Mona Charen

Do the Republican presidential candidates understand the gravity of the moment? In 2012, the nation must choose between inevitable (and possibly abrupt) economic collapse and a return to a modicum of prudence by the federal government.

Maybe it's the nature of these cattle call debates, and, surely, it is partly the result of instigation by the liberal press, but viewers watching the last several debates will not come away with a sense of the seriousness of the moment. Instead, they will have been treated to the candidates' views on Rick Perry's decision to mandate Gardasil vaccines (delivered by what Rep. Bachmann histrionically called "a government needle"), a spirited discussion about whether Mitt Romney was quick enough to fire a lawn mowing company when he learned that some of their employees might be illegal and seemingly endless discussions about how best to build a fence on the southern border. Should it be steel and barbed wire or should it be virtual? Should we deploy drones in Texasstan and Arizonastan? How about "boots on the ground"? Should it be electrified with enough juice to fry anyone who touches it? (Cain says that was a joke.)

This is not to suggest that Republicans who are passionate about illegal immigration compromise their principles, but it's a matter of priorities. We are facing an emergency. If the federal government fails to reverse course on Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, spending, regulation and entitlements, we won't have a country that immigrants will be attracted to anyway -- legal or otherwise.

In fact, that's already happening. It's the amazing missing fact amid all of the posturing over illegal immigration. Douglas S. Massey, of the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton, told The New York Times, "No one wants to hear it, but the flow has already stopped. For the first time in 60 years, the net traffic has gone to zero and is probably a little bit negative." The Pew Hispanic Center reports that the number of illegal Mexican immigrants in the U.S. has declined, and that fewer than 100,000 illegal border-crossers and visa-violators from Mexico were caught in 2010, compared with an estimated 525,000 annually from 2000 to 2004. A recent Mexican census found four million more people than projected, suggesting that millions who might in the past have migrated north have stayed home.

Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
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