Bush's immigration/amnesty proposal will probably be remembered in history as
the idea that saved a political party. |
By taking the lead in extending the benefits of legal protections to more than 10 million illegal immigrants now living in the United States, Bush has taken a bold and dramatic step to avert the extinction of his own party.
Until Bush acted, the grinding inevitability of demographic change was likely to doom the GOP to an early death. As America became 1 percent more Hispanic each year, the Republicans could not concede this growing group to the Democrats by 2-1 ratios without risking total annihilation down the road.
The Republicans have got to break the solid demographic phalanx that sustains the Democratic Party: Blacks, Hispanics and single white women. Together, this group cast 25 percent of votes in 1990, 32 percent in 2000 and will account for 40 percent in 2008.
But by embracing the cause of Hispanic immigrants and extending to them elemental civil rights and minimum-wage protections, Bush has struck a blow on their behalf that will resonate in their voting habits for generations to come. His legislative proposals are akin to the sponsorship of a sweeping civil-rights bill in 1963-65 by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and will have a similar effect in binding Hispanics to the Republicans as the civil-rights legislation did in linking blacks to the Democrats.
For decades, Republicans systematically alienated Hispanics by insisting on English-only initiatives, opposing benefits for illegal immigrants and demanding an end even to free public schools for the children of those who came here illegally. These measures drove Hispanics into the waiting arms of Democrats. Bush has now acted to reverse the legacy of these initiatives and to welcome Hispanics into the GOP.
As Catholic voters, who take their religion seriously, Hispanics are a natural Republican constituency. Recent data that closely links the frequency of church attendance to party-voting habits supports the theory that this very religious voting group is likely to adhere to the Republican Party once its platform stops repelling them at every turn.
Republican efforts to win black voters have proven largely fruitless. Even the appointment of blacks to the two top jobs in the Bush foreign policy apparatus has failed to generate any significant African-American support for Bush in the polls. But candidates who appeal to the Hispanic vote - Gov. Pataki in New York, Gov. Rick Perry in Texas and the Bushes in Florida and Texas - have shown a real ability to get large shares of Hispanic voters.
As Hispanics follow the traditional paths of upward mobility that immigrant groups have trod before them, they are likely to lean more and more toward the Republicans - just as Irish and Italians do these days, abandoning the Democratic orientation of their ancestors.
Hispanics hold the key to the political outcomes in many major states. California, Texas and Florida are heavily influenced by their participation as are New York, New Jersey and Illinois. These are the key battleground states that hold the balance of power between the parties.
Apart from the politics of the issue, the merits also dictate the Bush initiative. America has 4 percent of the world's population but 25 percent of its wealth. It is incumbent on us to open our doors to those who seek upward mobility.
The only thing standing between subsistence and starvation in Mexico, and much of Central America is the money sent home to needy families by hard working men and women in the United States who tend our gardens, wash our dishes and clean our floors. It is not American workers who they are putting out of jobs, it is American robots. The alternative to their low wage work is not American labor but machines.
The United States needs the skills, energy, savvy and willingness to work hard of our illegal immigrants. They are illegal only because our laws have been nativist and short-sighted. Now Bush is setting them right.
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