Now that Felipe Calderón seems to have won and the threat that was embodied by Chavista Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been defeated, it is time for the Republicans in the House to look beyond their own noses and deal generously with our neighbor to the south.
The Mexican people have just rejected a leftist anti-American alternative and embraced free-market capitalism in a dramatic vote. It is one thing for middle-class Americans to do so, but for Mexicans, many of whom are impoverished, to turn away from a candidate who promises a 20 percent pay increase and free gas and electricity and embrace a free-market alternative is a testament to the sense, perspective, balance, wisdom and maturity of the Mexican electorate.
Would that our own political leaders had such gifts.
Respected Republican pollster Lance Tarrance reports that the House Republicans are misreading their own base in their hardened and doctrinaire opposition to an earned-citizenship program and in their efforts to besmirch this alternative by calling it “amnesty.”
Tarrance’s poll, only of Republican voters, found that the base embraced the idea of an earned path to citizenship, in which illegal immigrants could “earn legal status and eventual citizenship by working, paying taxes, learning English and waiting their turn behind people in their home countries who are already waiting in line for visas.” The Republican sample backed this proposal 80-17 percent.
Conversely, the Republicans rejected out of hand the House-passed option, in which “illegal immigrants could earn legal status as a foreign worker but would have no possibility of ever becoming citizens,” 25-70.
In all, when the Senate and House versions of the immigration legislation were fairly explained to voters — in some detail — Republicans backed the Senate version 75-17 but only broke even on the House bill, 47-46. Asked if the Senate bill constitutes “amnesty,” the dirty word in the immigration debate, 39 percent said yes but 49 percent said no.
The fact is that Republican voters are far ahead of their Neanderthal leaders on the immigration debate. They recognize that, as The New York Times reported, three-quarters of illegal immigrants work for major corporations and have income taxes withheld from their paychecks like other American workers. What is more, this three-quarters contribute to Social Security even though they have no prospect of ever receiving benefits.
In truth, the Republican leaders object to the earned path to citizenship not out of any justifiable sense of concern for those who have not flouted the law to become immigrants but because they do not want the current crop of illegal immigrants to register and vote out of a self-fulfilling prophesy that they will back the Democrats.
But the results of the 2004 elections in the United States and the 2006 elections in Mexico both attest to the fundamental conservatism of the Latino voters.
In the United States, it was the swing in Hispanic support to the Republicans that did much to enable Bush to achieve a three-point margin in the popular vote. Where Gore had carried Latinos by 30 points, Kerry’s margin was under 10.
And, in the most recent Mexican elections, the leftist demagogue, who played on popular resentment against American immigration policies, was only about to win slightly more than one-third of the ultimate vote while the Harvard-educated technocrat, Calderón, was elected by a narrow plurality.
The future of the Republican Party in America depends on its ability to appeal to Hispanic voters. If the newly enfranchised Latino immigrants side with their African-American brethren and bloc-vote for the Democratic Party, it will be a death blow to the GOP as Hispanics cast an ever larger share of the national vote.
President Bush has recognized the importance of outreach, even at the price of increasing the Hispanic electorate. The House leaders should follow the president on this issue. More to the point, they should heed the opinions of their base and reach out to legalize Hispanic illegal immigrants and set them on a path to earned citizenship.