One of the reasons I've often cited for why the Republican party is in deep trouble is the absolutism and unwillingness to compromise displayed by so much of the base. If the RNC hints at becoming more accepting of gay marriage, Huckabee threatens to lead the Christian Right out of the party. If Rubio speaks out for a compromise on illegal immigration, he's damned as a traitor and struck from the list of acceptable 2016 Presidential candidates. Being anti-choice on abortion is now a de facto
litmus test for candidates for any major office. These attitudes are not rare, either. Read the comments on any major right-wing site and you'll see how pervasive they are.
But, some might say, it's easy to mock other
people for being unwilling to compromise their
principles. Aren't we just as dedicated to, and uncompromising about, our own?
First off, I've always implicitly pushed for the left to avoid such rigid stances, because they make the best the enemy of the good and the ideal the enemy of the achievable. The last thing I want to see on the left is a bunch of posturing factions who announce that they can't vote for a Democratic candidate because of this or that, and thereby let a far worse Republican get in. Secondly, and hitting closer to home, one of my own hot-button issues is in the news and in Congress right now, and the clash of principle and strategy has proven educational.
I discussed illegal immigration at length three years ago here
, but to summarize why I object to an amnesty or "path to citizenship" or whatever one chooses to call it:
(1) Illegal aliens broke the law by entering the country. They should not be treated as if they had any right to be here (as with Orwellian euphemisms like "undocumented").
(2) The United States is being asked to tolerate an infraction of its sovereignty that other countries would never tolerate. Making and enforcing immigration laws is a legitimate function of a sovereign state and all countries routinely do it (Mexico, for example, is notoriously ruthless with illegal entrants from Guatemala). Why should only the United States be expected to give up this right?
(3) Allowing illegal aliens to legally stay is insulting to would-be legal
immigrants who followed the rules and are waiting for their cases to work through the process so they can come here.
(4) Illegal aliens hurt the interests of less-skilled American workers by depressing wages through competition.
(5) About 2/3 of illegal aliens come from Latin America. Do we really
want to increase our population of people (and potential voters) from a
religious, patriarchal, homophobic culture? We have quite enough people
like that already.
(6) I'm unconvinced by claims that it would be impossible to remove illegal aliens. No one is talking about "rounding up and deporting" 11 million people. Tough employer sanctions are the key; if they could not get jobs, most illegals would leave.
(7) I'm similarly unmoved by concerns about the suffering a tough policy would cause. Almost any punishment of illegal behavior creates some stress on innocent parties such as the lawbreaker's family. The responsibility for that rests with the person who broke the law, not with those who enforce it. I see no reason why illegal immigration should be treated any differently.
My concern about (5) has been alleviated by recent polls showing Hispanics adopting more liberal social views (more than half now support gay marriage, for example) -- no doubt a reflection of their assimilation of mainstream American culture and values, though the social shifts in Latin America itself are also reassuring. Point (4), the most serious from a national-interest standpoint, could be alleviated by raising the minimum wage, though it's dubious that this is politically feasible as long as Republicans retain any clout in Congress. I stand by the other points without reservation.
But with an actual amnesty plan now being debated in Congress, the issue needs to be considered in the messy context of real-world politics, not only in a vacuum.
Republicans are divided on the likely political effects of amnesty and of the consequent eventual increase in the number of Hispanic voters. One faction thinks it would help their side; they believe that Republican opposition to amnesty is the main reason Hispanic voters shun the party, and that a change of position on the issue would help them win over this fast-growing demographic. Others argue that Hispanics will continue to lean Democratic, period, and that more Hispanic voters are thus bad news for Republicans.
It seems obvious that the second faction is objectively right. Polls show very strong Hispanic support for Democratic policies unrelated to immigration, such as Obamacare and a stronger social safety net. Hispanic voters are not as monolithically pro-amnesty as both parties tend to assume; what probably hurts Republicans more with them is not so much their resistance to amnesty as the fact that it's often expressed in terms that suggest racist motives. I can forgive policy differences, but not bigotry against me. I assume other people feel the same.
So an illegal-alien amnesty would be morally wrong, but politically beneficial to the Democratic party. What conclusion does that suggest?
If we still had two "normal" parties like democracies usually do, it would be a difficult question and I might well decide the amnesty was unacceptable. But that's not the situation, as we all know. Given what the Republican party of today is actually like, letting it win back control of the government would be not only more harmful, but vastly, horrifically
more harmful, to the country than the worst plausible consequences of the amnesty could possibly be. The prevention of this has to be the highest priority for now. If the amnesty would make it less likely, I have to give that more weight than the moral qualms I have about it.
I would say the same of any other issue of principle on which anyone feels the Democratic party is a disappointment (and I myself have several more, notably inadequate action against global warming, the Keystone XL pipeline, expatriation of jobs, etc., etc.). Yes, pressure the party to do the right thing by whatever means are available, but not
in any way which would increase the risk of losing any real power to the Republicans. They are simply too dangerous.