John, respectfully, I think you are way over-interpreting SALT-2 as an explanation for the 1980 election — and in an inside-the-beltway fashion that is all too prevalent in Washington and among political junkies.
SALT-2 was defeated because it was bad policy. The Democrats were annihilated in 1980 because the country was in a breathtaking mess after a Carter presidency of gas lines, skyrocketing interest and inflation rates, fecklessness during the Iran hostage crisis, etc. — and I really don’t think the failure of the party in power to muster the discipline needed to pass (another) bad law was the problem. The problem was the collective badness of that party’s laws and policies.
Which raises another question. If what was on the table were Hillary-care, or an equally abysmal immigration bill were being pushed by a president named Carter or Clinton, would we really be talking about a compromise here? I don’t think so. I think we’d be talking about defeating the bill. Our rationale would be simple and sensible: what we know about the behemoth of a bill is so awful that we can only imagine how bad are the small details that always end up being big details.
Since most people cannot master the details of legislation, a lot is left to how much you trust the people who back it. If you don’t trust them, your impulse is not to say, “How can we salvage the good parts of this?” It is to say, “Let’s kill it.”
I’ve supported President Bush. But on this issue he might as well be named Carter or Clinton. I think he has been wrong on immigration from jump-street. He was supported by conservatives despite his inclinations on immigration because he was strong in other areas and the opposition was Gore and Kerry. In fact, if immigration were the only issue of concern, we’d tactically be better off with a Democrat in the White House. President Clinton would never have had the nerve to try something this ambitiously bad, because he was smart enough to know the people who now seem open to compromise because they worry about embarrassing a Republican president would be only too happy with a decisive rout if the very same monstrosity were identified as a “Democrat bill.”
In any event, I personally will never trust that the hidden details of this bill are anything but worse than the better known, big-picture items that alarm me. President Bush and the Republicans in the Senate have given me no reason to think otherwise. And I sense that a lot of people on our side of the street feel the same way I do — and will not be moved or comforted by a compromise that demonstrates the vaunted “ability to govern.”