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Slouching Towards Disaster

The Democrats' immigration time-bomb.

11:00 PM, Nov 15, 2007 • By DEAN BARNETT
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AS THE DEMOCRATS brought their weary road show to Vegas tonight, most analysts suspected that Hillary Clinton would get a mulligan on the illegal immigration question that she botched so badly at their last tussle. It played out as expected. Right out of the box, Campbell Brown asked the candidates about illegal immigration. Rather than focus on their own purported solutions to the crisis, they collectively decided to focus their ire on George W. Bush for not solving the problem first.

This has become the default refrain for Democrats when they have nothing to say or no real means of moving the ball forward--blame Bush. Among the more fevered elements of their base, it usually works. They blame Bush for everything, so of course they were willing to blame him for a liberal governor's dreadful plan to grant licenses to illegal immigrants, and a presidential aspirant's clumsy refusal to distance herself from such foolishness.

Of course, the Democrats have a fool-proof plan to deal with illegal immigration: Comprehensive Immigration Reform! The best thing about offering such hollow rhetoric is that it allows them to avoid nettlesome details such as explaining precisely what they would do with an illegal immigrant population that is now greater than 12 million. The Democrats can blather all they want about "comprehensive immigration reform." Much like "comprehensive healthcare reform" and "comprehensive entitlement reform," the rhetoric sounds much more appealing before they begin fleshing out their plans, whatever those plans may be.

The Democrats' problem with illegal immigration runs deep. All the sitting Senators who are pursuing the presidency already endorsed a very detailed plan for "comprehensive immigration reform" when they voted for cloture on McCain/Kennedy back in June. Although it never used the word "amnesty," McCain/Kennedy allowed for a form of amnesty with its Z Visas. That's why virtually everyone outside the United States Congress and the White House vigorously opposed it.

EVEN DAVID BRODER WADDLED towards the immigration issue Wednesday, calling it the Democrats' potential "iceberg." The fact that it took the Dean of Washington Journalism five months after McCain/Kennedy went down to discover this obvious fact provides some indication of just how out of touch Washington is when it comes to the immigration issue.

A quick example: In the rather important state of Ohio, the Quinnipiac outfit polled Ohioans this week on whether they supported the idea of giving drivers licenses to illegal immigrants. The answer won't surprise anyone who's paid attention to the immigration debate, but it has stunned the Beltway class. 84 percent said it was a bad idea, while a whopping 11 percent thought it was a good idea.

And yet last night in Vegas, Barack Obama and Bill Richardson both said they thought it was a swell idea. Republicans who feared that Obama might be a more difficult candidate to face than Hillary in the general election can now breathe easy; last night, he dramatically reduced his chances of winning the presidency. It was yet another not-ready-for-primetime moment for the senator--and this one will leave a mark.

To get back to Hillary, one can't help but wonder why she endorsed the Spitzer plan--or quasi-endorsed it or semi-endorsed it or whatever she did when Tim Russert questioned her on the matter. Perhaps she was a prisoner of her conscience, and was courageously willing to accept the political consequences for taking an unpopular position. (I'll pause for a moment to give you a chance to wipe the coffee off your computer screen.)

To find the answer to this puzzler, apply Occam's Razor--Senator Clinton had no idea how unpopular her semi-position would be. Indeed, the entire Democratic slate of presidential aspirants still doesn't grasp the visceral reactions that illegal immigration elicits. Here's another nugget from the Quinnipiac Ohio poll: 61 percent oppose giving a public school education to the children of illegal immigrants.

Politicians who favor educating the children of illegal immigrants and finding a path to legal status for those kids' parents often applaud themselves for holding the sensible middle ground on this issue. But they're wrong. As the Quinnipiac poll proves, the middle of the illegal immigration issue lies elsewhere.