Thursday, January 8, 2004

George W. is a Bush, first of all, and he learned his manners. He’s taking a nice thank-you gift to the president of Mexico, his host beginning Monday at the Summit of the Americas in Monterrey.

Just in time, too. Vicente Fox is desperate for a place to dump several million more of his countrymen, and George W.’s amnesty looks cooked to order.

Under George W.’s amnesty scheme, 8 million (or maybe it’s as many as 14 million) illegal immigrants, most of them from Mexico, will get to jump ahead of everyone who was silly enough to line up according to the law to seek permanent residence in the United States. “Legalizing” the illegals will stabilize the supply of cheap labor willing to work for subsistence wages, and rich Republicans (and a lot of wealthy Democrats) in their gated communities won’t have to learn how to clean their swimming pools, mow their lawns or diaper and burp their babies.

Mr. Fox is impatient to get an open border immediately, but the president will no doubt explain, perhaps in the border Spanish he learned in the days when he was “young and foolish,” that the border can only be opened one amnesty at a time. The 1986 amnesty cracked it ajar, the Bush amnesty will pry it open a little further and if all goes as expected the full effects of the deluge will be Jeb’s to worry about.

Mr. Bush’s suspicious critics say the amnesty is the work of Karl Rove, the dark genius of the White House, as the ultimate pander to the Hispanic voter that will lock up a half-dozen states crucial to the president’s re-election in November.

The Hispanic vote, like the black vote, the Jewish vote, the gay vote and even the Muslim vote (if anyone has a magnifying glass powerful enough to find it), is a familiar chimera. The more it eludes Republicans the more it dazzles the president’s men. They’re dazzled enough, in fact, to tell the president’s most reliable constituency, the dumb whites, to get lost. George W.’s daddy took similar advice in 1991. His campaign director boasted that offending white conservatives wouldn’t matter because the peasants wouldn’t have anywhere else to go, and nothing else to do, on Election Day ‘92. Bill Clinton subsequently served two terms, and had a high old time rubbing Republican noses in Bubba dirt.

Pandering is the insult that everybody recognizes, and Hispanics, like conservative gringos, are not as dumb as some Republican political consultants think they are. Most Hispanics were drawn across the border because they want to live in a society that enables men and women who work hard and play by rules to prosper. Most Hispanics, like most immigrants, vote Democratic for a number of reasons, beginning with the fact that Republicans often treat them like lab rats, figuring they can alter their election-day behavior if they can figure out just how to poke and tweak them.

Like everyone else, new immigrants, like the rest of us old immigrants, want to live prosperous and secure lives. The president’s amnesty — “legalization” is the euphemism of the day — will among other bad things make the nation’s southern border all but invisible, inviting terrorists from the Middle East and elsewhere to import hell across that border. Promises to enforce the law from now on (“this time we really mean it”), like the notion that this is the final amnesty, invite hoots of knowing laughter.

The president can’t blame his critics for thinking that this is an amnesty born of election-year expediency. His political gurus are obsessed with trading his most reliable friends for the prospect of winning minority voters. They want to clear out the big tent to make it available to those who don’t yet want a place in it.

An analysis by United Press International of the 2002 congressional elections, one of George W. Bush’s most dramatic successes, showed that the Republican share of the nonwhite vote dropped from 25 to 23 percent. The Republicans did well nonetheless because their share of the much larger white vote rose from 55 percent to 59 percent. The Asians, whom some Republican strategists envision as “the new Jews,” continued to drift toward the Democrats, and the “old Jews” continue, in Milton Himmelfarb’s famous formulation, “to earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.”

The conservative agenda of low taxes, economic opportunity, respect for faith, cultivation of family and a respect for fair play will if properly presented appeal to Hispanics in the way it appeals to others. Pandering will earn only the contempt it deserves.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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