# Posted 10:26 AM by Patrick Porter
A PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS: Bush is a beleaguered President. His approval rating has plummetted to Nixonian levels. Violence in Iraq threatens to escalate further. He copped some unfair blame for Katrina, but he deserved some blame. He has overspent. His administration has been too willing to compromise basic civil liberties.
But as an outsider still grappling with the complexities of the immigration debate, I thought his recent address on immigration was balanced, humane and wise.
His message is a fair one: sovereignty and secure borders, are vital national interests and legitimate goals of government. A border that is not sufficiently monitored, for example, robs the state of vetting the majority of well-meaning immigrants from those who are evading the law. Its not racist to secure the borders, or to be concerned about the problem.
At the same time, millions of immigrants have come here in desparation and, other than entering illegally, have built upright lives and raised law-abiding families. They shouldn't be given a free pass to citizenship, but should be given a chance to amend their illegal behaviour by paying back taxes, and prove themselves worthy of citizenship by respecting the law and learning English. They will be behind legal immigrants in the queue.
On this issue, Bush has not capitulated to the more zealous and hysterical wings of the American right. It has been distressing to see how flippantly they have accused their critics of being 'unAmerican', just as they seem to want to redefine the war against radical and extreme Islamists into a war against Arabs and Muslims generally. Finding instances of illegal immigrants breaking the law, they have tried to misrepresent all illegal immigrants as criminal hordes. In the inflammatory tenor of their argument, they have trafficked on this issue as a 'dogwhistle' technique, deliberately mobilising racial antagonism without overt racist sentiment.
The shrillness of certain hard-core bloggers has been particularly disappointing, with their acerbic vocabulary (the mindless kind of 'moonbat unAmerican elites' chatter, high on emotion and hollow on argument). On the other side, too often words like 'fascist' and 'racist' are deployed against commentators who have legitimate concerns about social cohesion, language learning, and border security.
To be sure, there is probably much self-interest in Bush's carefully balanced position. A large Hispanic vote getting larger will not have been overlooked.
Nevertheless, most impressive of all was the spirit of Bush's address. He appealed to a certain civility of debate:
America needs to conduct this debate on immigration in a reasoned and respectful tone. Feelings run deep on this issue, and as we work it out, all of us need to keep some things in mind. We cannot build a unified country by inciting people to anger, or playing on anyone's fears, or exploiting the issue of immigration for political gain. We must always remember that real lives will be affected by our debates and decisions, and that every human being has dignity and value no matter what their citizenship papers say.
The immigration debate has an impact on the issue directly, but also has a wider significance for American civil society. An acrimonious and polemical debate will sour and embitter the public space in other areas, and make sober debate more difficult on other questions.
So dare I say it, in Bush's appeal for civility, there was just a frisson of Lincoln's first inaugural address:
We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
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