Businesses have no difficulty defining success — or failure. Create a product or service, take it to the market and sell it above cost — success!
And if nobody wants what you’ve made, or if your competitors have under-priced you —failure!
Then, if you’ve paid any attention to the hoariest of business maxims (“feed the successes — starve the failures”) you cut your costs, change your product or focus on something else entirely. The last thing you do is spend decades trying to prove that your failure was really a success, and that, far from being obscure and bankrupt, your business is a Fortune 500 company.
You don’t, because you couldn’t get away with it — the record is clear and irrefutable.
But politicians are under no such constraints. Listen to any elected official: every vote, every program, every piece of legislation — solidly successful! Except, of course, for those that came from the opposition — uniformly disastrous!
Consider some of the debacles of the last few decades, e.g., the Bay of Pigs, the Vietnam War, Iran/Contra, Watergate … it’s a long list. And consider that each debacle has its defenders — pols and ex-pols who claim that we actually succeeded, or would have succeeded had we stayed the course/bombed them back to the stone age/not been double-crossed by self-serving scoundrels.
Or take virtually any department or program of the federal government — every one, no matter how egregiously wasteful, anti-competitive or just plain loony, has a full complement of sleek politicians ready to spring to its defense.
In business terms, this is equivalent to Coca-Cola spending tens of millions of dollars to re-introduce New Coke, or Ford re-starting the Edsel assembly line.
Obviously, that’s not going happen. The market is cold, objective and unsentimental. It doesn’t care about your delusions, and it’ll slap you down if you try to act upon them.
The political market is different. Politicians aren’t interested in what one anonymous administration official referred to as the “reality-based community.” Politicians are only interested in peddling competing delusions.
And that’s how we ought to look at the continuing debate about illegal immigration.
Let’s consider whether, in fact, illegal immigration from Latin America is a grave national problem. If it were, you’d expect that the federal government would have been dealing with it forcefully and effectively for the past decade.
You’d expect that the government would have used its (not inconsiderable) resources to secure our southern border, and moved to prevent employers from hiring illegals.
In fact, the Feds did neither. The border remained absurdly porous — as well as deadly — and, as Ed Quillen pointed out the other day in the Denver Post, the government paid little attention to businesses which employed illegals.
“In 1999, 182 employers were prosecuted for employing illegal immigrants and the government collected $3.6 million in fines; in 2003, there were all of four prosecutions and the total fines were $212,000,” Quillen wrote.
Does this suggest that we’re in the midst of a major national crisis, that our very way of life is under assault from a torrent of criminals, welfare cheats, terrorists and Mexican irredentists swarming across the border?
No, it doesn’t — rather, it suggests that illegal immigration has been a convenient, largely beneficial solution to a number of problems in the reality-based community.
Problem No. 1: Our economy creates lots of hard, dirty, dangerous jobs that have to be filled — in roofing, in slaughterhouses, on construction sites, etc., etc. Absent illegals, many of those jobs go begging — and the economy suffers. Businesses need these workers — and Republicans listen to business —so let ’em in!
Problem No. 2: Just as businesses need workers, Democrats need voters — particularly in states like Texas, Arizona, Colorado and Florida. Hispanics have historically voted Democrat — so let ’em in!
Problem No. 3: It’s vital to our national interest that Mexico be politically stable and reasonably prosperous. Given the endemic corruption and inefficiency of both government and private enterprise in that country, political/economic reform may never come. But since virtually every Mexican immigrant, legal or illegal, sends money home, by being here they both stabilize and energize the Mexican economy — so let ’em in!
Problem No. 4: I’m getting older; you’re getting older; we’re all getting older. Absent immigration, our population is aging so rapidly that it’ll be more and more difficult to sustain programs such as Medicare and Social Security. We need young, energetic, entrepreneurial workers to support a dynamic, growing economy — so let ’em in!
Problem No. 5: There is no problem. This country is the envy of the world for its ability to absorb millions of people from other lands and transform them into law-abiding, tax-paying, freedom-loving Americans, proud of their countries of origin and devoted to the land of their choice — so let ’em in!
Granted, the way that we, as a nation, have chosen to deal with immigration is bizarrely dysfunctional. We should have publicly acknowledged our need for expanded immigration, made it a lot simpler to emigrate and become a citizen, and dealt with things in a rational, orderly and transparent way.
But that wouldn’t have worked. Republicans and Democrats alike would have joined together to kill any meaningful legislation — facing reality is the riskiest thing any politician can do. Imagine what might have happened to the Bushies had they simply said “Look, we know Saddam doesn’t have any WMD’s and constitutes no particular threat, but geopolitics dictates that we take a shot at redrawing the map of the Middle East.”
In the politics of delusion, the world is not as it seems. It’s as if, going to the Ford showroom, there was nothing there but shiny ’58 Edsels — and the GTs were hidden away in an “undisclosed location.”
So, as the Colorado legislature embarks on Gov. Bill Owens’ special session about immigration, sit back and enjoy the show.
It’s just Kabuki theatre — a stylized ritual where all the players know their roles. It’s only dangerous if you believe it’s real … you might wind up driving an Edsel home.
John Hazlehurst can be reached at John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com 634-3223, ext 241.