Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Iran's "Dignity" and the Bomb

Reading through the recent SPIGEL interview with Iran's President Ahmadinejad the theme of being humiliated and melting out humiliation is invoked several times. There are echoes of this theme in his development, and certainly in Iran’s modern history, but it is the implications of these themes for Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons that is my focus here.

David Ignatius recently raised an interesting question about why the Iranian government wanted to develop a nuclear arsenal. He noted their “implacability” and attributed it to three sources: divisions in the ruling elite, their theocratic view that mandates from God can’t be negotiated, and their elevation of “dignity” as an irreducible essential of the regime’s goals.

The first provides an opening for negotiations as it implies that there is a range of views on this issue, some of which might be the basis for some kind of agreement. That of course depends on the real range of those views and the relative importance of those who hold them.

The second and third elements provide much less room for optimism. Religious fervor and conviction are not generally associated with willingness to compromise. Moreover, when religious fervor and conviction are coupled with the strong strategic advantages that nuclear weapons would bring to Iran, the chances of compromise seem small.

Finally, the issue of “dignity” raises a wholly new element in this debate. International relations theorists talk a great deal about “reassurance,” the idea that aggressive powers are really, underneath, insecure and only need to be comforted by declarations and demonstrations of good intentions. The questions that some ask of this view is whether insecurity can exist along side aggressiveness or hostility without necessarily being their sole cause. Moreover, tyrannical leaders tend to view reassurance as either cynical or a sign of weakness.

Dignity, however, is another matter entirely. It’s opposite is humiliation and disrespect. Ignatius thinks this “is not a political demand, nor can it be achieved through negotiation.” If he is right, the United States and its allies are in big trouble, not only with Iran but also in the rest of the Middle East. There, a witches’ brew of real trauma (colonialism), lack of political and economic development, and cynical exploitation by the regions’ many corrupt leaders have made “humiliation” a common and easy frame to keep power and stir up the masses.

Certainly no country likes to be publicly humiliated, which is why discussions of conflict resolution so often involve “face saving” or not backing advisories into a corner from which war is the only means of extraction. The difficult line to navigate is how to address dignity without giving up legitimate policy concerns in order to do so. The idea that my concerns with dignity require that you allow me to do what I want is hardly conducive to genuine negotiation. Moreover, that position is an obvious attempt to stack the deck in one’s favor. After all, who could be against a country maintaining its “dignity?”

In truth, negotiation as an equal is also a sign of respect. Being able to build and operate nuclear power plants is a sign of national accomplishment and a source of well-deserved national pride.

The development of missiles capable of hitting Israel, parts of Europe and eventually parts of the United States, coupled with the push to develop nuclear war heads, along with aggressive rhetoric has little to do with dignity and everything to do with threat. The Iranians frame their military quest as a matter of dignity at their own risk with an administration seared by 9/11

Critics of American national security policy assert that the United States often fails to see itself as others see it. Presumably, to do so would lead to a more understanding, less assertive set of policies. Perhaps. However, no country can respond reassuringly to all the misperceptions that others have of it, especially if that country is the object of many conflicted and ambivalent feelings.

Doesn’t this apply to Iran as well? Yes, to some degree although Iran doesn’t hold the iconic stature or worldwide responsibilities that the United States does. Still, Iran has every right to consider whether American and European concerns are well founded. Yet, to do so, it must first give those concerns real attention and weight.

Dismissive proclamations that it ”won’t give a dam” about U.N. Council votes, threats of ”harm and pain” against the United States, and extremely Ill-considered promises to ”wipe Israel off the map”may be meant to serve a strategic purpose, but one only can only hope that behind the scenes messianic religious fervor, nationalist pride, and a view that negotiation equals humiliation will not trump a sober appraisals of the risks that Iran’s behavior is escalating.

America is moving toward direct negotiations with Iran, as it must if it is to secure any measure of international or domestic high ground. The administration is doing so in the hope that our allies will back us with tough measures if talks fail. This will indeed be a test for the multilateralists who have argued since Mr. Bush took office that if we just had more consultation, the world would be a safer happier place.

Well, to date there has been an enormous amount of consultation with allies and many others on the question of Iranian nuclear weapons and to date no one but the Iranians seems happier on this matter. After all, the bidding has just really begun (I’ll see your nuclear reactor and raise you a security treaty that allows the Mullahs to rule indefinitely).

