The bottom-line question about President Bush's speech Monday night is whether or not it demonstrated he is finally serious about securing the U.S.-Mexico border.
The answer is a resounding and exasperated no!
The illegal immigration crisis now threatens to mark George Bush's legacy the way the Iran hostage crisis marked Jimmy Carter's. The question is how long America will be held hostage.
Back in 1980, voters could retaliate against Carter for his feeble response to the hostage crisis by throwing him out of office. Voters cannot throw Bush out for his feeble response to illegal immigration, but they can throw his party out of its congressional majority.
Unless Bush immediately undergoes a St. Paul-type conversion on illegal immigration, come Election Day the evidence will be indisputable that he was not serious about securing the border: Illegal aliens will still be flooding over it.
Public reaction to that continuing flood could sweep away the Republican House majority, and perhaps the Senate majority, too -- making the final two years of Bush's presidency an ugly time of investigations and recriminations by congressional Democrats intent on paving the way for a Democratic presidential victory in 2008.
Bush's immigration speech included multiple elements certain to further upset Americans already angry with a federal political establishment that won't fulfill its rudimentary responsibility of securing the border.
Last week in this space, I argued that Bush could begin a political comeback and help Republicans retain Congress if, among other things, he deployed troops to secure the border. In his speech, Bush gave ample justification for doing so. "Illegal immigration puts pressure on public schools and hospitals, it strains state and local budgets, and brings crime to our communities," he said. Securing our borders is "an urgent requirement of our national security." We need to close our borders to "criminals, drug dealers and terrorists."
Then he offered a transparently inadequate solution to this "urgent' problem: Deploying "up to 6,000" National Guardsmen. In three daily shifts along a 2,000-mile border, that's one per mile.
In a piece on HumanEventsOnline.com this week, Rep. Charles Norwood, the Republican of Georgia, recommended an initial deployment of 36,000. He based that on a study of the Minuteman Project published last year by the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, which concluded that six men per mile along the length of the border (36,000 over three daily shifts) could indeed stop illegal crossings.