Concerning the Amnesty Bill: “Bad Vibe” by Stanley Kurtz

Something about this immigration battle doesn’t sit well. For all the bitterness of our political battles, there’s at least the sense that the government responds to the drift of public opinion. The Republicans in Congress turned into big spenders and the war in Iraq went poorly. As a result the Democrats prospered in 2006, if narrowly. That’s how democracy works. Our politics are often angry and ugly (and that’s a problem), but this is because the public is deeply divided on issues of great importance. Deep down, we understand that our political problems reflect our own divisions.

Somehow this immigration battle feels different. The bill is wildly unpopular, yet it’s close to passing. The contrast with the high-school textbook version of democracy is not only glaring and maddening, it’s downright embarrassing. Usually, even when we’re at each others’ throats, there’s still an underlying pride in the democratic process. This immigration battle strips us of even that pride.

I’m still stuck on the way this bill was going to be pushed through without a public airing of crucial provisions, in the two or three days before Memorial Day recess. But I should be stuck even further back–on the way this bill was cooked up in a backroom deal that bypassed the ordinary process of public hearings. We take them for granted, but those civics textbook fundamentals are there for a reason. We’re going to pay a steep price for setting the fundamentals aside.

Senators who believe that by passing this bill they will at least be getting a divisive issue out of the way are making a serious mistake. This is not 1986. The immigration issue is far more prominent now, and it will only grow in importance. Demographics, and the problems of assimilation in a globalized world of satellite dishes and easy travel will see to that. Look at how votes on the war have come back to haunt Democratic politicians. Votes by legislators of both parties on this bill will be haunting them–and all of us–for years to come.

Supporters of this bill sell it as a compromise that will heal America’s divisions. I fear it’s quite the reverse. This bill is infuriating the public and undermining faith in government itself. You can see it in the polling on confidence in Congress and the President. If this bill passes, it’s going to aggravate and embitter politics for years to come. Passing a measure over such overwhelming opposition is like slapping the public in the face.

You can’t solve an argument by imposing a “compromise” on parties who don’t actually view it as a compromise. You can’t heal social divisions by forcing your version of a “solution” down the public’s throats. Real healing comes only when two sides reach what they themselves consider a valid compromise, or when one side wins the argument by persuading a clear majority of the validity of its case. Democracy does work, but first the Senate has got to give it a try.

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