Thursday, May 18, 2006

# 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.

(27) opinions -- Add your opinion

They will be behind legal immigrants in the queue.

No, they will not. If they are given a chance at citizenship, they will have to wait a maximum of maybe five years. In the meantime, they will be able to work in this country. Compare this to someone who followed the rules and applied for entry through the immigration process. These people will have to wait as many as fifteen years just to get here (if they manage to get accepted at all), then they'll have to wait another five years before they can become a citizen. By coming into this country illegally, they jump the queue in front of every person who followed the rules.
Five years ago, your point could have been well taken. Sadly, the "civility of debate" horse left the barn ages ago.

There is ample historical evidence that Lincoln meant those words when he spoke them. In Bush's case, not so much.

It doesn't matter, though: it's unlikely that Bush will be able to do much of anything about immigration at this point.
Illegal immigration benefits the national elite, because they get the upside of lower cost labor without sharing the costs of downward wage pressure, increased crime, and strain on schools and hospitals. (I recognize that the vast majority of illegals are not criminals. Even so, they commit a disproportionate amount of crime.) Obviously illegal immigrants themselves benefit from coming here. It may be that on a global level the benefit to illegals exceeds the cost to poor Americans in terms of crime, wage pressure, and social strife. There's an argument to be made there. But it's not a pro-American argument.
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O dear Patrick, do not compare Lincoln's beautiful and lyrical words to G W Bush's committee-prose!

Just reading the old speeches fills me with sorrow to think how bereft we are of noble leaders and sentiments!

Once there was a dream of one world united in brotherhood - Alfred Deakin dared to dream it alout. Those days are gone.

Now we have 'national interest', 'illegals','guest workers','border security', 'values', 'citizenship papers' and all these other banal and brutal utilitarian expressions.
One speech does not a reasonable political position make. Further, it is much easier to issue calls for civility than to consistently conduct yourself in a way that promotes civility and reasonable debate. Bush did manage to make a speech that avoided extreme rhetoric and wasn't particularly offensive, which is nice, but I would recommend restraining your praise until you, say, pay a bit more attention to what he is actually proposing.

One part of his proposal is to send thousands of National Guard troops to the border, which sure sounds like a sop to the anti-illegal-immigration zealots. It's not as extreme of a concession as he might have made, but given how costly and ineffectual it looks to be as a policy, it's hard to see it as anything other than a political gesture. His guest worker program also sounds like bad policy, letting in temporary workers who are not on a path to citizenship, with the main redeeming feature being that seems to fall in the middle of the two sides of the immigration debate.

I haven't followed George Bush's stance on immigration all that closely over the years, but a few of the things I've read recently about his history make him sound like even less of a statesman. Here it says that last February he cut funding for 9,790 new Border Patrol agents (that article makes both parties in Congress sound reasonable on this issue). Here it says that, last winter, Bush supported many of the more controversial portions of the House bill which he is now backing away from. I also saw somewhere that he his administration had been doing very little to enforce laws that sanction employers for hiring illegal immigrants.
Drivel, Patrick. The immigration speech is, like the Gay Marriage Amendment and voting English as our national language, a desperate attempt to change the subject.

But I agree with you that 'Bush is a beleaguered President.' I'd add incompetent.
Nixon/Agnew '08

its not changing the subject. well before Bush's speech, illegal immigration had become one of the subjects in American public life right now. Bush is responding to a loud and divisive debate. It helps to read the news.
Oh, Patrick, but it is changing the subject. Out here in sunny California, Schwarzenegger and Pete Wilson before him throw this kind of red meat to the Right Wing every once in awhile, generally when an election is coming up. And it seems that an election is coming up. BTW, do you think that Bush will change the Wet Feet/Dry Feet Policy for Cubans? "We're a nation of laws" but perhaps the law doesn't apply equally to all political affinity groups.

However, I challenge you to look at illegal immigration another way. Instead of looking at as a problem, instead look at as a measure of our success.

BTW, don't accuse your readers of not reading the news. This was impolite. Engage us on the facts and ideas and you might convince us of something.
the Republican party machine may find this issue an attractive way of distancing itself from Bush and appealing to populist sentiment, or even is trying to change the subject.

