“We can find common ground here, and we must. We owe it to ourselves as Americans to ensure that our country remains a land of opportunity – both for those who were born here and for those who share our values, respect our laws, and want to come to our shores.”
-- Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney speaking at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials conference in Orlando.
The story of American politics is in many ways the story of American immigration.
Our foundation is British, but the remarkable structure we have built upon it is in large part the work of wave after wave of immigrants.
The first American political transformation, the Jacksonian Revolution, was a direct result of a decades-long influx of Scots-Irish Presbyterians who flooded through the Cumberland Gap and quickly populated the fertile lands beyond.
The Civil War and the end of slavery were results of the waves of German and Irish immigrants who fled religious persecution, famine and European chaos. Not only did their ideas end the toleration of human bondage, but their strong backs tipped the scales in favor of the fast-industrializing North.
The Democratic dominance in most of the 20th Century is the work of the waves of southern and eastern European immigrants who swarmed through Ellis Island. Franklin Roosevelt would not have shifted the nation’s political axis if it were not for the millions of new Americans who had come to work in blast furnaces, coal mines and factories.
Just as the Northern European influx of the previous century had spurred the creation and then cemented the dominance of the Republican Party, the Southern and Eastern European droves of the late 19th and early 20th centuries made the Democratic Party that persisted in may ways until the election of Barack Obama in 2008.
The German burghers who were hiring trainloads of Italian immigrants to work their coke ovens and glass plants were unknowingly contributing to the end of their own political dominance.
The size of that Ellis Island wave combined with the Baby Boom set American politics on a fairly stable trajectory for 40 years. But the tidal force of those demographic events has now been altered by a nearly three-decade wave of Hispanic immigrants from neighboring nations.
It seems likely that we have reached the end of that wave, but have hardly come to terms with its consequences. In fact, after all these years and millions of immigrants, legal and not, the political discussion as it relates to Hispanic Americans remains mired in the very question of immigration itself.
Today, President Obama will address the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials conference in Orlando and tout his decision that his administration will offer a temporary amnesty and work visas to some illegal immigrants under the age of 30 who came to the nation as minors.
That’s strictly small ball.
Leaving aside the questions of the constitutionality of a president flouting specific laws passed by Congress, this is a pretty narrow thing. The president hopes that he can cast himself as the friend of the immigrant and protector of the Hispanic community cast against Republican Mitt Romney alleged cruelty.
Obama, whose re-election bid is so far floundering, is counting on massive advantages with Hispanic voters in New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado to vault him over 270 electoral votes. To do that, the president has talked of illegal immigration almost without stopping.
This is also part of a larger Democratic belief that the wave of Hispanic immigrants is the guarantor of decades more dominance after the current period of political instability. They foresee Hispanic voters as the replacements for the Ellis Island immigrants and their children and grandchildren.
Part of the reason that politicians of both parties are stuck on immigration, though, is that they have struggled to find other subject on which Hispanic voters largely agree.
In truth, a socially conservative, fourth-generation American Latino from San Antonio has little in common politically with a new Mexican immigrant who came to Nevada to work in the casinos of Las Vegas. A Cubano in South Florida is hardly like a Salvadoran émigré in Northern Virginia.
One of the reasons America has stayed stuck on the issue of immigration issue for so long is that apparently beyond the imagination of the political class to find another way to talk to this crucial group.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“But the one thing you can say is how much apart from the politics and constitutional issue, how much of a failure Holder is. The one job of a cabinet secretary is to protect the president. If anything he has dragooned the president in affair from which he was insulated. There are no charges he himself was involved in the operation, but because he is the one that has to issue the executive order for executive privilege, he is now -- his name is on this. Considering all the other stuff Holder has bungled -- the KSM trial in New York, the reading of the Miranda rights of the Christmas attacker, all of this stuff, if I were the president I'd be highly unhappy with my attorney general.”
-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier”
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET at http:live.foxnews.com.