If Iran continues in their quest to gain the bomb, it will be hard to argue the world is safer.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

How to tell an Amnesty from a Banana

"You all know it's not amnesty." Said McCain, addressing Vitter, "Call it a banana if you want to ... to call the process that we require under this legislation amnesty frankly distorts the debate and it's an unfair interpretation of it."

The immigration debate taking place in Congress has more than its share of attempted sophistry, avoidance, and outright misrepresentations. Nowhere is this confluence of debased debate more readily observable than in the controversy over whether “earned citizenship” is, in fact, a not so hidden amnesty.

Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary defines amnesty, “as the act of an authority (as a government) by which pardon is granted to a large group of individuals.” Similarly the Fifth Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as, “an act of forgetfulness; an intention overlooking; a general pardon, especially for a political offense.”

If dictionary definitions were policy, it would be crystal clear that the provisions for dealing with illegal immigrants already in the country would amount to a “forgetting,” an “overlooking,” and indeed a “pardon” which is, after all, an official forgiveness for a committed offense. Regretfully, those seeking honesty in the debate will find no solace in their dictionaries.

That is because both the president and his backers insist they are against an “amnesty. “ How is it possible to both grant a “forgetting,” and a “pardon” for a past offense—breaking our immigration and numerous other laws (social security and document fraud, etc.), without by so doing granting an amnesty? Well, apparently it depends on what you mean by amnesty.

Mr. Bush says, “We must face the reality that millions of illegal immigrants are already here. They should not be given an automatic path to citizenship. This is amnesty, and I oppose it. “The core of Mr. Bush’s position is that illegal immigrants will have to pay a price for their law breaking and only then will they be granted a “forgiving” or “pardon.”

It is therefore the balance of the price exacted to the gains conferred by breaking the law that is critical to the president’s case that “earned citizenship” does not amount to amnesty. If illegal immigrants gain much more from having broken the law than they will in “paying a price “ to become regularized, they can easily consider the “price” they pay as a “transaction cost” much like parking tickets in New York City for truck deliveries.

Moreover, if the transaction costs are minimal they result in two other substantial consequences to the country. First, if the benefits of illegal immigration far outweigh an “transaction costs incurred in getting the benefits, they become an inducement to others. Second, if the benefits outweigh the costs, there will be tremendous political costs to the majorities of American citizens who do not want to reward illegal immigration. The major cost here will be a widespread feeling of public betrayal and alienation.

President Bush recognizes the cost-benefit calculation and its political implications. That’s why he argues that the advantages of “earned citizenship” will not be given “automatically.” Rather than simply being “pardoned” (clearly an amnesty) illegal immigrants will have to pay a price in return. The question is: What is that price?

According to Mr. Bush, illegal immigrants will have to, ”to pay a meaningful penalty for breaking the law -- to pay their taxes, to learn English and to work in a job for a number of years.” In other words, aside from the “meaningful” penalty pegged at about two thousand dollars paid over eight years, illegal immigrants would have to do exactly what they are already doing here illegally. They will live here, work, and learn some English while they wait their turn in line.

About that line Mr. Bush says, “But approval would not be automatic, and they will have to wait in line behind those who played by the rules and followed the law.” That sounds fair, except when you realize that there are two different lines of immigrants—those waiting outside the country to get in, and those inside the country waiting for their green cards and citizenship applications.

Those waiting in the country have immense prize over those waiting outside of it. Primary, they live in the United States with all of the rewards that living here entails. That list includes: electricity, adequate housing, paved roads, higher wages, and free education—the list is long. Secondly, they will enjoy all the civil and political rights that come with having a legal status and living on American soil. Third, they will be working and earning more money than ever possible at home. Fourth, their children will become American citizens-itself an enormous advantage, and they will then have standing to bring their extended families. Fifth they would be bring their wives, children, brother, sisters, aunts and uncles, who in turn will be able to sponsor other relatives. Seventh, they would enjoy the benefits of the social security benefits earned through fraudulent social security numbers and fake identification. Eighth, they would be eligible for all the advantages built into the new bill for “guest workers.”

Over all, the balance of advantages gained for illegality vs. the “costs” of becoming legal are decidedly one sided—in the direction of benefiting illegal immigrants. The problem with this is that it undercuts any sense of fairness and erodes compassion. It is as if a person illegally gained the possession of a furnished house and was told that in order to gain legal ownership, we asked them to return a chair. Nor is compassion satisfied by a deal in which the offending party has to do very little to make amends while being offered copious compensation. Many Americans will come to believe that their interests have not been taken into account and their legitimate concerns disparaged.

