And all this time we thought Republicans adored, defended, lauded and extolled the free market. Guess again.
Were their devotion to the marketplace as complete and authentic as they say, Republicans would not now be contemplating electoral debacle this fall. But they are. Or anyway, they're starting to think about the possibility of giving major ground to the Democrats in one or both houses of Congress. Why?
The merest glance at this week's demonstrations by Hispanic immigrants and native-borns -- which category outnumbered the other, no one can demonstrate statistically -- rubs in a painful point: The alleged governing party failed to address constructively a growing social and economic problem -- that of illegal immigration. Nor is it possible now to blame Tom DeLay.
A Senate compromise recognizing the reality of marketplace demand for immigrant labor and offering a path by which current illegals could become legal, fell apart after everyone thought it a cinch. The "governing party" couldn't get its act together, couldn't deliver, couldn't get the job done. The compromise, in the end, won just 38 votes.
No one denies the thorns embedded in the blossoming issue of illegal immigration. Not all Republicans agree on what to do. Earlier, the Republican-controlled House approved a bill heavy on sanctions against illegal newcomers, but light, painfully light, on recognition of the marketplace reasons these newcomers come -- to help themselves by helping employers in need of willing hands at a low to low-ish cost.
With the demise of the Senate bill, the House bill stands as the GOP's sole, if just partially realized, contribution to the solution of a grave matter: the peaceful incorporation into American life of people who want -- gee-whiz, how about that? -- to work.
Even if there's no ideal solution, given justifiable fears as to the effects of opening doors too wide rather than just wide enough, it does the GOP no credit to come out against the marketplace, which is what happened in the House. The "governing party" there determined to its own satisfaction the needs of the labor marketplace -- just as if ours were a command economy instead of one based largely on free choice. The House spurned appeals by business that some way be found to assure a supply of labor for jobs, generally of the dirtier sort, that need doing.
Rather than debate how wide to open the doors, the House talked about how sharply and loudly to slam those doors. Or, rather, how sharply to try slamming them. Government, as we should know, is constitutionally unable to outthink the marketplace's assessment of what it needs and how to get it.
Yet another marketplace reality may be ready to rise and bite the Republicans. It's called the polling place. A free election is the marketplace. Up steps the voter. He scans the choices -- says yes to this one, no to that one -- as if he were buying a new car or a can of tuna.
A political party -- even when it makes space for principles larger and more enduring than mere political advantage -- largely succeeds by succeeding. By doing the right things, in other words, in accordance with its philosophy and commitments. The right things, if well and fairly implemented, are supposed to make life generally better. The recognition that life is generally better turns voters into satisfied customers.
It's good old Republican marketplace economics, only in a different context -- a political one. You would expect Republicans to understand in their bones that you don't win the "customer's" favor by punting problems downfield, or by just leaving the general impression of disorientation and fecklessness. It is the impression Republicans thought only Democrats left. That, alas, was when Republicans mostly knew what they were up to, what their purpose in Washington was -- namely, expanding freedom rather than scrambling for spending "earmarks," campaign contributions, lobbyist junkets and the occasional bribe.
What a bunch of blitherers this group of once-earnest reformers, with purpose and pedigree, has turned into. What confusion of mind they present to the customers. Would you buy a new car from them? A used one, even?