Thursday, December 6, 2012

Messy Issues Mean Messy Politics

Politics is messy business.

At least, in a democratic republic, politics is messy.

Consensus serves as the engine of a democratic republic, but consensus isn't always easy to achieve.  Most of the time, it has to be forged in fire that burns off other good things, but good things that stand in the way of an acceptable compromise.

And compromise is a dirty word in today's politics, both among hard-left-wingers, and right-wing hawks.  We seem to have forgotten that the trick to compromise is achieving shared goals without throwing your key convictions under the bus in the process.

Unfortunately, people who cling to either extreme of the political aisle tend to lump a lot of good ideas under their "key convictions" category, which obscures the goals they likely share with other people, and makes compromise appear vulgar.  Strip away the reasons why people hold to their "key convictions," though, and what's left?

I suspect what's left are a bunch of half-baked ideas hammered into contrived convictions by people like Rush Limbaugh and Maxine Waters, who then peddle them as alluring sound bites to wider audiences with predispositions to such messages.  In the process, rhetoric replaces reason, because winning legions of loyal fans requires the simplification of processes that resist simplification.  Politics is messy because the shared goals within a population can evolve like the colors and shapes in a kaleidoscope, depending on any number of variables.

Don't forget - none of us are perfect, none of our political platforms are perfect, none of the world's economic models are perfect, and not even our democratic republic is perfect.  If it was, we wouldn't have to spend as much time as we do messing about with how we keep the American experiment from crumbling around us.

Messy Politics and Illegal Immigration

As a self-professed moderate Republican, I talk a lot about how conservatives and liberals need to find common political ground, but maybe you're still not convinced.  Maybe you want to see how a moderate would approach, say, the increasingly visible discussions taking place among America's political elite regarding illegal immigration.  And I say "illegal immigration," even though these political elites prefer to ignore the "illegal" part and just label it "immigration."

Yesterday, in Washington, DC, a group called the National Immigration Forum wrapped-up a two-day "national strategy session" entitled "Forging a New Consensus."  They issued a report, "Voices of the New Consensus: Bibles, Badges, and Business," which represents the culmination of a year's worth of conferences they've been holding on this topic of immigration reform.

The National Immigration Forum counts among its participants a slate of political and religious figures as diverse as you can imagine.  Neo-hawk Grover Norquist, liberal congressmembers Sheila Jackson Lee and Charles Rangel, Southern Baptist leader Richard Land, controversial social justice activist Jim Wallis, and even a dairy farmer from Upstate New York are just some of the people lending their voices to this discussion, which while still short on specifics, seems to be zeroing in on several ideals.  These include creating solutions at the federal level instead of the state level, respecting law enforcement, respecting the family unit, recognizing our economy's need for migrant labor, and maintaining a free society.

Now, Richard Land, along with Willow Creek's Bill Hybels, is already a leader in a group of religious professionals called the Evangelical Immigration Table.  Land, Hybels, and other ministers have been trying for a couple of years to smooth over the rough edges of illegal immigration by saying that God told the Israelites to respect the sojourners in their midst.  In Exodus 22:21 and Leviticus 19:34, God instructs His people to love newcomers, foreigners, and strangers living with them in the land.

An incomplete and decontextualized reading of these passages appear to exonerate America's illegal immigrants, which provides people like Land, Hybels, and others with what they consider to be Biblical ammunition against people like me who say illegal immigration is, well, illegal.  Of course, Christians like Land and Hybels are also looking to grow their churches, and numerically, Hispanics provide a tempting demographic for proselytization.  But let's assume their motives are as pure as anybody else's.

I've explained before about how the illegal immigration debate is an economic debate, and that why granting amnesty to illegals already in the United States won't solve our illegal immigration dilemma.  Ronald Reagan tried it in the 1980's, and amnesty didn't end illegal immigration then, either.  As long as unscrupulous employers have a workforce that won't complain about being paid under the table, illegal immigration will continue to be profitable, both for the employers who can get away with paying artificially low wages and providing sub-standard working conditions, and the illegal workers who consider the immoral pay structure available here to illegals better than legitimate pay back home.

Giving illegals a legal voice in our economy would instantly deprive them of the sole reason they're valuable workers in the first place.  I believe that letting "organic repatriation" take place, in which we simply do a better job of enforcing the employment laws already on our books, will resolve our problems with illegal immigration.  Removing the reason people break our sovereignty laws would be humane, cost-effective, and efficient.  It wouldn't be politically popular, at least within the sectors of our economy that thrive from illegal labor.  And maybe we'll need to tweak portions of our immigration laws dealing with migrant, seasonal, and temporary workers.  That could pacify the dairy farmer from Upstate New York.  Other than that, doesn't organic repatriation sound like it's worth a try?

If You're Not Part of the Solution...?

To some ardent amnesty advocates, organic repatriation could still sound objectionable.  So this is where the moderate Republican in me would kick into gear.

If I were an American whose voice mattered, I would explain my rational position among my peers, and invite them to flesh out the reasons why they couldn't support it.  There would likely be some sordid political reasons why they might privately agree my idea would work, but publicly, they'd have to tow party lines.  Liberals have likely been counting on amnesty to provide Democrats with millions of fresh "minority" voters.  Of course, that's a purely racist assumption, but it's just as racist for Democrats to hope it, as it is for me to suspect it.  Conservatives likely won't want to wait to see how long something like organic repatriation would take to work, and some conservatives would be scared of what the business lobby would do to their campaign coffers if we deprived business owners of their easy way to scam their workers.

So, if I were an American whose voice mattered, I'd realize I have to compromise.  Politics does not like novel ideas.  It's a lot like me, really:  it doesn't do new well.  And just as Mitt Romney discovered with his "self deportation" talk, hard-line conservatives hate nuanced approaches like organic repatriation as much as left-wingers do.  So I'd have to barter.

Why?

Of course, it remains to be seen what the liberal and conservative sides of this National Immigration Forum will put on the table as negotiables, but I wouldn't make much of an impact by self-righteously assuming that simply my being willing to sit in the same room with them should be considered a good start.

Would I?

No, we'd need to talk about how we could protect the integrity of our immigration system and not simply completely capitulate to Hispanic illegals, while untold numbers of people in Africa and Asia obediently wait their turn to enter our country legally.  We could talk about how we need to manage the phenomenon of anchor babies while we can't even pay for all of the health care needs of children born to our legal residents.  We'd also need to talk about how letting employers get away with creating an under-class of undocumented workers in our country is any better than some other sordid parts of our history with civil rights.

These types of conversations aren't fun, and they won't win people lots of superficial friends.  But wouldn't refusing to enter the dialog actually contribute to the problem?  Even knowing you might have to give in on some things you won't like, expending the effort to explore all sides of an issue so you can find common ground should be worth at least the satisfaction of trying, shouldn't it?

If, at the end of the day, something like the National Immigration Forum degenerates into yet another fractious stew, I could still crow that my original plan for organic repatriation would have worked.  But how would that solve anything?

I may not agree with the premise upon which people like Dr. Land approach the illegal immigration debate, or the twisted democracy Representatives Jackson-Lee and Rangel hope to perpetuate as they join the discussion, but what's so wrong with hoping that somehow, mutual ground can be found between such otherwise disparate parties?

Maybe in my cynicism, I still doubt that I'll be 100% satisfied with any compromise they may manage to hammer out, but I do know one thing:  ignoring problems like this won't make them go away.

Sometimes, in politics, that's the messy reality we have to deal with.
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