Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Real Reason Bush Wants to Revive the Immigration Bill

After suffering a humbling defeat only a few short weeks ago, the Bush administration is pushing a revised immigration bill like its life depended on it. Current editorials opine about how Bush's experiences growing up with Hispanics in Midland, Texas shaped his compassion for immigrants, and that he's fighting for this legislation as part of his legacy, that it will be the signal piece of legislation for Bush's second term.


There are plenty of good reasons to tackle the immigration policy and bring a sensible and humane piece of legislation to the floor. But don't kid yourself. With polls slipping, the Republicans (especially those outside the executive branch who will soon be facing re-election challenges) would like to get this issue behind them. The debate on our borders always had the potential to split the Republican Party like no other issue. You know when you hear stalwart conservatives denounce the zealots on rightwing radio that the Republican Party isn't helped by this debate.

No, the real reason is much more cynical. It's exactly because the issue is red meat to conservatives that it is important to have this debate now. Because no other issue besides abortion can so galvanize the public. And what the Republicans need now is something to grab the headlines, something that will send the Rush Limbaughs and Ann Coulters over the deep end. Because what else could distract the public from Vice President Dick Cheney's absurd assertions that he is no longer subject to oversight or accountability?

Think this is too cynical? That risking the future of conservatives who will soon be defending their records to a disgusted public puts the stakes too high? It's as Rovian a strategy as attacking an opponents strength. Or dumping unfavorable news on the Friday before a holiday weekend.

Remember when just after the elections the Democrats were riding high on their recent election victories, and politicians like Jack Murtha were suddenly talking credibly on withdrawal plans? The administration had gone on record saying a new war plan was in the works.

What happened next? Daddy Bush brought in James Baker to craft the report of the Iraq Study Group. Bush Sr. might have actually thought he was buying his son a way out short of total capitulation, but he underestimated Dubya.

Bush grabbed onto the report and immediately challenged it. So rather than the Iraq Study Group recommendations being the compromise to begin winding down the war, it reset the debate. He also immediately signalled he was delaying the announcement of his new war strategy, which then coincidentally came out at the beginning of the legislative session. Instead of having the spotlight to themselves to highlight their agenda on popular issues such as the minimum wage, Pelosi and Reid and the rest of the Democrats were relegated to the business section while front pages and editorials debated the pros and cons of the President's new strategy.

And what was the President's new plan? A surge. In the light of almost unanimous opposition from his own military advisors, he called not for a withdrawal, but for a plan to increase troop levels. It was the most inflammatory decision he could make. Of course, it wasn't going to work, but again, it reset the debate. When was the last time you heard anyone discuss Murtha's proposals? Or even the Iraq Study Group? Yes, our brave men and women are fighting and dying every day, not for a military strategy, but a political one, not for winning wars, not even for winning elections, but simply to preserve power.

So we will have another bitter debate on immigration, one only slightly more likely to succeed than the last one. But it might still serve its intended purpose - to distract the public from the fact that our second-highest elected official has declared himself above the law.

Rahm Emanuel is introducing legislation to defund Cheney's office.

....if you really believe that you're not part of the executive branch, we should[n't] fund you in the executive branch....."

"It's not like I'm looking for this fight," replied Emanuel. "But if the vice president wants to act like he's unaccountable and above the law ... I'll meet that."

In any other presidency, in any other time, this would be the run-up to a constitutional crisis. In the Bush administration, its a good reason to whip up the immigration debate.

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