This president need not stop with foreign policy when it comes to drawing parallels with the Truman administration. For when Harry Truman abolished racial segregation in the armed forces, appointed a presidential commission on civil rights and pushed for a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission, he set the course for the country’s long, long march toward a decent respect for the rights of all.
His decisions infuriated the Southern wing of his own party, but the criticism did not deter him. The man from Independence pressed on, and so did the country.
Today another president is trying to find a way for American society to assimilate the millions of Hispanic immigrants now in this country without papers, many of whom have been here for years, put down roots and are raising their children and grandchildren as Americans.
While recognizing the need to strengthen our borders, this president also understands that these immigrants represent a critical resource for the American economy and nation. Yet they are no longer residents of their home country nor citizens here. Neglected and ignored, they threaten to become the kind of permanent underclass that guest workers represent in many a European country — they’re in the country but not of it. And their presence has become a growing source of tension.
Surely Americans cannot envy this kind of dangerous, divisive arrangement. But we invite it by not addressing it. The longer we wait, the greater the danger grows.
Can you think of a better way to poison a democratic society than to divide it into two classes — those who enjoy all the benefits and share in all the responsibilities of citizenship, and those ineligible for citizenship and restricted to the role of guest workers?
Didn’t a vaguely similar division — that between free citizens and slave laborers — lead to a disastrous civil war in this country once before?
This president is running into strong opposition from those who would prefer to ignore the problem, or pretend there is some simple answer to it, like deporting millions, rather than adopt a rational immigration policy that would allow people to earn citizenship and become full-fledged Americans.
George W. Bush, like Harry S. Truman before him, is taking a principled stand in the faith that, even if his position offends much of his own party, it is the right one for his country.