I don’t think that either of Peggy Noonan’s two explanations today for the president’s behavior on immigration is entirely satisfactory: neither:
“Is it possible our flinty president is so committed to protecting the Republican Party from losing, forever, the Hispanic vote, that he’s decided to take a blurred and unsatisfying stand on immigration, and sacrifice all personal popularity, in order to keep the party of the future electorally competitive with a growing ethnic group?”
“The other possibility is that the administration’s slow and ambivalent action is the result of being lost in some geopolitical-globalist abstract-athon that has left them puffed with the rightness of their superior knowledge, sure in their membership in a higher brotherhood, and looking down on the low concerns of normal Americans living in America.”
Both probably have a grain of truth to them, but I get asked this question all the time and the conclusion I’ve come to is this: The president is morally and emotionally opposed to immigration enforcement, especially on the Mexican border. He sees it as uncompassionate and un-Christian, at best a necessary evil that must be entered into with the greatest reluctance and abandoned as soon as is practical. And this is especially true with regard to Mexico because he sees it as a “cousin” nation, like Britain or Israel, and thus enforcing immigration laws against Mexicans is even worse than doing so against Chinese or Pakistanis.
I don’t say this to hurl epithets — President Bush is a conviction politician and sincerely believes this, which is why he sticks to his anti-enforcement guns despite potentially catastrophic political damage. This is unlike President Clinton, who was actually better on immigration in many ways precisely because he was (is) completely amoral and willing to embrace almost any position.
The political implication is that the House Republicans need to understand that there is no difference to be split with the president on immigration. They must oppose him categorically on the issue and become, in effect, the loyal opposition on immigration. So the best tack for the House would be to wait for the Senate to pass the amnesty bill (if, in fact, that happens), and then refuse to go to conference and repass the original Sensenbrenner bill (after massaging the two provisions that have gotten the most negative attention — downgrade the felony of illegal presence to a misdemeanor and put in a (totally unnecessary) exception for nuns serving illegals at soup kitchens). Putting as much distance as possible between themselves and president on immigration is probably the only way the House Republicans can keep their majority.