On the other hand, future illegal immigrants will think the trade off well worth it, and this adjustment, like the seven before it, will result in new waves of illegal immigration. That is an extremely undesirable result, but it is not the worst one.

The bill, as it is now written, not only contains many provisions that substantially increase the benefits to illegal immigrants; it also dramatically raises the number of legal immigrants that will be allowed into the country. Both of these results are exactly contrary to what a majority of Americans want.

Mickey Klaus quotes Immigration bill sponsor Republican Charles Hegal sneering condescendingly at "the political lowest common denominator." I guess he means people like me.

Self-proclaimed “straight shooter” John McCain accusing critics of “distorting the debate” even he claims that words and actual immigration bill content have no meaning beyond that he will grant them.

Then there is the puzzling and upsetting behavior of the president. Mr. Bush has apparently been thinking a lot recently about his legacy. He also recently told an interviewer from the German newspaper BILD that “I want to leave this office with my integrity intact.” His stance in the immigration debate, to date, is helping with neither.

This president with the most searing appraisal of our national security circumstances, has already reneged on his public commitment to make “temporary workers” return home at the conclusion of their stay. Nor has he helped his cause by drawing a false distinction between “amnesty” and mass deportation while not pointing out the true middle ground--border and workplace enforcement‡ illegal immigration attrition.

The bill, as it stands is a lemon, not a banana, but if it were the latter, it would be a rotten one.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Dick Morris’ Idiotic Advice to President Bush: Become Bill Clinton

Dick Morris has suggested a full proof plan for rescuing the Bush presidency and destroying it at the same time—an all out assault on America’s biggest problem—high gas prices.

We know this is America’s biggest problem because asked to describe in their own words what issues they hear people talking, about 29% of the American public mention high gas prices.

Iraq? Forget Iraq. Only 13% of the sample mention it. Morris concludes that this means that “It has faded as a public issue.” He seems not to have considered that Iraq is a difficult, but ever-present piece of knowledge whose existence you must reluctantly resign yourself to, but on which you would prefer not to dwell.

Immigration? No, that’s not an issue in spite of the mass marches and the conservative abandonment of the president over his handling of this issue. After all, only 9% reported hearing about immigration around the water cooler or discussing it at the kitchen table.

Having confused the American penchant for complaining about things that adversely affect them immediately and economically, with the things that really worry them, Mr. Morris is now ready to suggest his master plan—a national crusade against gasoline. In Mr. Morris’s words Mr. Bush , “should declare the equivalent of the bomb-building Manhattan Project and embark on a crash course to switch us from gasoline to alcohol- and hydrogen-based fuels.”

Mr. Morris hopes for quick results, since “But Bush must get on top of the issue - particularly if there is a chance to show progress before November, 2006, he must stake out his program so he can crow about how well it worked.” It’s possible that the announcement of a “Manhattan project” to switch from gasoline to alcohol- and hydrogen-based fuels might not be seen for what it is, a cynical move to divert attention from the issues on which Americans have legitimate and important questions—like Iraq and immigration.

I use the word cynical because even Mr. Morris admits, “There is a very good chance that the market will come back to reality and that prices will settle down again, regardless of long-term changes in demand or supply.”

A move toward economically viable alternative fuels is an important policy to pursue. However, it is a policy that must be pursued carefully. Oil, and the many industries that depend on it are critical parts of the American economy and not to be tickered with carelessly. And that is exactly what Mr. Morris’ proposal is—a slapdash effort to a gain short- term public bump in approval regardless of the political or economic costs. Were his advice to be taken, Mr. Morris would have accomplished the molst amazing transformation of a president ever seen--from a George W. Bush to a Bill Clinton.

Mr. Bush’s psychological persona—his competence, empathy, and even his integrity have been damaged by the relentless attacks of his partisan enemies. They have been aided by the president’s own mistakes and those of his administration. Mr. Bush would be foolish indeed to compound his troubles by allowing the charge of desparate political expedience to be added to the list.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

A Truly Obnoxious Immigration Op Ed in the Washington Post

The Washington Post has published an opinion piece on immigration that precisely defines the phase “adding insult to injury.” The piece entitled Waving the Star-Spanglish Banner is a full-throated defense of translating our national anthem into and singing it Spanish, but that is not its major offense.

