This should be the best of times for John McCain. He has accomplished precisely what most Americans say they want: for elected leaders of both parties to work together, compromise when necessary, and actually reach agreements that address the major issues facing America.
The compromise just reached by senators on the issue of immigration doesn’t include everything either side might wish, but its essential structure — greater enforcement at the border coupled with an opportunity for those who are already here, working, paying taxes, rasising children many of whom are themselves American citizens, to come out of the shadows and achieve legal status — reflects the approach that the overwhelming majority of Americans see as the only solution to illegal immigration.
The problem is that the overwhelming majority of Americans don’t vote in Republican primaries and caucuses. The views of the overwhelming majority of Americans are almost never heard on talk radio in this country and rarely on television either. The debate about immigration is not dominated by the reasonable middle in this country, but by the screamers at both extremes.
For John McCain, running as a Republican, that means a chorus of criticism from the media loud mouths on the right (you know who I mean) who don’t matter very much in a general election, because their following is so skewed right, but who, for that very reason, can be critical to success in the Republican primaries and caucuses that skew almost as far right as the media screamers.
And boy are they screaming. Last night, I had to watch the TV with the sound off because shrill doesn’t begin to describe it. They can barely spit out the word “amnesty,” which is not what the bill provides for, but lights more fires under people than pointing out that for those already in this country, with a good working history, what the bill provides for is not citizenship but the opportunity to pay $5,000 in fees and penalties to apply for a four year Z visa, which can then be renewed for another four years, after which the individual can then apply for a green card. As for the temporary worker program created under the bill to meet this country’s labor needs, the fact is that the bill provides absolutely no way for temporary workers to become citizens. So much for amnesty, and opening the floodgates.
And what would these right wingers prefer? That we break up families in which the parents are undocumented and the children are citizens, deporting the parents and leaving the children homeless? That we tell those who were brought here as children and have lived here their entire lives that they are about to be shipped out to countries which are as foreign to them as they would be to you and me? And what about the 5 million would-be immigrants who have applied to reunite with their families, some of whom have waited 20 years or more to be with loved ones. The bill aims to clear that backlog within five years. Is there something wrong with that too?
The compromise reached by the Senate is far from perfect, as critics from both sides are pointing out, even those who favor its basic approach. Some Democrats are worried that the guest worker program will drive down wages; at the same time, the enforcement program, according to Republican Senator Charles Grassley, would give the Department of Homeland Security “unlimited open-ended access to all Social Security data, including confidential tax return information.” The House still has to pass its own bill, which Democrats believe will require 60 to 70 Republican votes, given the explosiveness of the issue for some vulnerable first-term Democrats. But virtually everyone agrees that if we are to deal with the immigration problems anytime in the near future, the time is now, before presidential politics makes doing anything impossible.
In fact, both McCain and Giuliani favor comprehensive reform, and Mitt Romney, the third of the frontrunners, who has criticized McCain for his role in the compromise, has his own, usual record of flip-flops on the issue. But that won’t stop the right wingers from attacking the deal and the dealers, as if they have an alternative, and it may not help McCain, who is so desperate to prove his conservative credentials. Too bad. McCain has done something important. In a general election, it could actually help him. But if the loudmouths have their way, he’ll never get that far, which as a Democrat, is fine with me.
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Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.
Estrich's books include the just published “Soulless,” “The Case for Hillary Clinton,” “How to Get Into Law School,” “Sex & Power,” “Real Rape,” “Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System” and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women.”
She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the “Blue Streak” column for FOXNews.com.