If you want to know why the immigration bill makes people so mad, just listen to the Bush administration defend it:
"You're not going to replace 12 million people who are doing the work they're currently doing," Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff told USA Today. "If they don't leave, then you are going to give them silent amnesty. You're either going to let them stay or you're going to be hypocritical."
"Without amnesty but also without animosity," intoned President Bush himself in endorsing the plan, deftly aligning himself with every standard cliche that the media hurls at the Republican Party's base.
Americans are used to this: If you stand up for the rights of unborn babies or for marriage as the union of husband and wife, "hate-filled" is the least of the nasty names you get called by the self-designated voices of tolerance in this country.
Hatemongers, hypocrites, bigots. Americans are used to having our characters publicly impugned, but not usually by our own leaders.
I believe, along with the president, that we should "treat people with respect," including illegal aliens. But the people who deserve to be treated with respect surely include the millions of Americans, mostly blue-collar or working class, who are concerned about immigration because they are living with the consequences of this government's massive failure to enforce our laws and our borders.
In hurling the charge of hypocrisy, Chertoff sank to the deepest depths of baby-boomer sanctimony (which is saying something). There is no worse sin in the boomer lexicon, and certainly on this issue the Bush administration is confessing its own guilt. The Bush administration has had six years to figure out how to stem the flow of illegals into this country. In the process of failing to do so, it has missed the best opportunity for generating public support for a kinder, gentler immigration policy that includes a pathway to citizenship for those already here.
Imagine: What if over the last six years, through vigorous enforcement of existing laws, the problem of illegal immigration had become a little bit better each year? How much easier would President Bush find it to support a generous path to citizenship if the flow had been declining for six years instead of continuing to spiral out of control in an ever larger number of small U.S. towns and suburbs, unused to and ill-equipped to deal with the influx?
Perhaps we could even be talking about new Z-visas to allow legal immigrants to bring over their elderly parents without the years of waiting, or a new Z-visa program that would grant those with masters degrees in science, engineering or math the automatic right to stay here and contribute to our economic might indefinitely?
Did President Bush fail to stem the tide because he tried everything possible and discovered it is just not possible? Of course not. The immigration problem has been allowed to fester because President Bush shares the general moral enthusiasm for immigration of the business class. Support for immigration makes these folks feel particularly large-minded, generous and, well, morally superior. Hence the unbearable sanctimoniousness with which they lecture us about the virtue of their own views and the meanness of ours.
There are 12 million illegal aliens here because Washington either can't or does not want to control the borders. Level with us, Mr. President: Which is it? Incompetence or indifference?
Secretary Chertoff ended his USA Today interview with the oddest threat. Chertoff warned that there would be more mass roundups of illegal workers if Congress refuses to legalize them.
"We're going to enforce the law," he said.
My, now there's a thought.