Some of us who are supporters of Rick Perry’s campaign and have researched him thoroughly before jumping on his bandwagon know that his positions on immigration and the border are a lot deeper and more sensible than have been understood just by watching him spew sound bites in 30-second windows during this latest spate of debates.
Perry isn’t great on debates. He’s fine the first half-hour or so, but then he starts getting tired and his performance drops off. And with some exceptions he gets really lousy toward the end of a two-hour debate after getting beaten on by the Michele Bachmanns and Ron Pauls of the world. For that it’s a little hard to blame him; Bachmann is a good conservative with a nice personal story but she’s so far out of her depth running for the most difficult executive job on the planet it’s laughable, and taking attacks from a guy who thinks that we ought to let the Iranians build missiles to nuke Israel with out of some sort of national penance without wanting to go someplace and drink shots of Rumpleminze has to be tough to do.
Still, it might be helpful to understand where Perry is coming from on the immigration question – because so far it looks like that’s the issue on which he’s most misunderstood and it’s also for some strange reason the issue he’s been least articulate on. And it’s also the issue with which Perry has more practical experience than all the other GOP candidates combined, which on the surface makes this especially confusing.
Some of this does make sense, though. Because Perry has to walk a tightrope here.
The conservative base in the GOP sees immigration as a very simple issue. Illegals are, well, illegal, and as such they shouldn’t be here. They need to be sent home to where they came from and it’s time to stop anybody new from coming in unless we give them our permission. Philosophically, ideologically, ideally, this makes perfect sense.
But unfortunately you can’t get rid of illegal immigration any more easily than you can get rid of murder, or teenage pregnancy, or drug abuse or Cubs fans. All the money spent fighting those social pathologies and all the years of ignominious losses simply won’t eradicate the problem, and this is the same type of thing. The border is too big and there’s too much commerce across it to ever think you can stop everybody from coming here, and even with 9-point-something percent unemployment you’re going to have a lot of trouble getting recent college graduates and displaced construction foremen to agree to wash dishes in a restaurant for eight bucks an hour – which is a king’s ransom to some guy from Guadalajara, and he’ll swim across the Rio Grande to get it whether we say we’re serious about stopping him or not.
Which is not to say that the conservative base is wrong. They’re not. They’re correct in opposing illegal immigration, and it should be opposed. But unfortunately, The Other Side doesn’t just have a different view, they’ve got a fairly specific agenda which includes this issue.
The Other Side doesn’t just favor an open border. The Other Side doesn’t just want to decriminalize illegal immigration. What The Other Side wants is to register all the illegals as Democrat voters and put them on the exact same plantation they’ve trapped the black community on. Vote Democrat, get free stuff, we’ll tax the hell out of the other guy and if he complains or notices that what we’re doing ruins lives and hurts people we’ll just call him a racist and repeat the procedure as necessary.
Which means before you can really do anything about immigration that will actually solve the problem, you have to deny The Other Side their agenda. And you absolutely have to fight them for votes in the Hispanic community to do that.
Thankfully, it’s quite possible to do that. George W. Bush got 40-45 percent of the Hispanic vote when he ran for president in 2000 and 2004. Rick Perry has gotten 35-40 percent of the Hispanic vote in Texas. If you’re a Republican and you can get 35-45 percent of the Hispanic vote, the Democrats really can’t beat you.
Honestly, conservatives should be able to get even more than 35-45 percent of the Hispanic vote. Hispanics are generally pretty religious people and will respond to a social conservative message. And Hispanics, as new immigrants or 2nd and 3rd generation Americans, are very similar in orientation to the Irish, Italians, Polish and German immigrants to America of 100 years ago – they’re here because they want more freedom to better their lot than the home country affords. They really like all this American Dream stuff and they understand it in exactly the same way conservatives understand it – namely, they want to earn everything they get and they really like the idea that in this country folks get hassled by the government less as they try to earn their way up.
Because of that, Hispanics – and by Hispanics we’re really talking about Mexicans here – will probably gravitate toward the GOP so long as they’re not turned away from the party. But The Other Side is working overtime to turn them away from the GOP, using a playbook that worked really well on the Irish and Italians 100 years ago. Namely, use big-city political machines to get them public-sector jobs, make some of them ward bosses and use the union apparatus to form a sort of informal welfare-state apparatus (this time it’s more of a formal welfare-state apparatus) to spread loot around and tie as many livelihoods within that community to the government as possible. And when that gets finished it’ll become impossible to break The Other Side’s control of the votes in that community.
