After the second Presidential debate, one of my readers wrote:
"Hey, Steve, you are just ticked off that not a single person in the debate audience, which represented a cross section of the American people, asked a question about illegal immigrants. For surely, if anyone had submitted such a question, Charles Gibson would have used it, right?
"Nah, red-blooded Americans are concerned about the stuff that touches their daily lives, like stem-cell research.
"You've just got to shed your obsessions and think more like a normal American!"
Expecting to be shut out again, I tuned in to Wednesday night's third debate. But then moderator Bob Schieffer announced—
"Mr. President. I got more e-mail this week on this question than any other question. And it is about immigration. I'm told that at least 8,000 people cross our borders illegally every day. Some people believe this is a security issue, as you know. Some believe it's an economic issue. Some see it as a human-rights issue. How do you see it? And what we need to do about it?"
On the channel I was watching, I couldn't see Bush's expression. But another reader wrote me:
"That the most asked question turned out to be on immigration seemed to surprise Bush a good deal. He was visibly taken aback."
Let's go over the candidates' responses in detail.
"While Bush tried to be moderate in general, he wisely posed as a conservative on immigration, casting his own plan in the toughest possible light. He said he opposed an 'amnesty' because he doesn't want to 'reward illegal behavior,' but missed a huge opportunity by failing to cast Kerry's plan for 'earned legalization' (of illegal aliens already here) as just such a de facto amnesty. ...'"
That's certainly what it sounded like Bush was doing, but Mickey got the content totally wrong.
BUSH: "I see it as a serious problem. I see it as a security issue, I see it as an economic issue, and I see it as a human-rights issue."
Uh-oh. You know that Bush is not talking about American citizens' right to live within secure borders—but about the purported right of the other six billion people on Earth to infiltrate into the U.S. without risk.
BUSH: "We're increasing the border security of the United States. We've got 1,000 more Border Patrol agents on the southern border."
Oh, yeah? Let's do the math. If each additional agent works 42 hours out of each 168-hour week, that 250 full-time equivalents for 2000 miles of border, or one extra guard for every eight miles.
Well, that's a relief! Mission Accomplished...to coin a phrase.
BUSH: "We're using new equipment. We're using unmanned vehicles to spot people coming across. And we'll continue to do so over the next four years. It's a subject I'm very familiar with. After all, I was a border governor for a while."
Right—and did nothing to stop illegal immigration when he was governor.
BUSH: "Many people are coming to this country for economic reasons. They're coming here to work. If you can make 50 cents in the heart of Mexico, for example, or make $5 here in America, $5.15, you're going to come here if you're worth your salt, if you want to put food on the table for your families. And that's what's happening."
Shades of Bush's disastrous "Bring 'em on!" challenge to Iraqi insurgents! Bush here is encouraging poorly paid Mexicans to immigrate to America illegally. Mexicans who don't violate our immigration laws aren't worth their salt in his eyes—and he wants them to know it.
(Mysteriously, potential immigrants with the skills to earn more than the minimum wage appear to be a lower priority in the President's eyes.)
To rephrase the famous tabloid headline when President Ford balked at bailing out New York City:
Bush went on:
BUSH: "And so in order to take pressure off the borders, in order to make the borders more secure, I believe there ought to be a temporary worker card that allows a willing worker and a willing employer to mate up, so long as there's not an American willing to do that job, to join up in order to be able to fulfill the employers' needs."
That makes it sound like Bush is fighting to lower the impediments to the white slave trade.
(Which, now that I think of it, in effect he is doing. I can just imagine that speech:
"My fellow Americans, it has come to my attention that Eastern Europe—the Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Russia, Lithuania — is full of nubile young ladies with hair the color of wheat ripening in the sun, willing workers who want to mate up with you willing American employers for $5 dollars an hour, $5.15. But our antiquated immigration laws are keeping these willing workers out of our country, forcing you to pay 20, 30, even 40 dollars per hour to mate up with sullen, lazy native-born workers who probably aren't even natural blondes.
"I say, we must issue temporary worker cards to these ash blonde beauties so they can mate up with you and fulfill your needs.
"But only temporary cards—so we can kick their skanky butts out the country when they get old and wrinkly.
" And may God bless America!")
Hmmm. Back to the real President:
BUSH: "That has the benefit of making sure our employers aren't breaking the law as they try to fill their workforce needs."
Not that Bush ever bothered to enforce the law that he now wants to relieve employers from obeying.
And, while we're on the subject of employers' workforce needs, what about American workers' employment needs?
The population has grown by 10.5 million people since Bush took office. But the number of jobs has shrunk by about a million.
BUSH: "It makes sure that the people coming across the border are humanely treated, that they're not kept in the shadows of our society, that they're able to go back and forth to see their families. See, the card, it'll have a period of time attached to it."
Anyway, won't all these "temporary" workers disappear back into the "shadows of our society" when their time limit runs out?
And are you going to throw them out when they have lots of American-born—and thus American-citizen under the current dubious interpretation of the 14th Amendment—children?
The old temporary worker plan started during WWII was for men only, so President Eisenhower could deport a million back to Mexico without having to worry about their American citizen kids. Bush's plan can't work like that.
