On immigration, for once, Bush understands what the public wants

It is odd how there are so many issues on which the two political-party establishments in the United States sharply differ but on which the public is relatively united. As the debate rages in Congress on whether to be tough on the border or generous in granting citizenship and guest-worker status to illegal immigrants, the Fox News poll of May 9 echoes the public’s point of view: Do it all!

It is odd how there are so many issues on which the two political-party establishments in the United States sharply differ but on which the public is relatively united. As the debate rages in Congress on whether to be tough on the border or generous in granting citizenship and guest-worker status to illegal immigrants, the Fox News poll of May 9 echoes the public’s point of view: Do it all!

While their party leaders steadfastly resist granting “amnesty” by allowing “illegal immigrants who have jobs in the United States to apply for legal temporary-worker status,” voters back the proposal by an overwhelming 63-29 percent. And, despite the posturing of the right wing, Republican voters say yes by 63-30.

Nor are Democrats any more likely to fall in line behind their party’s polarizing positions. Asked if they back “using thousands of National Guard troops temporarily to help patrol agents along the Mexican border to stop illegal immigration, voters as a whole answer yes by 63-31, and even Democrats support the idea by 52-40.

And everybody supports increasing the Border Patrol force. Voters as a whole back the addition of thousands of new agents by 79-17, and Democrats go along by 73-22.

So why is our politics so polarized when our voters are not?

The Fox News poll gives us the answer. The American people see illegal immigration as a serious problem and tend to favor anything that will solve it. Eighty-six percent say it is a very or somewhat serious problem, and 57 percent call it very serious. Only 13 percent take it more lightly. 

Indeed, in the ultimate heresy for the Bush administration, 52 percent of all Americans — and 63 percent of Republicans — say they would be willing to pay $100 in extra taxes if they knew that it would all go toward border security.

President Bush understands, for once, where the public is on this issue. As a result, his proposal is a grab bag of every proposal that is out there. The two parties’ extreme ideologues are mistaking the public’s mood in attempting to parse the Bush package and back the parts that appeal to their ideologies while opposing the rest. That is not what Americans — or their own constituents — want. They want everything passed, whether it has its genesis on the left or the right.

It’s virtually the same situation on gas prices. People want solutions whether they are ideologically acceptable to their parties or not. The left sees no reason why we should not drill for more oil and the right strongly supports alternative fuels. While it is possible to ask the polling questions in such a way as to show disagreement where there really isn’t any, it is striking how voters essentially favor whatever works to solve the key problems.

When he was the U.S. ambassador to France, Felix Rohatyn reputedly said that the difference between the French and the American people was that the “French value ideas over facts while Americans value facts over ideas.” His point was that we want what works while the French have to stop to see if the remedy to the problem fits in with their ideological worldview.

But our politicians are increasingly following the French model, attacking one another’s solutions when the people simply want their elected officials to pass everything that will work and get on with it.

I suspect that the real reason for the Republican opposition to the Bush proposals for an earned path to citizenship is that they are worried about a massive number of new Latino citizens and therefore voters. As with the motor-voter legislation, they can’t admit it but Republicans like to keep the franchise limited to those upon whom they can count. This policy, if such an evil motivation lurks underneath GOP rhetoric, is shortsighted. The Hispanics are going to vote in large numbers eventually anyway. Only the question of for whom they will vote is up for grabs.

Morris, a former political adviser to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and President Bill Clinton, is the author of Condi vs. Hillary: The Next Great Presidential Race.