Bruce Bartlett

As someone who has been highly critical of George W. Bush’s repeated violations of conservative principles for some years, last week brought some vindication. His endorsement of an immigration reform bill that is widely viewed as offering de facto amnesty for illegal aliens seems to have finally gotten to many of those who have defended him down the line and attacked people like me as conservative turncoats. They now realize what I figured out three years ago: he ain’t one of us.

For me, the tipping point was the Medicare drug bill, which was rammed through Congress in the dead of night just hours after a conference agreement had been reached. Neither Bush nor his congressional lackeys dared allow any member to actually read the bill or know what they were voting for because then it would be obvious that the bill was unaffordable and almost certainly go down to defeat. The only hope of passage was stealth, speed and massive political pressure on principled conservative holdouts—a few of whom eventually buckled under pressure and allowed the bill to pass.

Bush’s strongest argument for passage of the Medicare bill had nothing to do with the problems some seniors were having with the high cost of prescription drugs. It was all about the politics. Republicans had to support the drug give-away to buy the votes of the AARP, the giant senior citizens lobby, which had endorsed the legislation. Bush assured wavering congressmen that they were guaranteeing their re-elections by getting the large and growing elderly population to vote Republican. He told them that Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson had gotten earlier generations of elderly voters to vote Democratic by giving them Social Security and Medicare.

Rather than buy the elderly’s votes for good, however, they were only rented for the 2004 election—the only one Bush cared about. There is precious little evidence that the multi-trillion dollar drug benefit has done anything to change the basic political leanings of seniors. According to CNN, Bush got 47 percent of the over-65 vote in 2000 and Al Gore got 50 percent. Perhaps in gratitude for the largess Bush bestowed upon them, these voters gave him 52 percent of their vote in 2004, while John Kerry got 47 percent. But in the 2006 congressional elections, Republicans and Democrats exactly split the elderly vote, with both getting 49 percent. I predict that a majority of seniors will go back to voting Democratic next year.

Now it seems that conservatives will once again be asked to throw away their principles for illusory political gains. Bush will no doubt explain to congressional Republicans that they must vote for the immigration bill without taking any time to study or analyze it because otherwise they will forever lose the large and rapidly growing Hispanic vote.

According to a Census Bureau report released last week, Hispanics are now the largest minority group in America. There are 44.3 million of them compared to 40.2 million blacks and 14.9 million Asians. Furthermore, the number of Hispanics is growing faster. Between 2005 and 2006, their population grew 3.4 percent. Meanwhile, the non-Hispanic white population grew just 0.3 percent. Consequently, Hispanics accounted for almost half the total U.S. population growth during this period—1.4 million out of a total population increase of 2.9 million.

Perhaps if there were some reason to believe that Hispanics would be so grateful for this immigration bill that they will vote heavily Republican for years to come, then it might be worth supporting purely out of political expediency. But there is no reason whatsoever to believe that this will be the case, since the Democratic Congress will at least get equal credit for passage.

It’s worth remembering that despite Bush’s support for an immigration bill last year congressional Republicans only got 30 percent of the Hispanic vote versus 69 percent for Democrats. This was a sharp decline from the 44 percent of the Hispanic vote Bush got in 2004. Thus whatever gratitude Hispanics might have for him because of his support for immigration reform, it is not going to transfer to other Republicans.

This looks like the Medicare debacle all over again to me. Bush is going to put the screws to principled conservatives to ram a piece of repugnant legislation through Congress in order to gain votes that are never going to emerge. Hispanics are going to vote overwhelmingly for Democrats whether this bill passes or doesn’t. And to the extent that it enlarges the Hispanic voting population, Republicans will be cutting their own throats.

Even before the deal on immigration was reached, I was forecasting a Republican loss for the White House in 2008. Passage of the immigration bill means that it will be many years indeed before Republicans retake Congress.


Bruce Bartlett

Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.

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