BUSH: "It also means it takes pressure off the border. If somebody is coming here to work with a card, it means they're not going to have to sneak across the border. It means our border patrol will be more likely to be able to focus on doing their job."
BUSH: "Now, it's very important for our citizens to also know that I don't believe we ought to have amnesty. I don't think we ought to reward illegal behavior. There are plenty of people standing in line to become a citizen. And we ought not to crowd these people ahead of them in line. If they want to become a citizen, they can stand in line, too. And here is where my opponent and I differ. In September 2003, he supported amnesty for illegal aliens."
Bush's use of the word "amnesty" reminds me of a famous exchange in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass.
"'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.'
"'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'
"'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master—that's all.'"
What Bush is doing here is redefining "amnesty." According to him, it no longer means forgiving lawbreakers for their crimes and allowing them to continue to reap the benefits of their lawbreaking. Indeed, doing exactly that is an essential part of the Bush plan. In a special Humpty-Dumptian sense aimed solely at Republican Congressmen who don't want Democratic-leaning illegal immigrants to get the right to vote, Bush is defining amnesty only as giving citizenship to illegals. (Of course, their children born in America get citizenship, so in the long run it doesn't make much difference—the Democrats still benefit.)
He's proposing virtual Open Borders for "temporary workers." Anybody in the world who can get a job offer at—as Bush made explicit—"$5.15" per hour, can move to America, "so long as there's not an American willing to do that job." (That is, not willing to do that job at $5.15 per hour—$10,712 per year.)
Bush's plan would reduce the market wage for tens of millions of American jobs to the minimum wage.
Kerry, in contrast, wants current illegal aliens to be put on track to become voters because they will mostly vote Democratic. But he's never said he wants anything as wild as Bush's Open Borders plan.
They hear him deny that it's amnesty, and they assume that, at worst, he's lying and he's actually proposing amnesty for the 11 million or 13 million illegals who are already here.
What voters don't realize, because it seems too crazy to even consider, is that Bush is not only lying about amnesty for current illegal aliens, but that the President wants to open the borders to an unlimited number of "temporary" workers.
As Harvard economist George Borjas has pointed out, our lone experience with granting open borders to Third Worlders is with Puerto Rico. In a couple of decades after WWII, one quarter of all Puerto Ricans moved to the U.S.
Assuming there are about four billion very poor people in the world, one quarter of them is … one billion people. Even if only one percent of all the poor folks on Earth took advantage of Bush's open borders plan, that would still be 40 million newcomers.
Obviously, Kerry didn't want to talk about immigration either—he wasted a lot of his allotted time responding to an earlier Bush riposte on the state of the middle class. Even then, he passed up an obvious chance to link his complaints about declining wages to illegal immigration.
Finally, however, Kerry got around to saying:
"Secondly, we need a guest-worker program, but if it's all we have, it's not going to solve the problem.
"The second thing we need is to crack down on illegal hiring. It's against the law in the United States to hire people illegally, and we ought to be enforcing that law properly.
"And thirdly, we need an earned-legalization program for people who have been here for a long time, stayed out of trouble, got a job, paid their taxes, and their kids are American. We got to start moving them toward full citizenship, out of the shadows."
That's way to the left of the American public. But, at least on toughening up the borders and cracking down on illegal hiring—not to mention not inviting the whole world to move here—it's still to the right of the Republican President.
Bush denied everything, with his usual unspoken premise, "Hey, I'm the President and he's not! Who yah gonna believe? The President or somebody who's not the President?"
BUSH: "Well, to say that the borders are not as protected as they were prior to September the 11th shows he doesn't know the borders. They're much better protected today than they were when I was the governor of Texas. We have much more manpower and much more equipment there. He just doesn't understand how the borders work, evidently, to say that. That is an outrageous claim. And we'll continue to protect our borders. We're continuing to increase manpower and equipment."
At this point, Kerry finally realized there was a huge opening to the right of Bush:
KERRY: "Four thousand people a day are coming across the border.
"The fact is that we now have people from the Middle East, allegedly, coming across the border.
"And we're not doing what we ought to do in terms of the technology. We have iris-identification technology. We have thumbprint, fingerprint technology today. We can know who the people are, that they're really the people they say they are when the cross the border. We could speed it up. There are huge delays.
"The fact is our borders are not as secure as they ought to be, and I'll make them secure."
On substance, you'd have to give this part of the debate to Kerry.
But what an opportunity he blew by failing to expose Bush's Open Borders plan.
Sure, the Wall Street Journal would have blown a gasket accusing Kerry of "xenophobic racism," and the New York Times would tut-tut about his "appeal to nativism." With the voters, however, the Bush campaign would have suffered a massive blow—on the issue that Bob Schieffer reports attracts the most emails.
It seems to me that this failure to exploit Bush's peculiar recklessness is a recurrent problem for Kerry. On several crucial issues—immigration, foreign policy, and the deficit—Bush, with his Invade-the-World-Invite-the-World policies, is radical, even utopian.
Kerry sometimes senses that he could win simply by running as an old-fashioned, sensible Eisenhower Republican. This is why he often feints to the right.
But, ever since his now-famous 1962 sailboat ride with John F. Kennedy, John F. Kerry's heart apparently just isn't in running as the conservative.
Not for nothing did George W. Bush's biographers call him a "fortunate son."