Over time, of course, they’ll lose the Hispanic vote. Because this generation’s lower-class immigrant becomes the next generation’s middle-class tradesman becomes the 3rd generation’s college graduate middle-class suburbanite and the 4th generation’s entrepreneur with a country club membership. And by the 4th generation you can’t even get an accurate read on who’s Hispanic and who’s not – the last name might say Garcia or Fernandez but unless the person in question tells you his or her lineage you’d never know their people came from Veracruz and not Verona or Valencia or some other more Eurocentric place where the local folks destroyed the country for people who have ambition.
What Hispanics – or Mexicans – really want, though, is not to be treated the way Irish or Italian immigrants and their immediate descendants were treated 100 years ago, though. Because when those folks came here and settled on the East Coast it was Democrat machine pols who embraced them and Republican business/blue-blood types who treated them like dirt. No surprise, then, that the Democrats quickly consolidated control over those big cities on the East Coast (Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Newark, Providence) – and promptly ruined them with “progressive” experimentation that looked an awful lot like the socialist tyranny the Italians and Poles were fleeing from. Ditto in Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and several other northern burgs.
The point is, there’s a mistake the Republicans made 100 years ago which needs to be avoided this time. Successfully competing for the Hispanic vote by articulating conservative principles as the very things they came here for rather than acting like they’re beaners and wetbacks and whatever other slurs you can throw their way is a smart move. It’s also what will keep Houston and Dallas and Phoenix and Las Vegas from ending up like Detroit, Chicago and Philly.
And that means that while immigration is far from the only animating issue within the Hispanic community, it’s an issue which can drive those people away from the GOP if The Other Side can convince them those conservatives are racist and exclusionary.
And that’s why while it’s correct to say illegal immigration is, in fact, illegal and needs to be stopped it’s crucial to scream from the rooftops that conservatives aren’t afraid of Mexicans and they’re just as welcome to the movement as anybody else is.
Perry, from having been governor in Texas for a decade, understands this. And that’s why for a very long time he’s said that immigration is one issue and the border is another. He says he’s for doing a deal on immigration – a guest worker program, for example, and nibbling around the edges on things like if you’re an illegal and your kids have come up in the Texas public schools for 10 years and have the grades to get into Texas A&M or UT-San Antonio or whatever, they’ll let you pay in-state tuition – but on border security there’s no deal to be had and we’re going to have guys with guns on that border making sure nobody or nothing gets through it without having a governmental stamp of approval.
And that’s actually been the Republican position on the border since Bush went overboard with all that amnesty business in 2007 and split the party. There’s a decent consensus within the conservative movement that the immigration question can wait until after we’re agreed that the border is under control. Even President Obama largely bought into that consensus, though obviously he tried to appropriate it for The Other Side’s agenda by going to El Paso and ridiculously claiming that the border was secure so now it’s time for amnesty and a path to citizenship and Democrat voter registration for all 11 million illegals.
So as Perry attempts to dust himself off from those debates and remedy some of the weaknesses he showed in them, he’s going to want to play up what he talked about in that interview with the Pittsburgh paper’s editorial board in 2008 and play down this business of in-state tuition for the illegals’ kids. And he’s going to want to find a way to articulate to the conservative base that having governed a state with a heavily Hispanic population and a lot of illegals that oh-by-the-way is as Republican a conservative paradise as you can find, he can deliver a big chunk of that community into the GOP coalition without destroying the party’s ideological brand.
That’s a speech. It’s an important speech, and it needs to be well-written and well-delivered. Nobody can give it as authoritatively as Perry. But if Obama can get the lefty media swooning by giving a speech in response to the Jeremiah Wright revelations which equated and sought to cancel out his typical white racist grandmother and his black racist preacher, certainly Perry can give a response to these immigration and border questions based on his successful experience governing a border state for a decade.
He needs to give it, though. He doesn’t have to give it right away; after all the media grousing about how horrible Perry was at the last debate his lead over Mitt Romney and the rest of the field is still at least seven points. But soon, when he’s ready, he’ll want to give it.