Amnesty, conservatism, and reality

Scott Greer at the Daily Caller warns that “Pro-amnesty hawks are in for a rude surprise.” His analysis is questionable on several points.
1. No Republican supports amnesty. Which specific GOP-backed proposal, by a magic snap of the fingers, automatically grants illegal immigrants legal status without paying penalties?
2. Greer’s all-or-nothing vision is false. He predicts immigration reform will create “millions of new Democrats overnight,” but what specific legislative provision is he referring to? Republican-backed reforms typically mean that undocumented immigrants have to pay a fine and wait for several years before getting in back of the line just to apply for citizenship. And mere legal status is no ringing victory for Democrats. Meanwhile, he thinks Republicans like Bret Stephens naively anticipate a tidal wave of minority voter support if only they could pass immigration reform. I can’t see behind The Wall Street Journal’s paywall, but I’ve not heard or read anything to that effect from Stephens or others. The depiction is a straw man to boot.
3. There is no moderate wing of the Republican party. Greer pegs certain Republicans as “self-proclaimed moderates” without explicitly stating who does so. Neither do we know what they are moderate about: rhetorical tone or policy substance? In terms of tone, self-restraint, patience and foresight are marks of being a grown up. Bombastic rhetoric puts you on the loser’s path in the general election. Americans go for the happy warrior instead. In terms of policy substance, conservatism is a matter of principle, not what tribe one belongs to. Besides, isn’t identity politics what Democrats do? And no, “neocon” is not a tribe. Interestingly, Greer has made no case whatsoever as to which of the purported wings of the GOP is more conservative.
4. Greer offers no practical alternative. Assuming that demographic doom is written in the stars (and it isn’t), what is the real path to GOP electoral victory? Refusing to grant illegal immigrants any legal status whatsoever will turn off more independents than win them; they will see such a candidate, as Ted Cruz is shaping up to be, as callously bull-headed, not a hero with backbone. As Michael Medved astutely asks, what would Trump or Cruz’s plan be to win swing states like Ohio, Florida, and Virginia? There is no hidden army of conservatives that stayed home in 2012. Rhetorical bombast won’t materialize that army. The progressive media will only use it to turn crucial independents away from the GOP.
5. Conservatives inhabit reality, not fantasy. Trump has promised to build a big beautiful wall and get Mexico to pay for it. He’s insisted that all illegals will have to leave America and touchback in their home country. Even those who have been economically and socially integrated for more than a decade. This is fantasy talk, and fantasy is the province of the deluded and of dreamers. That’s the base of the Democratic party, not the GOP. Politics is the art of the possible, not the bottom line of an anger retail industry.

About Lewis W
I earned an M.A. in Christian apologetics at Biola University, and occasionally write on ethics, truth, science and politics.

7 Responses to Amnesty, conservatism, and reality

  1. Dr Grady says:

    For once, I have to really disagree with you.

    1. While they may not be open about it, I think it is obvious that several members of the Republican leadership, such as Mitch McConnell, are very much in favor of amnesty. They’d embrace it more if it wouldn’t hurt their reelection efforts. Some, like McConnell have supported amnesty all the way back into the 80s and continue to push the agenda as much as they can get away with while only voting against it when their vote doesn’t matter.

    2. While no Republican proposal grants overnight citizenship, it’s naive to look at the issue from only the side of Republican proposals. Surely you know that even the best of Republican plans, if passed into law, would likely be manipulated, rewritten, or just unenforced by the corrupt and inept government we currently have, and the current Republican leadership, based on their recent trends, would do nothing to hold anyone accountable. Even if we assume the best on that front, there are groups trying to push de facto citizenship through other means, such as states like California issuing drivers licenses to illegals while also registering people to vote automatically. We are assured the illegals will not be registered to vote, but who’s auditing that? If they get registered to vote, what mechanisms are in place to correct that? And certainly, if these groups are successful in giving the ability (not the right) to vote to illegal immigrants, regardless of how it is done, Texas may very well be lost as a Republican stronghold, and the presidential election will be handed over to the Democrats for the foreseeable future.

