A defining moment on immigration

Posted: May 29, 2006 12:04 AM

As I write this, Congress is well on its way toward passing one of the most important pieces of legislation of the 21st century. The timing is perfect: America has never needed immigration reform as desperately as it does now. To build on what I wrote last week, this is certainly no time for our leaders to suffer from a failure of nerve. We must accomplish two critical objectives:

1. Secure the border in a meaningful way. Six thousand National Guard troops are a positive first step, but not a cure-all solution. But it was certainly encouraging to see Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue (R) last week offer up the services of his troops in defense of our borders. We must build upon this positive public sentiment and service-minded leadership to build (as needed) real and virtual fences along our borders.

2. Develop a path to citizenship without rewarding law-breaking. I support President Bush’s guest-worker program. I believe that by encouraging illegal aliens to step forward to pay a fine, their back taxes, and then apply for citizenship we will achieve a common sense solution that secures our borders while providing American businesses with vital employees.

It is my great fear that the allure of reelection may cause some of our leaders to focus more on what is good for them and not on what is good for our country. The president, both chambers of Congress, and multiple stakeholders inside and outside the Beltway have now reached a moment of truth. Can they reach a consensus that will not please everyone, but will be good enough in principle to be voted into law?

Policy without leadership is nothing more than a clanging gong. Leadership without sound policy is dangerous. We need both. Aristotle once said that democracy is a weak form of government because too many constituents will oppose each other and nothing will get done. To date, America has proved Aristotle wrong.

With the Constitution as our guide, America has managed to further the cause of liberty, independence, prosperity and civil society.

We must continue this great and noble course.

Democrats are beginning to realize that they must work together with Republicans on this issue.  After all, the approval rating for President Bush is now at 32 percent, but the approval rating for Congress is at an even more dismal 22 percent. The pressure is clear: If Congress proves unable to pass comprehensive legislation then come November the voters may well say ‘a pox on both your houses!’

It’s time for leadership. And leadership is more than giving speeches.  It’s the ability to reach out, listen, persuade, and move people to a point where they begin to understand—and appreciate—the benefit of following you. The White House must reach out like never before to Congress and the American people. Congress must demonstrate to the American people that they can argue their points from both sides of the aisle, but ultimately forge a consensus that is good for America.

A CEO friend of mine always reminds me that his company is not a democracy. The buck stops with him and his board. Ownership is clearly defined. The United States representative democracy is different. The buck does not stop clearly with one branch of government. James Madison and Alexander Hamilton made sure we had a good system of checks and balances. To make a democracy work, you must be able to forge a consensus—not always perfect, but acceptable to the vast majority of citizens.

Republicans and Democrats are now at that defining moment on immigration. Forge a reasonable consensus and make something happen or risk the contempt of the American people. As Robert F. Kennedy once said in a famous speech, "Our future may go beyond our vision, but it is not beyond our control. It is the shaping impulse of America that neither fate nor nature nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched to reason and principle, that will determine destiny."

In the coming days and weeks, destiny will be determined by whether Congress and the White House can produce good policy. Please, show us you can govern or risk the fate of fools.