Victor Davis Hanson

Our next fight is over "comprehensive immigration reform." Washington knows what the public supports, and so it certainly offers the necessary platitudes. There are promises of a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants who have avoided public assistance, lived a long time in the U.S. and have not been convicted of crimes.

Applicants, we are told, must be willing to learn English, pay a fine and get in line behind those who played by the immigration rules. The public also first wants a closed border and legal immigration based on ethnically blind and meritocratic criteria.

Unfortunately, the above is not quite what congressional supporters of the comprehensive reform really want. There will be no comprehensive guarantees that illegal immigration will first cease. Most legal immigration will still be based on family ties and proximity to the southern border, not on ethnically blind education or skill requirements. Those convicted of many sorts of crimes may still be eligible for amnesty. Dependence on public assistance will be not necessarily be a barrier to citizenship. In other words, the bill will be comprehensively disingenuous.

About every five years or so, we also see a farm bill that must delude a public that is skeptical about paying out billions of dollars to wealthy farmers and expanding food stamps to include those who are not impoverished.

In 1996 it was informally called the Freedom to Farm Act (officially the "Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996") -- on the promise that the bill would downsize and then eliminate federal farm subsidies in seven years. It did not.

Instead, after 9/11, Congress rushed in an even more generous replacement bill under the guise of "security." Apparently, we were supposed to believe that "The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002" would make us safer from al-Qaeda.

After gas prices soared, next came the 2008 "Food, Conservation and Energy Act" -- as if high-priced ethanol would solve our energy needs or had much to do with crop subsidy payments and food stamps.

Then, to piggyback on worries over high unemployment, there was the 2013 "Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act" that is still being debated. If the past is any guide, this bill will not lead to reform, more food or more jobs. It will continue to give profitable farmers more federal money when commodity prices are high and government insolvent. And it will subsidize groceries to a record number of recipients at a time when epidemic obesity, not malnutrition, threatens the health of millions of lower-income Americans. Food choice, not scarcity, is our national challenge.

Beware of Congress bearing the gifts of beautifully misnamed laws.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.