Americans love their angry moderates, their principled centrists and their predictable independents almost as much as they love jumbo shrimp and other oxymorons. Indeed, the ranks of Americans who call themselves "independent" swell with every passing year. Self-appointed guardians of our national "discourse," led by the pontiff of pacific politics, David Broder, constantly disparage partisanship, ideology and, most of all, "extremism" as inherently bad.
This hatred of extremism is a bit odd. Nowhere else in life do we think extremism is inherently bad regardless of context. When doctors use "extreme measures" to save a life, we don't tar the surgeon as an "extremist." Meanwhile, the moderate or middling thing to do is often morally and intellectually indefensible. A surgeon who agrees to work on a patient for three hours but no more - because that would be extreme - is negligent. Refusing to perform "radical surgery" for fear of being an extremist is criminally childish. In other words, sometimes the "extreme" thing to do is also the right thing to do.
Consider the current immigration debate. The Senate version of the immigration bill calls for a three-tier system for illegal immigrants. If you've been here for fewer than two years, you've got to go. If you've been here for two to five years, you'd have to leave briefly at a convenient time and sign up for the guest-worker program. Those here for more than five years could get citizenship. It's a perfectly centrist, middle-of-the-road solution. Everybody gets something. And, quite simply, it's idiotic.
"You can see how it has the earmarks of a political compromise," former Immigration and Naturalization Service Director Doris Meissner told NPR, "but from an implementation standpoint, it's essentially unworkable."
Almost by definition, illegal immigrants don't create a paper trail when they come into the country. Hence, proving how long they've resided here presents a real challenge. It also creates massive opportunities for fraud and opens the door to a truly extreme bureaucratic expansion where immigration officials will have to study everything from ATM receipts to soccer team photos to figure out how long each immigrant has been here. The extreme liberal position of blanket amnesty and the extreme conservative position of blanket enforcement both make a lot more sense intellectually and practically.