    Meanwhile, what is the purpose of supporting some form of slow amnesty or path to citizenship if not for increased support from those minority groups? I’ve heard of no logical arguments for it other than trying to be a “big tent” party, but show me anywhere over the last 4 decades where support of amnesty or any path to citizenship has lead to Republicans gaining the majority support from these minorities. It doesn’t work. So why do we keep pressing the issue instead of pressing our own government to enforce the laws they already have?

    3. Sadly, the moderate Republicans at the federal level are really liberals when you compare them back to the Republicans of 2000. There is a definite “moderate” wing of the party that has been leading us astray for the last 15 years. Unfortunately, I include George W. Bush in that group, as much respect as I have for that man, but he started the bailouts and TARP and a mess of other things that are decidedly not conservative. Carl Rove, Jeb Bush, and the rest of the establishment are “moderate” on most policy issues (not talking about rhetoric here), and they continue trying to push the party farther to the left in hopes that it will win independents. How else did we move from Hillary being a laughingstock over centralized healthcare back in the 90s to Republican leadership supporting such nonsense, at least in part? How else did we move from even Democrats, and the hero of the Democrat party, Cesar Chavez, being opposed to illegal immigration in the 90s to Republicans trying to give some path to citizenship today? In issue after issue after issue, the party has shifted to the left, and that requires are sizable “moderate” wing.

    3 and 4. You suppose that bombastic rhetoric will lose the general election and that voters want someone happy. You suppose that refusing to give some ground on the issue of illegals will turn voters away. But this is nothing more than speculation. Sure, some people will be turned off by these things, but would the Republican candidate have gotten their vote anyway? Honestly, we have no way of knowing. We haven’t had a conservative run in the general election since Reagan, and he won 49 states with a no-compromising message. Yet, we’ve run mushy, compromising Republican candidates, and we lost in 2012 to a failure of a president, lost in 2008 to a no-name junior senator with zero accomplishments, fared poorly in 2004 against a traitor who turned against his fellow soldiers and lied under oath, and fared poorly against Al Gore, the incessant liar with no new ideas back in 2000. Now we are preparing to run against A) a woman with numerous titles, 30 years of political spotlight, and no accomplishments who’s been caught in lie after lie after lie, who’s husband is a known womanizer or against B) an out-and-out socialist. Now is not the time to bring compromise and try to argue our way to the middle ground.

  2. Thanks Dr. Grady for your response. Your concerns are well taken by me.

    On your first point, I don’t see that Republicans have pushed an amnesty, because each proposal has required illegal immigrants to pay a legal penalty in order to get right with the law. If you have a specific proposal where this requirement is explicitly omitted, I’d like to see it.

    On your second point, each house gets to vote up or down on bills after modifications are made. And realistically, no immigration reform will be passed before the next presidential term. Democrats have bad ideas all the time about every policy issue, but that fact is just irrelevant to the positive, constructive proposals that Republicans have put forth.

    On your third point, TARP and bailouts were a “necessary evil” and the better option than global fiscal collapse. It is a hallmark of conservatism to stare reality in the face and make the best of a bad situation. It is not conservatism to complain about a policy without putting forth a better alternative. There were no good alternatives to TARP and the bailouts. And importantly, TARP recipients paid back all of the money early and with interest. This was not a losing proposition for taxpayers.

    As I’ve noted in my post, the “pathway to citizenship” is an inaccurate term. The “pathway” is rocky, thistle-filled, and optional, not a gilded, easy and automatic machine for producing Democratic voters. And like my response to your point number two, what Democrats would do if they had power is beside the point, because we are talking about what Republicans would do. Otherwise, it is legitimate to say that Democrats will just use Trump/Cruz plans to build a wall and deport illegals to make new Democrats. What Democrats want to do is just a non-sequitur for debating Republican policy proposals internally.

    Also, I don’t know what major, influential Republican supports Hillarycare, except maybe Mitt Romney after the 2012 election, when he’s no longer a player. Respectfully, the moderate wing of the GOP is an illusion.

    On your fourth point, Reagan was a happy warrior without bombastic tone. Your saying that we haven’t had a conservative run since Reagan is unsubstantiated. I’d like to know what specific principles and commitments you think makes one a conservative. For me, it includes winning elections so that conservative policy might be implemented. No GOP candidate lost the general election because they weren’t conservative enough. Bush 41 and McCain had bad circumstances: Ross Perot and a prospective black president, respectively. Romney lacked political skill and strategy.

