Friday, March 24, 2006

Get ready for March madness

No better issue demonstrates the growing divide between President Bush and his erstwhile congressional Republican allies than immigration. Barring some unforeseen event, the fireworks will ignite next week, in the U.S. Senate.
This one has been building for a long time. Bush is actually to the left of his base on immigration; essentially, he wants a guest worker program that would allow the 11 million illegals to ease their way to legal status; the conservatives want those folks to go home and to prevent others from coming in. What's most striking - and I heard a lot of anger at a recent conservative conference in Washington - is the contention by so many conservatives that Bush, by refusing to stress border enforcement, has turned out to be soft on national security.
It's an issue destined to divide the GOP, because the business faction wants the guest workers (cheap labor) while the ideologically conservative faction views the illegals as a threat to the nation's cultural identity. Bush has straddled the factions for years, mostly with success. Those days appear to be over. He doesn't control the debate on this issue anymore, and that may well enhance his increasingly lame-duck status (which he inadventently confirmed the other day, when he said that the ultimate decisions about U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq will be made not by him, but by future presidents).
Speaking of being a lame duck, the '08 presidential race also needs to be factored into the immigration debate. Take Bill Frist, for example. The majority leader never inveiged about faulty border security back when his first priority was carrying Bush's water in the Senate. But now he's pushing something called the Securing America's Borders Act. Now that he needs to woo the conservatives who vote heavily in early Republican primaries, the good doctor is proverbially donning sunglasses, chambering a piece, and walking the border with the Minutemen.
The tone of this debate could also get nasty quickly. Yesterday, Bush had this to say about the impending immigration debate: "When we conduct this debate, it must be done in a civil way. It must be done in a way that doesn't pit one group of people against another."
This is the same president who said that the Republicans who opposed his Dubai ports deal were anti-Arab; who said (through his emissaries) that the Republicans who opposed high court nominee Harriet Miers were sexists; who said that the Minutemen - described by the conservative Washington Times as "good American citizens worried about the breaking of immigration law" - were, in fact, "vigilantes."
In other words, there's already bad blood between the White House and its allies on the Hill. Note this remark yesterday by Arizona GOP congressman J. D. Hayworth: "If I had any advice for my friends at the White House, I think it would be to really reconsider posturing every disagreement as some sort of new political (or) psychological malady."
(Regarding that remark, many Bush skeptics would say: Hey, J. D. , join the club. As I noted the other night on a cable TV panel show, Bush's defenders always seek to dismiss substantive criticism as "anti-Bush hysteria," as a psychological malady, rather than accept it for what it really is: The attempt by thinking Americans to hold this president accountable for his performance, using factual evidence. As they would any president.)
I plan to track the political aspects of the immigration debate next week, either here or in print.

I remember, back in my youth, editing a story about the travel foibles of rock bands, including the no-brown-M&Ms edict, all of which was later satirized in the film Spinal Tap, when Nigel Tufnel freaked out about the olives and sandwich bread.
Now we have Dick Cheney, with his edicts about decaf Sprite and entering a room only when all the lights have been turned on.
The liberal blogosphere is chuckling today about the revelation that when the vice president travels, he requires that all TVs in his hotel suite be pre-tuned to Fox News. Not to be a contrarian, but is that so surprising? No doubt he would want all the comforts of home, which presumably would include the ingestion of the friendliest news with a minimum of effort. No, the real surprise is that he also requires that The New York Times be waiting for him. Maybe it's just a way to keep up with what the perceived enemy is saying, or a way to find fresh fodder for his next friendly banquet audience, or a way to check on who on his staff might be leaking, but at least it's a sign that (unlike his boss) he is willing to read articles without them first being filtered by his aides.
Anyway, it's not as bemusing as the Jennifer Lopez travel document, which requires that hotel bed sheets be made of Egyptian cotton with a minimum thread count of 250.