The Bush Administration And The Middle Parts Of History
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[See also What Was Karl Rove Thinking? Some Clues From His Autobiography]

Journalists always like to say they write "the first draft of history," but, really, there are three drafts. And it's the middle one, in between Breaking News and History, where the worst distortions creep in. Between the raw feed and the history books, journalists quickly simplify the immense complexity of events into stock clichés that can go unchallenged for decades. For example, by 1992 the press had rewritten the 1988 election around Willie Horton.

Likewise, it will probably take one to two generations before historians can cut through the rewrites to understand the fundamental dynamics of the last decade. Why did the Bush Administration waste eight years on Immigration, Invasion, and Indebtedness? Why did it encourage Mexicans to illegally immigrate to America by calling for amnesty? What was Karl Rove thinking when he tried and failed in four different years (2001, 2004, 2006, and 2007) to shove through amnesty and guest worker legislation?

With Rove's boss, George W. Bush, the question is less of a puzzle. I suspect that minimizing the border between Mexico and America was Bush's personal passion, while Rove just thought they were being clever.

Striking a deal with Mexico was traditional Bush family business, going back at least to 1960 when George H. W. Bush's Zapata Off-Shore oil company formed a partnership with Jorge Diaz Serrano to sneak around Mexico's ban on foreign involvement in its oil industry. (Diaz Serrano later became head of Pemex, the Mexican oil monopoly, and then went to prison for corruption.)

Further integration of the U.S. and Mexican economies was naturally attractive for the Bushes. The senior Bush negotiated NAFTA and encouraged Mexican president Carlos Salinas to turn public monopolies such as the phone system into private monopolies (a policy which has made Carlos Slim the richest man in the world). Yet, in NAFTA, Mexico withheld from privatization its crown jewel monopoly, Pemex.

Business and immigration all blended together for the younger Bush, which is why his 2001 plan was to have his Secretary of State negotiate an immigration deal with Vicente Fox's Foreign Minister. In his 1995 New York Times op-ed, No Cheap Shots at Mexico, Please, then-Governor Bush warned Republicans off from the immigration issue by holding forth on the profits to be made from further integration with Latin America:

"Mexico is proving to be a strong economic friend. Our economic bond with Mexico carries with it some very positive long-term results. An isolated United States will not be able to compete successfully in a world economy where Europe and Asia are united into common-market partnerships. The trade agreement wisely affords our country the opportunity to join forces with Canada and our neighbors to the south—first Mexico, then Chile, then other emerging capitalist countries in Latin America."

On the personal side, George and Barbara Bush employed a live-in Mexican maid, Paula Rendon, of whom W. has said, "I have come to love her like a second mother." He went on to employ another Mexican immigrant, Maria Galvan, to raise his two daughters. Younger brother Jeb married a Mexican girl, Columba Garnica, who had spent some years as an illegal immigrant in California.

Jeb and Columba's son, George P. Bush, was such a natural politician and heir to the Bush dynasty that W., who nicknamed his father "41" (for being the 41st President) and himself "43," called his nephew "44."

So, from 43's dynastic perspective, electing a new people in order to keep electing Bushes to the White House all made a certain grandiose, demented sense.

Yet, for Rove, who was supposed to be the brains of the operation, the motivations are murkier —other than sheer submissiveness toward his willful boss.

Let's run through the possibilities:

Ineptitude? Never ascribe to rationality that which can be explained by incompetence.

A Republican Party insider explained to me last week the fate of the Bush Administrations peculiarly ill-timed 2006 election year push for the Kennedy-McCain bill:

"The way it was stopped in its tracks until after the [2006] election was by me pointing out to Karl on a conference call in early June that all the polling clearly indicated that 25% of our base was opposed to any form of amnesty, and would revolt against our party. The likely result would be a suppression of the turnout, a point Karl quickly grasped from the data. In what was going to be a tough election year, we needed every vote we could muster. So it goes in politics. "

[ note: Readers might feel public opposition also had a role!]Rove had been publicly backing more immigration since February 2001. Why didn't he comprehend the polls during the previous half decade?

And then he tried it again in 2007!

Drive a wedge between blacks and Hispanics? In his autobiography Courage and Consequence, Rove casts some of the blame (although I would call it credit) for failing to pass an amnesty bill in 2007 on the lack of enthusiasm of the Congressional Black Caucus. He writes on p. 468 of a 2007 Democratic confab to which he and Bush were invited:

"After the president spoke, Congressman Luis Gutierrez made an impassioned plea for moving forward on immigration. He received spotty applause. I was sitting off to the side: between Gutierrez and me was a table of senior African-American members, including the new Judiciary chairman, John Conyers, and the new Ways and Means chairman, Charlie Rangel. Few at this table applauded and some shook their heads "no" as Gutierrez talked."

Rove acts shocked that the black leaders were concerned about the effect on their black followers of millions more Hispanics outcompeting them for jobs. But what if this was all part of Rove's Master Plan to break up the heart of the Democratic coalition?

Of course, you know and I know that there's no evidence in the Congressional Black Caucus's voting records that they ever act upon those immigration worries. Conyers, Rangel, and Co. know that while immigration might not be good for blacks, it is good for black Democratic politicians.

Bipartisanship? Rove's latest spin is that the Bush Administration should have pushed immigration up to 2005 to build a Spirit of Bipartisanship. As he writes on p. 409:

"In retrospect, it was a mistake to lead the second term by pressing for Social Security reform. If we had led with immigration reform—another issue the president cared about deeply—we would almost certainly have gotten it passed because Democrats said they would work with Bush on it. That success might have produced enough bipartisan confidence to tackle Social Security."

