Immigration is a hot-button issue if ever there were one -- complete with angry protests in the streets and insults volleyed across the Beltway. The issue hits about every fault line there is, especially politics, religion and family. And yet, even with all its contentiousness, the immigration debate we've been having in the United States these last few weeks was actually a bit of a gift to some U.S. senators. Or at least it could have been, had they made full use of it. For presidential hopefuls, immigration provided an opportunity to show some independence from the White House and show a little leadership. Not many answered the call. At least one took to the gutter.
In the end, just before recessing for Memorial Day, 39 Democrats and 23 Republicans voted for an immigration bill that the president encouraged and praised. One of those Republicans, John McCain -- who most obviously wants to run for president in 2008 -- uttered on the Senate floor what was probably the worst sentence of the entire debate (counting out crazies). In arguing for an earned income tax credit for illegal immigrants, McCain flippantly asked, "what's next -- are we going to say work-authorized immigrants are going to have to ride in the back of the bus?" There was never any doubt that McCain was pro-amnesty for illegal immigrants -- which is the president's position, albeit not what he calls it. But in the mind of this supposed statesman, Americans who oppose subsidizing illegal immigrants are akin to racist Jim Crow supporters of another day. This was the same week during which he ticked off talk-radio audiences by allegedly calling the ever-popular Rush Limbaugh, among others, "nativists" at what was supposed to be an off-the-record event in New York. Word got around and anyone willing to give him some leeway likely abandoned their forgiving natures by the time he was dishing out the loaded bus rhetoric.