Tuesday, January 13, 2004
Actually, one more thought about the immigration proposal:
Bush's immigration proposal - driven, I believe, in part by a conviction that mass immigration is inevitable - reminds me of another time a conservative leader decided to throw away an important prop of national sovereignty on the grounds that its loss was inevitable: John Major's embrace of the Euro.
Major believed that Britain's future was, economically, with Europe. The Euro would bring economic discipline to the continent and become an important currency in its own right, one that would challenge the dollar and certainly eclipse the pound. If Britain wanted to maintain its importance as a financial center, it would have to join the Euro. Scrapping the pound was the logical extension of free trade. The Euro was the future; the pound was the past.
Of course, it's hard to believe that Major thought that "scrap the pound" was a good political slogan. And, indeed, his decision ignited a war among the Conservatives between the Euroskeptics and Europhiles, a war that is still not entirely over, though the Euroskeptics mostly have the upper-hand at this point. One consequence of this fratricidal war was the collapse of the Conservative majority in Britain and the ascendancy of Labor - this in spite of the fact that the overwhelming majority of Britons favor retaining the pound, while Tony Blair has been unstinting in his advocacy for joining the Euro. (Admittedly, there were many other factors at work as well.)
See any analogy? Bush's proposal lays down a marker for where he thinks the country and his party should go on immigration. Explicitly, Bush has articulated a vision of hemispheric cooperation that implies ever closer ties between the U.S. and Mexico. Implicitly, Bush is suggesting that mass immigration is inevitable, that fighting it would be like fighting the tides, and that the embrace of immigration represents the future, closing the borders the past. Once again, it's hard to believe that Bush thinks this is a winning political issue. He can't but know that it divides the Republican leadership and that mass immigration is, at least according to polls, very unpopular among the American people.
What remains to be seen is whether his proposal divides Bush's party the way the Euro divided Major's. I suspect not; Perot ran his second campaign against free trade and mass immigration, and while he did pretty well he had essentially no impact on the national political debate. But there's plenty of time between now and 2008 for the GOP's immigration opponents to nurse their grievance. Let's see how the proposal plays in Congress. It could get interesting.