Pretty flat learning curve on this here Boy Genius.

The Kennedy-McCain amnesty bill failed in 2006 because the public felt the elites were teaming up against them. Rove's considered view in 2010 is that the elites' big mistake was in not teaming up against us earlier.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is now following in this tradition of bipartisanship, recently visiting President Obama in the company of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to promote yet another "comprehensive" immigration bill. It's the kind of self-promotion that gets Lindsey declared "Presidential Timber" in the press.

Of course, if most Democratic politicians think amnesty would be good for them politically, isn't it possible that amnesty would be good for them politically? Granted, they aren't infallible savants like Karl Rove, so what do they know about their self-interest?

Win praise from the liberal media? Indeed, pushing for more immigration did get Rove some nice press. Yet, how much good did it actually do him? The press still tried for years to put him in prison over the Valerie Plame brouhaha.

Bust the unions? As a GOP election warrior, Rove is, not unreasonably, strongly anti-union: "If I learned anything from Goldwater, it was not to trust union bosses," Rove writes on p. 10. Organized labor provides money, votes, and volunteers for the Democrats. Flooding the country with more "temporary workers" would make the union business less lucrative, thus undermining Democrats.

Yet, does this make any sense as 21st Century politics? Private sector unions are already mostly gone. In 2009, only 7.2 percent of the private sector's workforce belonged to a union. A majority of union members now have government jobs. Unions for civil servants, such as the National Education Association, are a more important asset to the Democratic Party today. And government jobs tend to have literacy and/or citizenship requirements. So, it all seems irrelevant. I'm not saying that this idea didn't play a role in Rove's thinking, just that it was a pretty stupid one.

Hispanic consultantitis? Rove, who mostly grew up in Nevada and Utah in the 1950s and 1960s doesn't seem to have much personal experience with Latinos. Most of the Hispanics whom Rove mentions in his memoir are political professionals. In other words, they are people whose careers depend at least in part on being Hispanic. Of course, they want more Hispanics for themselves to be the putative leaders of.

Impress nice white people? In 1985, Rove sent a memo to a GOP politician client, former Texas Governor Bill Clements, about how to soften his hard-nosed image:

"The purpose of saying you gave teachers a record pay increase is to reassure suburban voters with kids, not to win the votes of teachers. Similarly, emphasizing your appointments of women and minorities will not win you the support of feminists and the leaders of the minority community; but it will bolster your support among Republican primary voters and urban independents."

There's always the possibility that the whole "Hispanic realignment" assertion was just a front. Rove won in 2002 and 2004 by getting out the vote among the Republican base. But Hispanics gave him a cool-sounding talking point with which to baffle innumerate reporters.

Out-of-Touchness: In a 2007 NY Times article by Jim Rutenberg, Texas Town, Now Divided, Forged Bush's Stand on Immigration, Rove more or less admitted that he was out of touch with changing sentiments in Texas:

"… Governor Bush found Texas to be largely receptive to his push to provide a bilingual education program for the children of Hispanic immigrants. In the current climate, that seems like a distant memory, a casualty of what Mr. Bush's longtime political adviser, Karl Rove, a Texan, said reflected how "the feelings about immigration have waxed and waned over the years" in Texas. In the 1990s, Mr. Rove said, Texans felt as if the immigration problem was relatively under control …"

The back-story is that Texas's oil boom of 1973-1981 coincided with an oil boom in Mexico. Then, both economies crashed in 1982. As illegal immigration from depressed Mexico ramped up in the 1980s and 1990s, it flowed more to prosperous California than overbuilt Texas. The result was that affordable family formation, the foundation of success for Republican "family values" candidates, remained achievable in Texas while it was under siege in California.

Thus, Bush and Rove could denounce California Governor Pete Wilson for calling for immigration restriction in his successful 1996 re-election campaign because they smugly lacked comprehension of the problems California faced. Indeed, judging from Rove's memoir, he has almost no clue about the nation's largest state.

The sheer gall of special interests? Employers like low wages and many donate to candidates who try to keep wages down. The trouble, however, is less cynical sell-outs than that a huge fraction of Washington insiders have persuaded themselves that low wages are what made America great. Of course, those who have actually thought hard about the question, starting with Ben Franklin in 1751, have come to the opposite conclusion: that the relatively happy lives of Americans rest upon a foundation of a small supply of labor and a large supply of land.

Turn Hispanic voters into Republicans? This is the rationalization that Rove always gave the press. But there was never any evidence that amnesty was a winner among to Hispanic voters. Hispanic voters are much more ambivalent about it than are their self-proclaimed leaders.

A recent Zogby immigration poll, which was unusual in providing actual facts to respondents, elicited overwhelming majorities among Latino likely voters for immigration restriction by reminding them how immigration depresses wages. For example, 65 percent of likely Hispanic voters agreed, "There are plenty of Americans already here to do these jobs, if employers can't find workers they should pay more and treat workers better" versus only 15 percent agreeing with the Beltway line that "We need to allow more immigrants into the country to fill these jobs because there aren't enough Americans willing or able to do them."

Questions that are phrased differently, however, can get Hispanics to stop answering as working class Americans and start responding as aggrieved ethnics.

But how could Republicans out-compete Democrats in a contest to appeal to Hispanic ethnocentrism? As long as Democrats are officially for affirmative action for Hispanics while most Republican voters are against, it's a no-win proposition for the GOP.

This isn't rocket science. The effects of immigration are not really that hard to understand. But Rove never did.

[Steve Sailer (email him) is movie critic for The American Conservative. His website features his daily blog. His new book, AMERICA'S HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: BARACK OBAMA'S "STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE", is available here.]

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