Like many defenses of the Spanish translation of the American national anthem this one too, overlooks some facts to reach its conclusions. It calls the Spanish translation “a loving rendition,” but fails to mention that the translated lyrics add some lines ("My people fight on..the march toward liberty..The time has come to break the chains”) that are more pointedly critical of the United States than loving. It also fails to mention that another version due out soon is even depriciating, with lyrics like:” Let's not start a war. With all these hard workers..They can't help where they were born.” The author, Mr. Dorfman, himself an immigrant enjoying the fruits of this country , apparently believes that it is perfectly appropriate to use the iconic American national anthem to trash the concerns of a large majority of the people in the country in which he now lives.

But the author’s sin is not ingratitude, it is rude arrogance. His view is that,” “Spanish is a language that has come to stay,” and the United States had just better get used to it. His theory is that Americans were upset with the Spanish translation of the anthem because, “It has inadvertently announced something many Americans have dreaded for years: that their country is on its way to becoming a bilingual nation.”

Americans, he lectures us, must embrace this fact. Otherwise, “the democratic ideals at the heart of American identity are truly in danger of being sacrificed on the altar of false security.” The alternative to this “tolerance” and “diversity” is "a nativist backlash, with more vigilante Minutemen swilling beer in the Arizona sun, more calls for deporting all illegal workers, more demands that an impenetrable wall be built against the foreign hordes, more attempts to dismantle bilingual education in U.S. schools.” How smug.

As it happens Mr. Dorfman is a Professor at Duke and an accomplished playwright, but when it comes to understanding his new home, his civic ignorance is profound. He doesn’t consider that one of the most important means that has helped America integrate hundreds of millions of immigrants over the years expecting and helping immigrants learn our language and culture, not insist that they impose theirs on us. One wonders what people like Mr. Dorfman would do if an large group of immigrants in his home country, Chile, demanded that its citizens learn another language to converse with each other or carry on public life. Perhaps, being an “intellectual cosmopolitan” he would welcome it; but I doubt it.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Assimilation Nation?

Peter Salins wants to solve the problem of illegal immigration by adding another 300, 000 to 400, 000 places to the 850,000-1,000,000 legal immigrants the United States already takes in each year.

Why stop there? If we remove the cap on permanent visas entirely, then presto, there will be no such thing as an illegal immigrant. We can then avoid the hard work of protecting our borders, enforcing our immigration laws, making choices about how many immigrants, realistically, this country can integrate into our national community, whom we invite to become members of our community, and the policies we enact to help integrate immigrants into our society beyond offering eased access to citizenship.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s Mindset: A Strategic Diagnosis

Reading Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s missive to President Bush is like popping several of those Alice- in- Wonderland pills, diving head first down the rabbit hole and emerging in world where words float like wispy clouds high above and beyond their ordinary meaning.

It’s not only that the letter is framed in large religious and political terms like “needs of humanity,” “rational behavior, logic, ethics, peace, fulfilling obligations, justice, service to the people, progress, property, service to the people, prosperity, progress and respect for human dignity,” and calls on Mr. Bush to “follow the teaching of divine prophets.” Words like peace; justice, progress and prosperity have many meanings of course. However, in Mr. Ahmadinejad’s view they all lead in one direction—that Mr. Bush and the United States have, by their behavior both at home and abroad strayed from the path of virtue as defined by Mr. Ahmadinejad and reaped the just rewards of world hated as a result.

The letter is long and rambling. And, along with the grand but vague terms noted above the letter is riddled with misinformation, misunderstanding and disingenuousness that makes it hard to follow much less fully understand.

Mr. Ahmadinejad asserts, “European investigators have confirmed the existence of secret prisons in Europe”. No, quite the contrary, in spite of a parliamentary inquiry they found no such evidence.

Mr. Ahmadinejad notes that after 9/11 Americans lived in fear of another attack and asks, incredibly, “Why did [American media] instead of conveying a sense of security and providing peace of mind, giving rise to a feeling of insecurity.” Most certainly they did so because they did and do have fears of another attack and those fears are, regrettably, very legitimate.

And lastly Mr. Ahmadinejad cites the historical importance of technological and scientific achievements and asks, disingenuously “at what point has scientific progress become a crime.” “Can," he continues,” the possibility of scientific achievements can be utlilised for military purposes be reason enough to oppose science and technology all together? If such a proposition is true, then all scientific disciplines, including physics, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, engineering, etc. must be opposed.” Well, not quite. The issue is not the virtue of scientific progress in history, but Iran’s apparent quest to develop nuclear weapons.