    The numbers are pretty indisputable about immigration and winning voters. The GOP must approach GW Bush levels (~40%) with Hispanics, and do better than 20% with Asians. There is no victory without reaching out to them. I don’t think that means “giving ground,” but we need the right tone. Trump and Cruz won’t have sufficient minority votes because they come off as hostile. I think minorities in general have the wrong rubric, but tenor and tone mean a lot, and I accept political reality. Why not have a candidate who is solid on both policy and tone? That’s why I support Rubio, who is not establishment or moderate.

  3. Dr Grady says:

    I’ll have to make this quick, so I likely won’t get to respond to each of your points in this post. I’ll do my best.

    If you’re talking only about current Republican presidential candidates and their proposals, then we can agree that none of them have put forward a direct amnesty proposal. Your statement was that “No Republican supports amnesty,” and I argue that there are many of the Republican leadership who do support amnesty, not by their words, but by their actions.

    As your original point 5 stated, conservatives live in reality. Thus, while we can discuss various proposals and the ideal way to address issues, we cannot simply ignore the reality of what will happen once those plans are brought into the legislative process. I find it extremely relevant that our current Republican leadership has proven they have no ability to negotiate a balanced deal or to hold anyone within the government accountable when they break the law. Normally, I wouldn’t bring all of that into the discussion of policy proposals, but it is the reason many of us simply want to build a wall, sort out our current immigration issues, and once things are manageable, then we can discuss the rest. Otherwise, it’s almost a given that the very features of any proposal that work to slow or stop the flow of illegal immigrants into this country will not be implemented.

    It is a false dichotomy to claim that we had to decide between TARP and global fiscal collapse. Any number of actions could have been taken to address the potential collapse. Bailing out GM had nothing to do with staving off collapse, and as much as I loved Chevrolet before TARP, I think they’d be in a better position now if they hadn’t received that. I cannot prove it, but as destructive as the bankruptcy would have been, it would have allowed some substantial restructuring that is greatly needed. Bailouts for airlines are slightly more understandable but also very questionable as to the need to prevent economic collapse. It is also false to claim that all the TARP money was paid back. Certain portions of the money were paid back with interest, but as of the March 2015 report (not finding more current information right now), the CBO was projecting a $28 billion deficit for TARP, but that was also using excesses from investments unassociated with TARP to bring down the TARP deficit. Their report showed $51 billion in write-offs and outstanding balances with an additional $13 billion of projected distributions. That’s an additional $13 billion yet to be spent in the TARP program in 2015! You may argue that it’s worth the cost, but considering they were still distributing money through 2015, you cannot claim that it has all been paid back.

    A pathway, regardless of if it is easy or not or if it is optional, is still a pathway. I fail to see the inaccuracy of the statement. Any means of gaining citizenship other than those currently written into law is an additional pathway.

    Hillarycare and Obamacare are essentially the same concept, regardless of differences in the details. Like with amnesty, I don’t think any Republican would openly support it, but many are less eager to oppose it than they were when running for election/reelection. If you care, I can give names a bit later, but I’d need more time than I currently have to verify my information.

    Your continued claim that there is no moderate wing of the Republican party is unsubstantiated.

    Can you name any candidate in the general election for president since Reagan who was conservative? Romney clearly wasn’t. McCain clearly wasn’t and is often quite hostile towards the conservative base. The Bushes claim conservatism but tend towards large, centralized government solutions, thus, do not fit the idea of conservatism. I’ll admit that I don’t recall a lot of Dole’s policy positions, but he’s joined with McCain in recent years to blame conservatives for the dysfunction in D.C. He was often working against Reagan, and while he did propose some solid tax cuts, pretty much everything else I’m seeing of him aligns with the Bushes.

    For you to say that winning elections is part of the principles and commitments you think make somebody conservative, I have to really wonder if we are talking about the same thing. Yes, elections need to be won, but that is certainly no indicator of conservatism.

