McCain on Immigration Bill
I just got off a blogger conference call with Senator John McCain. The main topic, as one might imagine, was the immigration bill he and Senator Teddy Kennedy have put together.
His position and mine are identical at a high level, although we likely disagree on some of the nuts and bolts. He argues that we simply must get a handle on the problem, that the status quo is unacceptable, and that a bill that would round up all 12 million illegal aliens is neither politically possible nor feasible. He strongly resists the idea that making people pay a fine and endure other penalties constitutes “amnesty,” a position Steve Verdon has articulated at OTB quite thoroughly.
As a side note, he believes that Republicans generally and evangelical Christians particularly need to see this as a humanitarian issue and deal with it accordingly. Politically, he thinks Hispanics are sympathetic to the Republican position on most issues but are being alienated by the fervency that many in the party have on this issue, which they perceive as anti-Hispanic rather than a matter of law enforcement or border security.
I was able to get a question in toward the end of the call and asked how he planned to repair the damage this issue has done to the base of his party. He agreed that the issue is divisive. Indeed, he says it is by far the most polarizing issue among Republicans that he’s seen in his career, with the possible exception of abortion.
His solution for dealing with it, which is a common theme with McCain, is that he’d do it gradually by reaching out in town hall meetings and otherwise having a conversation with the American people. He says he’s had great success at the small level doing that, saying that he sees visible conversion in people’s attitudes once he explains the issue to them. He’s frustrated that his position is one that takes five minutes to articulate, while the opposition can get people worked up in a matter of seconds, but that’s a reality he’s prepared to deal with.
He’s got much more faith in the attention span and willingness to engage of the general public than I have. Then again, that’s likely a prerequisite for his line of work.
UPDATE: Bill Quick thinks McCain and I are too wonkish and that our “‘solution’ will destroy the Republican party for a generation, and do far more harm to the nation as a whole than the problem it purports to solve.”
It’s quite possible that this issue will break apart the GOP; indeed, that was the essence of my question to McCain, although I didn’t put it quite that strongly. Then again, it’s arguable that the perception by Hispanics that the Republican party is anti-immigration has already cost us dearly. Certainly, it has taken California from being a slam-dunk Republican presidential state as recently as 1988 to a write-off since 1992. That’s more than 20% of the Electoral College and more than enough to have spared us two terms of Bill Clinton and the sturm und drang over the 2000 recount.
In terms of the immigration issue itself, I’m aware of the real concerns about the cultural and economic consequences of having essentially open borders with Mexico. I merely note that this is already the case and has been so long as I can recall. The illegal alien problem is analogous to the illegal narcotics problem; we’re not going to stop the flow of either and the consequences of having a “war” on either will be much more harmful than the tiny sliver of the flow we staunch.