But Bush is not trying to make illegal immigration the big issue and thereby change the subject. If anything, he is reacting to a push from the Republicans to deal with illegal immigration, and balancing their assertions with the claims of other groups.
By the way, anonymous, you might find that illegal immigration, ie having millions of undocumented people entering the country, is actually a problematic issue, whether it reflects American success or not.

You seem to think that Bush must attend to Iraq, or some other issue, and ignore illegal immigration for the next two years? that would be irresponsible, surely?

But its always interesting that the most aggressive comments with the most dismissive, undeveloped arguments come from people who shield behind anonymity. Such courage.
find them, name them, deport them
"find them, name them, deport them"

Sounds like a draconian way to deal with anonymous commenters.
Heavens, anonymous, you don't mean to suggest an elected official is considering a political issue during an election year?

You're right, though, that America is the Oxford of nations: many people the world over want to come here, which is a sure sign we're doing something very well. Consider how long Oxford's desirability would last if everyone who wanted to go there was allowed to do so.

What (dare I ask) was the subject before Bush changed it to the 'banal' matters of national interest and border security? Knowing Republicans, probably something equally 'brutal' like 'motherhood' or 'apple pie'.
Whether you are a rabid partisan or not, we are approaching the situation Canadians have enjoyed with Quebec... At least 85% of all Americans do not want any areas speaking Spanish outside the home. Many of us in the majority could never understand how legislation got through which prescribed printing ballots in foreign languages, and teaching children in foreign languages, (especially because the latter does not work). We had the best model for handling assimilation of immigrants in the history of the world--until the liberals started to tinker with it. Cold turkey immersion in English was a necessary part of it.
No, bg, I'm suggesting that an elected official is considering a political issue *only* during an election year. Which means it's a political issue and not a real issue. You know, the kind of issue that distracts you from bigger, more important issues. [Gee, I wonder what THAT could be.]

You only hear about abortion, flag burning, English only, gay marriage and illegal immigration around election time.
[i]On this issue, Bush has not capitulated to the more zealous and hysterical wings of the American right.[/i]

you mean the people that elected him

Bush was re-elected by 62,040,610 people, or 50.7% of the total turnout, the most popular votes ever. In other words, he was re-elected by many millions of mainstream Americans.

So your suggestion that only hysterial extremists voted for him is lazy, crass and wrong.
come on patrick, don't you know that all Republican voters are jesus freak christo terrorists
Anonymous, it is simply not true that issues are only raised in election years. The Partial Birth Abortion Act was signed in 2003, The House passed a flag burning amendment in 2005, and the English Language Amendment was introduced in 1981. For the issue at hand, there was The Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act of 2005 (Kennedy), Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2003(Coryn), and the Visa Integrity and Security Act of 2001 (Bond).

It appears these issues are raised only in election years and odd-numbered years.

Also, anonymous, President Bush, at least according to the official record on the white house web-page, in the month of March 2006 made seven public speeches about the war in Iraq. In the same month, he made four speeches on immigration.

In the past month, he has made six speeches on Iraq and national security. In the same month, he has made two speeches about immigration.


So I'd like to know, anonymous, where you get your evidence that Bush is using the issue of immigration to distract us from Iraq?
Having 10% of Mexico's population within our borders illegally in a de facto colonization is far more important and threatening than the occupation of Iraq.
Patrick, love, don't get upset with Anonymous -- really, he is just a poser and doesn't enjoy the nice soft Aussie lampskins like you do.

Let's just say that at this point in a Presidency, especially one what has under 30% approvals, trying to focus on rhetoric in the speech is pointless: Nobody, not even his supporters, really believes anything Bush says anymore.
Oh Jeff, you are such a wanker; I remember when people used to get upset that 10% of Canadians were living in the US illegally -- oh, wait, that is still happening. Damn that Michael J. Fox.

Well, at least we didn't want them because 1/2 of them were Catholic...I can understand much more how that would corrupt our political culture (look at the Supreme Court these days). Damn, those know-nothings were on to something. Let's kick all the catholics out....
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