    And I would also say that the numbers are very disputable. Romney lost enough of the white vote that he would have needed 73% of the Hispanic vote to win. Yes, we need to appeal to Hispanics… and Asians and every other ethnic group. But as you stated in your post, conservatives aren’t about identity politics. Pushing immigration reform and trying to be a more reserved, more logical version of the Democrat party simply doesn’t work to convince people they should vote for you. Pushing the issue the Democrat party has been pushing, just pushing from a different direction, doesn’t win voters. However, pushing for more liberty, less government oversight, less taxation, etc. is something that appeals to all groups if articulated, but how often have the Republicans articulated these principles?

    • Thanks for another round of discussion, Dr. Grady. What kind of action, as opposed to words, tells you if a politician supports amnesty? I’d love a particular example.

      Where you criticize Republican leadership as having no proven “ability to negotiate a balanced deal or to hold anyone within the government accountable when they break the law,” I’d want to know a counterfactual scenario, what would it have looked like to have ably negotiated a balanced deal? Did anyone have a practical scenario to turn a reading of Green Eggs and Ham into anything other than a political rout? Further, the federal budget sequestrations in effect since August 2011 have reduced deficits, and have been a positive legacy of Boehner that Democrats gripe about. And for accountability, Congress has launched ongoing if slow burning investigations on things like Lois Lerner’s IRS abuse and Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi lie. To cap my point on GOP governing ability, they have done what they can while a highly partisan Obama administration is in control of the executive branch. Any critique lodged against them loses value if there is no plausible, substantive alternative course of action. That’s just a high burden for most folks to meet, but you are free to enlighten me here.

      I’ve read about the TARP deficit since I last replied, and I suspect that what is still due are payments authorized by Democrat president Obama rather than Bush. Certainly, the GM bailout, authorized in June 2009, is totally Obama’s child.

      A “pathway to citizenship” is just a slippery slope fallacy. A massive asteroid might hit the earth tommorrow, but we’re not on a “pathway to doomsday” until a sufficient threat materializes and is there for all to see. And doomsday doesn’t happen until the asteroid actually hits. Where is the bill, and who was its author, that allows undeserving immigrants to become citizens? Among the illegal population, there are felons and chiselers, and there are hardworking people with good values. Conversely, why should we foreclose eventual, voluntary citizenship at the back of the line, for hardworking people with good values? To just leave the possibility open, as opposed to foreclosed, is not a menacing “pathway” but in the imagination only.

      As for recent presidential candidates, I don’t grant at all that Romney and McCain weren’t conservative. McCain had one major blemish, his McCain-Feingold Act on election spending. Romney had Romneycare for better or worse. Look at McCain’s voting record, what Romney signed, and ask if as a whole their legislative legacies are more conservative than if a Democrat were in their steads. For conservative principle, I look at the three legged stool of the GOP: defense, fiscal, and social. Certainly McCain and Romney campaigned on defense and fiscal conservatism. And in all three, they were substantially more conservative than the Democrat. I just don’t buy this perfect being the enemy of the good.

      As for being Democrat lite, let’s look at when Bush was in power. His failed Social Security reform privatization wasn’t Democrat lite. I sure wish it could have passed. Paul D Ryan has now put Obamacare repeal and Planned Parenthood defunding on Obama’s desk, and he’s vetoed it. This informs voters that, with a GOP president, these will be Republican priorities in 2017.

      Now I am glad to agree with you that we need candidates who articulate conservative principles. This has long been a cry among conservatives. It’s not as if people don’t try to bearticulate. Reagan had a gift, he was the Great Communicator, and we take it for granted. The Bush family are inarticulate, and articulation falls on deaf ears in an age where Lena Dunham mobilizes young women by comparing voting for Obama to having sex. Except for his tax plan, Trump doesn’t have conservative principles to articulate. Cruz and Rubio I believe will articulate well, but that is only one piece of the puzzle for winning.

