If ever you wanted definitive proof that our government is dysfunctional, the Senate provided irrefutable evidence of it last week by shooting down the president’s laboriously crafted, bipartisan immigration bill.
Only 45 senators supported the bill. Those who voted against it filled the airwaves with lame, mealy-mouthed explanations — with most claiming that they just hadn’t had enough time to study it.
That’s nonsense. They get paid to study bills, especially important ones, and this was easily the most important bill to come before the Senate since the one that authorized the Iraq War.
Solving the problems associated with large-scale illegal immigration is important to every segment of the community — especially to business. It should not be the job of businesses to police their work forces, and workers who are here illegally need a path out of the shadows. Sure, the government shouldn’t have sat idly by while millions poured across the border, but it happened and we have to deal with it.
Just as there are no perfect solutions in Iraq, there also are none for immigration.
President George W. Bush’s bill might have been flawed and imperfect, but it was a vast improvement compared to the status quo. And on a subject as deeply divisive as immigration, one upon which reasonable men and women can and do have profound disagreements, it was probably the best that we can do.
Bush put the full weight of his office behind the bill, which numbered Ted Kennedy among its sponsors. Majority Leader Harry Reid tried to shepherd it through the Senate.
But they failed.
They failed because Bush, weakened by Iraq, and approaching the end of his second term, can no longer lead his party. Gone is the powerful, autocratic leader of past years, whose slightest whims were obediently rubber-stamped by Congress.
Now, like Gulliver, he’s tormented by pygmies — by Iran and Syria, by Hezbollah, Hamas and the Iraqi insurgents, by the resurgent Democratic Congress, where a dozen subcommittees are probing a dozen unsavory scandals. Congressional investigators have zeroed in on his closest consigliores — Karl Rove, Alberto Gonzales, Harriet Miers and scores of lesser fish.
The weaselly blowhards who would succeed him, far from pledging eternal fealty to the Mighty Bush, are tap dancing across the political landscape, trying not to offend the Republican base while carefully distancing themselves from the incumbent.
Of the might-have-beens of the Bush years, this is one of the saddest.
Sure, the invasion of Iraq and the mismanagement of the American occupation, might well be a foreign policy failure, but it remains a bold attempt to solve an apparently intractable problem.
Bush dared too much, not too little. And many of us would agree that such a failure is preferable to failing through inaction.
The president has shown both statesmanship and courage in championing the immigration bill. It has given us a glance at the man he might have been, were it not for 9/11 and Iraq.
He wouldn’t have allowed his administration to be hijacked by the angry, insular counsel of fossilized cold warriors like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. Instead, he would have focused on issues such as immigration, health care and the economy.
Absent Iraq, his Texas instincts would have come to the fore — he might have been the amiable, compromising, problem-solving moderate conservative who was elected in 2000.
What we need to do about illegal immigration is simple enough. We need to secure our borders as best we can — and that means people, not some loony, hi-tech, multi-billion dollar fence running along the Mexican border.
Fences don’t work, either to keep people in or to keep people out. Remember the Maginot Line, the Berlin Wall and the Great Wall of China?
Then we need to regularize the status of the millions of illegals who live and work in this country. Proposals that we can either forcibly deport 12 million people or make their lives so miserable that they’ll go home are delusional, paranoid fantasies peddled by the likes of Tom Tancredo, the right’s answer to Al Sharpton.
The Bush bill addressed both concerns. The Senate blew it off, and in doing so blew off both the president and the American people. By failing to act, Congress in effect ratified the status quo.
Way to go, guys and gals!
Why don’t you turn to more important things now, like raising money and sending out lying press releases at government expense?
Meanwhile, the Pinon Canon debate continues.
Last week in Trinidad, according to news reports, an angry crowd of 500 area ranchers and their supporters told the Army’s representatives that they would never support the proposed 440,000 acre expansion of the Pinon Canon maneuver area.
They’re serious, and willing to do whatever they have to in order to preserve their homes, their land and their way of life. And even though the Army now says that it will deal exclusively with “willing sellers,” area residents aren’t delighted at the prospect of converting 1,000 square miles of ranchland into an off-limits military reservation.
The ranchers are not alone in their battles. From the Wyoming border to New Mexico, from the eastern fringes of the urbanized Front Range to the Kansas border, the residents of Colorado’s high plains feel threatened and besieged.
Farmers, ranchers, and others who live just a few dozen miles west of the urbanized corridor don’t like the proposed toll road, the so-called “SuperSlab,” that would channel urban traffic through quiet rural neighborhoods well to the east of Front Range cities.
In the Arkansas Valley, residents increasingly believe that Colorado Springs and Aurora bear some responsibility for the valley’s long economic decline. They’ve begun to work together, notably by forming the Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy to champion the valley’s interests.
Eastern Colorado has historically been safe territory for Republicans, but those days are done. Democrats have successfully presented themselves as champions of traditional values — of family ranches, of clean water, of the quiet, rural lifestyle.
Many Republicans, by contrast, are seen by plains people as enabling water bandits, land grabbers and rapacious road developers. Some, like Marilyn Musgrave, have thrown in their lot with the embattled people of the plains, but most, like Sen. Wayne Allard and Rep. Doug Lamborn, have stuck with the business/military complex.
If the Dems are smart enough to exploit this opening and forge a lasting alliance between Denver/Boulder, eastern Colorado, Pueblo, the San Luis Valley and the mountain resort towns, the Republicans will be toast for a long time.
And the elections of 2006, rather than being an anomaly, will signal the beginning of a long era of Democratic dominance.
John Hazlehurst can be reached at John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com or 227-5861.