I take Mr. Ahmadinejad’s letter and views as sincere and that is precisely the problem. His list of grievances is laid at the door of a single villain—the United States. His motives and those of his country are pure, without guile, artifice, or self-interest. He speaks only in the service of the larger good, whose sole definition he abrogates to himself.

Thus is the rhetoric of altruism put in the service of the most fundamental certainly about the virtue of his views and the villainy of ours. What room is there for compromise with a country guilty of all the crimes against justice, peace, progress, respect for human dignity and so on that Mr. Ahmadinejad accuses Mr. Bush and the United States of instigating? His letter is an invitation to examine our behavior, see the error of our ways, and change accordingly.

No similar self-reflection is evident, or apparently seen as necessary, on Iran's part or his.

The letter is presumptuous and, because of its lecturing without any hint of real humility or perspective, insulting. But its real importance lies elsewhere.

The letter is a window into a mindset of a man whose piety easily slides into sanctimony. It is the mindset of a man who, in spite of the high-minded appeal to religious aspirations, treats the real world in decidedly black or white terms in which his word is the final judgment.

The question is not whether he is “crazy,” a word the Wall Street Journal used in the title of an editorial about him. In the clinical sense, he is a sane as the leadership he represents, and that is our problem.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Governor Schwarzenegger Psychoanalyzes the Immigration Protest Marches

The quintessential immigration straddle and new policy alchemy by which politicians of every stripe can turn difficult choices into easy solutions is now in plain view: tough talk about border security and couple that with a support of a “guest worker” program. Liberal Democrats like Hillary Clinton and liberal Republicans like California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger agree that it seems like an ideal solution. Tap into American anxiety and anger over porous borders, and at the same time American friendliness and hospitality. But every one in a while politicians overplay what they think is their winning hand.

Consider the recent press conference during which Governor Schwarzenegger lashed at out the federal government, “In some of the harshest terms he has used to date” for leaving the nation’s borders vulnerable and failing to come up with “a sensible approach to immigration.”

He has criticized federal policy makers for letting immigration, “hang out there for 20 years and not do anything about it, when they knew this is a problem." He said at this press conference that, “to have a border that is not secure is to me staggering."

Fair enough, but on many immigration matters the governor had little to say. Does he support eventual citizenship for the estimated eleven million plus illegal immigrants now in the country? He didn’t say. Does he support strict enforcement of workplace immigration laws? If he does, perhaps he could tell us more about what he has done about this in California. Does he believe that all the illegal immigrants in California are doing jobs that “American’s won’t do”? As the saying goes, “inquiring minds want to know.”

Perhaps the governor’s his most surprising comment was that the protest marches in Los Angeles, Chicago, and other cities were the Bush Administration and the federal government’s fault. How is that? Well, according to the governor, the demonstrations were,” an expression of frustration. People want to send a message to Washington that they're not happy with certain bills….” Certain bills? What bills are they?

The governor doesn’t say, but we can guess he is not referring to border security measures since he cannot logically both criticize the government failure to provide border security while siding with illegal immigrants who oppose making it harder both to gain entry and citizenship. Those “certain bills” are clearly the ones dealing with the nature of a guest worker program and its relationship to legalization and citizenship.

So according to the governor, the demonstrations rather than being a meticulously planned effort to pressure Congress as it was considering new immigration legislation was simply the spontaneous outplay of collective frustration. If so, it was self- induced frustration since the eleven million plus illegal immigrants came here of their own free will and for their own self-interested purposes. The governor need not have cloaked their massive breaking of immigration laws with the thin veneer of victim hood.

The marches and boycott are more accurately seen as an orchestrated attempt by people with no legal standing in American politics and their allies to shout over and drown out the views that Americans have been expressing about illegal immigration with increasing strength in the last twenty years: Stop illegal immigration and stop offering incentives, like eased paths to citizenship, that fuel it. No amount of artifice or straddle will turn that lead into gold.

How many American citizens marched in favor of easier paths to citizenship for illegal immigrants? March supporters don’t say. How many of those who marched were actually American citizens? March supporters didn’t count. I am willing to bet that both those numbers are extremely small. That means that the demonstrations and the boycott were carried out by those who have broken our immigration laws and who are attempting to pressure Congress into excusing, and then rewarding, their behavior. Does that seem like something a governor ought to legitimize by providing misplaced psychological excuses?