  4. Dr Grady says:

    I don’t think you give congress much credit in their power. For one thing, all federal spending must be approved by congress, and every budget must originate in the House. Thus, the House has a large amount of control over federal spending. If, at the end of hammering out a budget and getting it through both chambers of congress with bipartisan support, the president decides to veto that budget, any ramifications from temporarily not having a budget are the responsibility of the one person who blocked it. That includes government shutdown. However, Boehner, McConnell, and other Republicans went into the budget process assuring everyone that they would not allow a shutdown. That immediately shifts responsibility for not having a budget signed onto those people vowing that the government would not shut down. They gave away their biggest bargaining chip from the beginning in nearly every debt ceiling/budget negotiation! They set themselves up to take the blame if a budget was not passed for any reason whatsoever, which gave Democrats incentive to hold out on every major item they wanted funded and every funding increase they wanted. It doesn’t matter what a “balanced deal” would have looked like as it could have taken an infinite number of forms. The issue is that they caved on negotiations before the negotiations had ever started. Not only did they cave, but they made their own party out to be the obstructionists before any debate had started, over and over and over again. There are other issues with their lack of any meaningful negotiating abilities, but I don’t seek to derail this conversation farther than has already been done.

    As I recall, the sequestration was the last resort, lose-lose “poison pill” to force the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to find some form of bipartisan agreement to reduce spending. However, since sequestration cut funding equally from defense and all non-security programs, defense spending has been cut more than any other sector of the budget. I don’t exactly see blind cuts to our military spending in times of war as positive.

    I may be seeing part of the reason for our disagreement here. If your core metric for determining conservatism is whether or not one governs more conservatively than their Democrat rival(s), then there certainly isn’t much of a moderate wing of the party. But McCain is no conservative, and it goes well beyond McCain-Feingold. He has supported massive expansion of regulations, in particular focusing on carbon emissions. He has supported massive tax hikes on individual industries. He has opposed tax cuts such as the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts and cuts to the capital gains tax, voted against repealing the death tax, and helped force sunset provisions on tax cuts. On immigration, he’s run campaign ads in which he supported building the border fence, but then he opposed amendments to the Gang of 8 immigration reform bill that would require the fence be built before granting legal status to illegals. He also opposed an amendment requiring the border to be secured through other means and an amendment requiring visa tracking. McCain has also held a similar position to Obama in regards to gun rights and being able to purchase firearms, and he has supported so-called assault weapon bans that were ill-conceived, easily subverted lists of banned weapons that would hurt specific companies while doing nothing to reduce crime or even the ability to purchase firearms almost identical to those banned. He may be considered conservative on the defense pillar but not on the social or fiscal pillars. Furthermore, he routinely belittles conservative groups and blames them for various problems. He has referred to people who want a secure border first as “crazies”, and he referred to his own state’s Republican party, his constituents, as “extremists,” just as a couple of examples. Heck, his own state censured him for being too liberal. That should give you some indication that he’s probably not overly conservative.

    I won’t go into Romney and Bush right now. I do like and respect both men, but simply mixing some conservative actions with some big government, liberal actions makes one more moderate than conservative. Even so, I did vote for all of these moderates, so this isn’t a case of “perfect being the enemy of the good,” as you stated. I merely stated that we’ve not had a conservative to vote for in a general election since Reagan, and I stand by that.

    Getting back to the central issue of your original post and Greer’s article, immigration reform, why is comprehensive immigration reform such a central priority for the Republican party right now? Based on your previous reply about reaching out to minorities to win elections, I think I’m fairly safe in assuming that you think comprehensive immigration reform could bolster minority support for whichever Republican candidate makes it to the general election. However, even McCain said, regarding passage of the Gang of Eight immigration reform bill, “I don’t think it gains a single Hispanic voter.” If we won’t gain any votes in the general election from this issue, why are Republicans pushing so hard on this topic? Why do you assume that it is impractical, or even fantasy, to expect the federal government simply secure our borders and enforce existing law? Doing so in no way precludes reforming of our immigration system or adding alternate paths to citizenship. Why is it fantasy to expect those here illegally go back to their home country and reenter through a legal means? Why should we really care if someone has been integrated into our economy and society for a decade, or any amount of time, when we promote our supposedly blind justice system?

    I’m not promoting any one candidate or one method of addressing immigration reform, but I am frustrated at the assumptions that the border cannot be secured first and independently from reform. I’m frustrated at Republicans and conservatives preemptively ruling out what is and isn’t possible, like self-deportation or touching back in one’s home country before immigrating through a legal means. And I’m frustrated that Republicans like McCain continue to use liberal rhetoric to cripple the conservative side of the debate by attacking from the left on emotional grounds.

