Getting booed isn’t usually something to be celebrated. This weekend though, the boos heard emanating from the hall at the Conservative Political Action Conference just outside of Washington echoed throughout America in a singularly positive way for one apparent presidential hopeful.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush uttered the words that few in the hall seemingly wanted to hear. And they let him have it.
“The simple fact is there is no plan to deport 11 million people,” he said. “We should give them a path to legal status.”
It was a reality check, even if reality was the last thing many in the hall wanted to hear. Bush knew exactly what he wanted to say and more importantly he knew what most in the audience would say back. Yet, courageously, he said it anyway.
Of course he tempered it with ground rules emphasizing that his plan would include making sure that of those 11 million, only those who earn citizenship would have it bestowed upon them. To achieve it, he added, they have to work, not receive government benefits, learn English and contribute to our society. In other words, given that it could cost up to $50 billion to deport 11 million people, why not simply find a way to acculturate them by separating the good from the bad?
Given the practicality of his statement, one would think other potential candidates would have echoed his sentiments. Think again. Those who do agree with Bush are those among us who aren’t running for office.
Law enforcement officials: Police chiefs and sheriffs across the country, already burdened by the additional responsibility of immigration enforcement, say they need immigrants out of the shadows to help them get accurate, unafraid reports of crime.
Economists: The vast majority of subjective research concludes that immigrants, whether legal or not, provide much more to our economy than they take away.
Political scientists: The interpretations of those who subjectively look at America’s demographics conclude that Hispanics are and will continue to be a powerful voting bloc in the years to come; however, the past three presidential elections have shown that because of the perceived anti-Hispanic rhetoric caused by the tone of the immigration debate, it’s a voting block that is becoming less and less likely to vote Republican.
Social psychologists: The consensus among those who study the group dynamic of Hispanic communities is that they are extremely traditional, fiscally conservative, family oriented, and predominantly Christian, making them much more likely to relate to most Republican principals.
So sans Bush, where was that recognition among the speakers at CPAC? Where was any conversation at all about the arguments for Comprehensive Immigration Reform beyond the bludgeoning tool of being “anti-amnesty?”
Jeb Bush was the one lone voice in the wilderness of CPAC and then there were the other potential candidates who either sang from the same songbook or ignored the topic altogether, leaving us to only consider what they’d said before.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz: “Unfortunately, Republican leadership is cutting a deal with Harry Reid and the Democrats to give in on executive amnesty,” Cruz said, explaining that the reason is “because they are not listening to you.”
In his customary style, Cruz never misses an opportunity to attack. Translation from above: Like all of you here at CPAC, I hate Obama, I hate Harry Reid and I hate amnesty.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio: “You can't even have a conversation about (a pathway to citizenship) until people believe and know, not just believe, but it's proven to them that future illegal immigration will be controlled,” Rubio said.
Rubio as is his custom, uses a sort of cowardly circumlocution when asked about a pathway to citizenship. Translation: There is no solution that will pacify the base; therefore, it’s not worth considering any solution.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker: "No. Again I think long term that's going to be a part of it but I think there are too many people here in Washington who are leapfrogging over everything else and trying to get to that right away. We fundamentally don't have a system . . . to legitimately deal with people who want to come – in fact, I think you would greatly reduce if not outright eliminate the number of people who come in illegally if we had an effective, time-effective particularly, system of dealing with legal immigration."
Walker’s answers have been so confusing on the issue of a pathway to citizenship that he’s had to go back and clarify them on several occasions. Quoted above is his latest clarification as reported by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Translation: Can I just talk about union busting?
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul: “I do not support amnesty.”
Paul, much more cautious than his father, appears unwilling to apply his usual libertarian dialectic to the issue of a pathway to citizenship, so he basically is staying away from the subject except for the above pithy entry we found on his website. Translation: I’m not a real truth teller like my dad.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: (Not willing to take a position.)
Whether at CPAC or at recent events, Christie has mostly avoided the controversial topic. Asked twice about immigration, he instead chose to talk about his record on taxes and education. Translation: I’ve got enough problems in New Jersey and don’t need any more.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee: “The people who are here would have to go to the back of the line and start over. It’s not to be cruel. It’s to make that everybody living in our boundaries lives in the light, not the darkness, and doesn’t run and hide every time they see a police car. We owe it not just to the people who have waited in line a long time, but also those who do want to live and work here, and create a system that is legal, that makes sense and actually protects our borders but protects the dignity and worth of every person.”
Huckabee used to firmly believe and reportedly expressed repeatedly that we should create a pathway to citizenship and that undocumented immigrants do provide us with much more than they take from us, but then switched his views and now sings the same tune as the rest of his colleagues in the anti-amnesty chorus. Translation: What I believe is not what I can say.
So there you have it.
One candidate and one candidate alone is willing to deal with the paradox that now confounds the GOP. Shakespeare’s Hamlet said it best, and now so does Barbara’s little boy Jeb: “I must be cruel, only to be kind.”