Mr. Schwarzenegger has his psychological analysis and his priorities reversed. It is the American people who have become increasing frustrated with the government’s unwillingness or inability to stem the flow of illegal immigration. It is the American people who are not happy with “certain bills,” Which bills are they? Easy, those bills that reward illegal immigrants with the most precious award this country can give, citizenship.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

What to do about Illegal Immigration? Support Mexico!

Steven Hauer asks in the Wall Street Journal [Note: subscription required] what we should do about illegal immigrants from Mexico and gives a novel reason for doing nothing. In his view, “our immigration policy is more consequential for what happens to Mexico's political and social stability than it is for America's economy or cultural integrity.”

Why? He thinks that while poor uneducated immigrants do depress the wages of low skill, low education Americans, the children of immigrants do gain educational ground over time, thus balancing out their impact on the United States. Since this is true, he thinks, we should then be free to consider his major concern—the stability of Mexico.

Actually, the fact that children of immigrants may progress educationally and economically is little comfort to the workers whose wages will continue to be pressured downward by an estimated 500,000 plus illegal immigrant population arriving every year.

Economic and education advancement while certainly desirable, are primarily instrumental. They allow immigrants purchase what this country has to offer. But they neglect the core of what is central to the immigration debate—attachment. Primary attachment to this country and not to immigrants’ “home” countries is the linchpin of the agreement that has made immigration historically successful. American has traditionally bet that it could leverage immigrant ambition and self-interest over time into genuine, not instrumental attachment.

The emotional integration of immigrants into the American national community never was a “given,” it worked because many institutions—schools, government at all levels, civic groups—worked hard to bring it about. Yet, there is a segment of the immigrant community and an even larger segment among American political, religious, educational and civic leaders that now view that arrangement with suspicion and sometime outright hostility. Encouraging immigrants to keep their home allegiances is said to be “welcoming.” Encouraging Americans to get past their parochial national identities is a major project for some in our major political and cultural institutions.

Mr. Hauer is correct to worry that if illegal immigration were drastically reduced “Unemployment and underemployment, already major problems, would increase dramatically. Remissions from immigrants, which total some $18 billion per year and are the lifeblood of many rural communities, would dry up.” True enough, but more foreign aid could help make up the financial gap while we secured our borders. That would at least have the advantage of being able to attach some economic reform strings to it.

Other countries too have severe economic problems that would be alleviated by allowing an open door to their illegal immigrants too. Does that sound like a sensible policy for their economic development and our country’s national cultural and political integrity?

As to immigrant remittances to Mexico, they are certainly understandable and I sympathize with the reasons for sending them, but it would represent a step ahead in immigrants’ attachment to this country if they could earmark that money to support their fellow countrymen here. Even better would be a future time when Mexicans would routinely contribute to organizations like the Red Cross or American Cancer society that benefit all Americans.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

On Being a "Bush Apologist": The Case of Immigration

Anyone who publicly supports a Bush Administration policy soon encounters the accusation that he is a “Bush apologist.” The term is an interesting one. It is, of course, dismissive and meant to be. It both downgrades the integrity of the supporter and relieves the accuser of any obligation to consider the facts of a particular debate. But there is more to it than that.

Being an “apologist” really means you are an excuser-- either of a deficient policy, a deficient president, or a deficit administration—most usually all three. In any case, the premise of the accusation is that you, the apologist, are either misguided, at best, or more likely willfully in denial of views that any reasonable person would hold. In short, you are either a fool or a shill.

The world looks more complicated to someone on the relieving end of that accusation. It is a world in which administration decisions reflect mixtures of motives and neither presidents nor policies are perfect. It is a world in which you agree with some presidential policies and not others. And it is a world where you might well find yourself in agreement with some, but not all, elements of the same policy.

Consider the case of immigration. Congress is now in the middle of long delayed and much needed debate about American immigration policy. It is finally doing so because present policy has become intolerable.

The focus of our current debate is illegal immigration. The United States has become the home of somewhere between 8 and 12 million illegal immigrations with more arriving at the rate of over 500, 000 every year. Successive administrations, both Republican and Democrat, have basically ignored the problem, while public dismay at the government’s inability or unwillingness to control our borders has grown and become clearly evident in just about every public opinion poll that asks a question about it.