    • Probably, I haven’t followed some of the details of budget negotiation as closely as you have over the years. Suffice to say, it must be more complicated than saying GOP leadership caved preemptively and surrendered without a fight. The picture is too simplistic. But to that point, Speaker Ryan has restructured the budget process to be from the ground up for subsequent years, so I hope we meet with more success than the past. Nonetheless, Ryan already gets a lot of grief, even when he’s winding down Boehner’s process.

      Now for Reagan as the last conservative, as governor he presided over the implementation of no fault divorce and legalized abortion, and an actual amnesty occurred his presidency. I don’t want to go back and forth on which Republican betrayed conservatism by certain particular sins. McCain is not in a position of power or influence outside of national security. He is not a liberal Rockefeller Republican anyway. Call him moderate if you want, but his being more conservative than Obama makes all the difference in an alternative scenario where he won in 2008.

      Finally about fantasy. If the GOP becomes responsible for sending back undocumented children to countries they did not live in for the past ten years, they will lose the vote of most Americans. This is just common sense. Aztlan Reconquista activists think whites should go back to Europe. Stupid idea. Pro-Palestinian extremists want Israeli Jews to leave the land they were born in. Dumb. There are many instances of “Dreamers”–a propagandistic term I despise–who were not born here, but all they know is America. Sending their whole family to touchback in some dysfunctional, unfamiliar country against a bureaucratic nightmare makes no sense. I am not concerned about gaining Hispanic votes by pandering; I am concerned about losing all Americans’ votes by an inflexible rule of law that forgets it is governing human beings.

      Both you and I now have appealed to the value of leaving options and possibilities open. In my writing I regularly express my opposition to all-or-nothing thinking. It seems in our discussion we’ve offered reductio ad absurdums of each other’s positions. Probably, we could sit down and agree about sensible strategies going forward. And maybe we could find a way to get beyond all-or-nothing characterizations of past records and proposed future policies. If we don’t, Dems will be governing us for at least 4 more years.

  5. Dr Grady says:

    As mentioned before, I generally agree with you wholeheartedly. I do believe that we have more in common than this discussion indicates, but on this issue, I think you are still playing by the liberal playbook by planting responsibility on the GOP. Deportation is our current law. Responsibility rests solely on those who broke the law, and except in cases of refugees seeking asylum, there is nothing inhumane about sending people back to where they are legal citizens. It is also liberal propaganda to make this a sob story about children who don’t know any other country. They have families that brought them here to a land they didn’t know, and they’ll have that same family support if they get sent home. Comparing this to Aztlan Reconquista activism or the ancient Israeli-Palestinian feud is disingenuous. The Aztlan activists seek to overthrow the existing government of the land, and Palestinians taking land and forcing Israelis to move is more akin to the Trail of Tears than deporting illegal immigrants.

    I do not see it as “common sense” that we lose the vote for merely enforcing laws that have been in place for decades. If we were to drop the immigration reform issue for a few years and just let law enforcement work, would you assume that the GOP could not win elections? It would effectively be the same result as pushing for reform that requires everyone goes back to their country and proceeds through the proper channels. I do not advocate for that because we do need to improve the immigration process, but I reject the notion that we will automatically lose “all Americans’ vote” (speaking of all-or-nothing thinking…) unless we give preferential treatment to those who’ve broken our laws. And I say it that way because most of those here illegally have not only violated immigration law, but have also avoided taxes to an extent that would get a citizen thrown in prison, and many have committed fraud by using falsified documents, as well. Rewarding such behavior generally does not serve to create productive, law-abiding citizens.

    Reagan, like everyone made mistakes. I could give rationale behind those mistakes and point to evidence of remorse for each one that you listed as well as point to other non-conservative leanings such as an affinity for certain New Deal programs that helped his family through the Great Depression. Through it all, though, he was a staunch conservative able to articulate the conservative reasoning and bring in many traditionally non-Republican voters based on his positions of advancing liberty. I think it is important that we do not idolize Reagan for more than he was, but it is equally important to avoid equivocating moderate Republicans of today with him simply because they are more conservative than some Democrat.

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