Why did the immigration bill fail? Ask Paris Hilton.
Don't ask President Bush, who signaled his final divorce from contact with reality on the ground here in America by telling a journalist in Bulgaria, "I'll see you at the bill-signing."
Don't ask Harry Reid, whose favorability ranking tanked to 19 percent in the latest Rasmussen poll. A new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll found Congress' approval ratings are now the lowest in a decade -- just 27 percent. At 36 percent, Nancy Pelosi's approval ratings now rival Bush's. Both Democrats appear remarkably unfazed: "Representatives of Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Democrats were undeterred by the public's anger," reports the Los Angeles Times.
Don't ask Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., whose presidential candidacy just dead-ended after he came out swinging in favor of the immigration bill. Fred Thompson has risen to a virtual dead heat with Rudy Giuliani in the latest poll, while McCain has sunk into a race for fourth place with Mitt Romney.
Certainly don't ask any of the other myriad establishment figures who see public opposition to immigration reform as fueled by nativist horror against Hispanics.
Instead, pay close attention to the public furor aroused by Paris Hilton's early release from jail. Now, when I saw the young woman crying for her mother, I felt sorry for her. Yes, Paris Hilton needs to know she has to respect the law, but three days in jail for someone like her is certainly enough to teach her a lesson she'll never forget. Suffice it to say, most Americans felt differently, and in their intense negative reactions there's a clue to the similar intense public outrage on immigration.
The American people are not racists. They don't hate immigrants. They believe in the rule of law, yes. But there's an even more basic issue raised by both the immigration bill and Paris Hilton's untimely release: To whom does our government respond?
To the connected few? Or to us, the American people?
The pervasive sense of the American people is that our government -- Democrat or Republican -- is not responsive to us. The latest Rasmussen poll showed just 23 percent of Americans supported the Senate immigration legislation, while 50 percent were opposed. Pluralities of Republicans, Democrats, unaffiliated voters, male voters, female voters, older voters, younger voters, white voters and voters of colors all opposed the bill. ("When a bill has less popular support than the War in Iraq, it deserves to be defeated," the Rasmussen report points out.)
Powerful bipartisan majorities of Americans have repeatedly told pollsters that our top priority in immigration is to reduce the illegal inflow and enforce the border. Rasmussen found that 72 percent of voters said it was "very important" for "the government to improve its enforcement of the borders." Just 29 percent think it's very important to address the legal status of people already here.
By a margin of 68 percent to 20 percent, Americans believe it is possible to reduce illegal immigration. But just 16 percent of Americans believed the Senate bill will do so.
By contrast, the political class obsessed about changing the legal status of the people already here -- i.e. the way to end illegal immigration is to legalize it. The arguments they've made either insult the American people or sound self-serving and, in many cases, downright incredible. (For me the low point was hearing The Wall Street Journal's Tamar Jacoby argue we need more low-paid, low-skilled workers to "grow the economy." Gee, you mean our public schools just aren't doing a good enough job of producing those on their own?)
The political class is just not leveling with the American people about what they are trying to do, or why, and the American people know it.
This is a failure of democracy of a massive order, and the American people chose immigration as the issue on which to throw a gigantic hissy fit of historic proportions. Will Washington even notice?