The focus on illegal immigration does not mean that the rest of American immigration policy is either coherent or functional. The hidden core of American immigration policy is how well we integrate immigrants into our national community, and unlike the past when government, business and community groups joined forces to help immigrations become Americans, we now do little or nothing to help facilitate this core civic responsibility. So, the first problem for a “Bush apologist” with interests in the viability of American nation identity is that the current immigration debate almost wholly ignores a question of vital consequence to this country.

Still, illegal immigration is a very serious problem. A country that is targeted by terrorists who would like to destroy it that looses control of its borders is in serious trouble. A country that welcomes people that violate its immigrations laws with numerous incentives (financial, heath and education benefits to name a few), while its president declares at an immigration ceremony that we are nation of laws, sends seriously mixed signals. So what is a “Bush apologist” to do?

The wish to make a better life is understandable, and in this the president’s empathy is well placed. On the other hand, the president’s chief responsibility is to this county’s citizens, and illegal immigration is not a victimless crime. It is leads to a sense of pervasive unwanted, and uninvited violation of national and civic boundaries. It spawns crime, corruption, and political malfeasance. Mayors make their cities “sanctuary” havens where immigration law is not enforced. Legislatures debate in-state tuition levels for illegal immigrants and pass resolutions supporting boycotts meant to pressure Congress for more liberal legalization policies, while laws requiring employers to verify the immigration status of those they hire are not enforced and as written, are unenforceable,

And what does the president propose to do about this? He wants to match a willing worker with employers having trouble “filling jobs that Americans won’t do.” And he wants to create a pathway for illegal immigrants toward “earned legalization.”

The problem for a Bush apologist with the first proposal is that it seems to be premised on a repeal of the laws of supply and demand. The larger the pool of low skill, low education illegal immigrants willing to work at sub-subsistence wages, the more likely it is that wages will not rise to make the jobs attractive to Americans who want to do them. Less supply of cheap labor coupled with continuing demand (we need workers) should lead to a rise in the wages offered and as well to the number of Americans who would consider these jobs.

The informed Bush apologist also knows that “earned legalization” is designed as a comforting euphemism to cover up an inconvenient fact. Illegal immigrants can, even now, “earn” their legalization by the simple expedient and leaving the county and applying for a green card like every other legal immigrant does. This of course is not going to happen and many of the current proposals before Congress are expressly designed to make sure that it doesn’t.

So when the president says that he is against “automatic citizenship,” a Bush apologist is still forced to ask: Who suggested that? When the president says he wants illegal immigrants to go “to the back of the line,” and then ads if Congress wants to shorten the line by increasing the number legal immigrants admitted to this country each year (850,000 plus) it can do so, even a Bush apologist realizes this is an invitation to an immigration green card bidding war. (Democrats: I’ll see your 200,000 new green cards, and raise you 200,000 more.) This of course assumes that whatever law is passed is not riddled with hidden loopholes that cripple enforcement mechanisms and ease citizenship requirements as the proposals that the Senate considered before its just completed recess were.

So what is a Bush apologist to do? Yes, the president is courageous for facing this problem directly, as he has done with social security reform and national security. Yes, if there is a true need to a more workers, let us design a program to accomplish that, but we should first test by enforcement, just how critical that need is.

Yes, the president is generally a compassionate man although that is not the only or the most central aspect of his psychology. Yes, illegal immigration is a human problem, but it is also a national, cultural and community problem. However, presidential compassion should not be extended solely to those who break our laws to have a better life. It should also be extended to the many citizens whose sense of violation and frustration because of dishonest euphuisms, failures of political will, and crass pandering for political advantage in the immigration debate are palpable.

Where does all this leave a “Bush apologist?” Why, against the president’s stated policy preferences on these matters of course.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Being Rude to the President and his Wife is no Joke

In a venue historically given to gentle humor at the expense of political figures of all parties, Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert delivered a "blistering tribute" at the White House Correspondent's dinner that President Bush and his wife attended. It was certainly no "tribute" and definitely no joke.

Instead, the Bush material was egregiously harsh, partisan, and tasteless.

It is a testament to Mr. Colbert's lack of perspective that he could even consider making such remarks. It is also a testament to the view, that he apparently shares, that when it comes to Mr. Bush, no level of crass rudeness is inappropriate.

He owes the President and Mrs. Bush an apology.