Frist, Mel Martinez, Kay Bailey Hutchison and scores of GOP members of Congress — including conservatives’ conservatives with impeccable ideological credentials like Jeff Flake and Mike Pence.

The political alignment that troubled me was the way, in the run-up to the midterms, the anti-immigrant feelings of a small, vocal minority had become the tail wagging the dog of the immigration debate, preventing Republican reformers from doing what they knew was right. And while I don’t celebrate the Democrats taking over in the House or the Senate, I believe that bottleneck was cleared away on Election Day — thanks to candidates like California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Arizona governor Janet Napolitano, Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius and Washington senator Maria Cantwell, who did indeed defend comprehensive reform on the stump and were elected any way, often by healthy margins. That most happened to be Democrats was largely an accident — but it should be a wake-up call for Republicans.

Which brings me to the larger point about Krikorian’s slur. Far worse than any insult to me is the insult to the GOP and the damage Krikorian and others in his camp are doing to the Republicans’ future by casting a problem that in fact divides both parties as a contest between monolithic blocs: tough Republican enforcers and soft Democrat reformers. As the campaigns unfolded in state after state last month, there were two monolithic blocks all right. But the contrast wasn’t hard versus soft – it was xenophobic grandstanders versus pragmatic problem-solvers, with virtually all the pragmatists squarely in the Democratic fold. No wonder Election Day played out as it did. Sorry, Mark, but on immigration as other issues, voters like politicians who get things done — and very few thought a symbolic fence met that test.

Will Democrats and Republicans be able to work together next year to fix the immigration system? It’s too soon to tell, but there can be no mistaking the public’s hunger for exactly that — for an effective solution, whoever can provide it. Mark Krikorian will try to block any bipartisan effort, I’m sure, probably using a version of the same tactic he just used against me — casting the compromise that’s necessary as a betrayal of the Republican party. Some skittish members of Congress will listen, no doubt.

But it won’t serve them, and it won’t serve the GOP — merely perpetuate the myths already taking hold that R stands for “restrictionist” and the Democrats have a monopoly on reform.

Tamar Jacoby

Washington, D.C.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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