A. Gigot will soon take over running the Wall Street Journal's
editorial page. Because he will then be the most powerful man in
my line of work — opinionating — it's probably not a wise career
move for me to point out the flaws in his "Alien
Notion: The Right Case for 'Amnesty'" column (WSJ,
8-17). In it, he tried to reassure worried Republicans that Vincente
Fox and George W. Bush's still ill-defined amnesty plan for Mexican
illegal immigrants is smart politics. The issue, however, is simply
too crucial to the future of the Republican party for me to maintain
a prudent silence.
by listing those who favors amnesty: "Business, labor, Catholic
bishops and even the media all like the idea." Yet, he leaves
out one other special interest that all for it: the Democratic party.
Congressional Democrats have already met the president's bid, and
raised it by offering to extend amnesty to non-Mexicans as well.
In the Uncle
Remus version of the story, Br'er Fox and Br'er Bush would be implored
by poor old Br'er Daschle and Br'er Gephardt to "Please don't
throw us in the amnesty patch! No, not the amnesty patch!"
Why has Bush's amnesty proposal been so much more enthusiastically
greeted by Democrats than by Republicans?
doesn't grasp is the difference between amnesty's short term and
long term impact on the Republican party. The upside for Republicans
in 2004 is negligible. The downside in a few decades is devastating.
In 2004, the
Hispanic vote will be much smaller than Gigot imagines. He claimed,
"Hispanics are gaining in overall voter share, from 5% in 1996
to 7% last year and an expected 9% in 2004." According to a
biennial Census Bureau survey of 50,000 households reported by UPI
on 7/24, however, Hispanics cast 4.7% of the total vote in 1996
and 5.4% in 2000. That projects to right around 6% in 2004.
original amnesty plan ethnically discriminated against all non-Mexicans
(at least until the Democrats trumped him on that issue, at which
point he started making me-too noises). The Mexican-American vote
will be almost totally irrelevant to Bush's reelection bid. Mexican
Americans accounted for merely 3.0% of the vote in 2000. Worse for
Bush, 72% of them resided in two states whose Electoral Votes almost
certainly won't be in play in 2004: California and Texas. In the
other 48 states, Mexican Americans accounted for the grand total
of 1.1% of the vote.
In the long
run, however, the impact on the GOP of adding more Hispanic voters
will be dire. No Republican presidential candidate in four decades
has won more than 40% of the Hispanic vote. The Republican-backed
amnesty of 1986 did nothing to change that rule. In 2000, Bush spent
a small fortune on Hispanic advertising, but picked up only 35%.
If that's the natural long-run GOP share of the Latino vote, then
every 100 new Hispanic voters Bush creates means that the Democrats
gain 30 votes over the Republicans. This Bush/Gigot strategy resembles
that of the proverbial business that loses 30 cents on every item
it sells, but makes up for it on volume.
that Bush's plan "could shake up those allegiances." But
realignments only occur when the parties are in disagreement. Why
should a Hispanic Democrat abandon his lifelong loyalty just because
Bush wants to convert the Republicans into the redundant party on
classic question special interests ask politicians is, "What
have you done for me lately?" When Hispanics finally become
a sizable voting bloc in a few decades, they won't remember Bush's
amnesty any more than they remember Reagan's amnesty.
will simply alienate many Hispanics who vote Republican now because
they don't like illegal immigration. In a Gallup poll in June, only
one-third of Hispanics favored increased immigration. A full one-quarter
wanted to cut immigration.
have perfectly rational self-interested reasons to endorse raising
immigration (to import more cheap labor for their businesses, to
lessen the need to assimilate, to allow their siblings to come live
with them, and to increase the size of Hispanic quotas and voting
power). Yet, they also have perfectly rational reasons to want to
keep their countrymen out (to prevent their wages from being undercut,
to stop their second cousins from coming to live with them, and
to make it easier for their children to assimilate). A third of
Hispanics appear to find the first set of reasons compelling, but
a quarter are more persuaded by the second. Why cast adrift the
second group to try to outcompete the Democrats in pandering to
the first group?
No, once you
understand the difference between short term and long term, a more
rational plan suggests itself. The time to act to cut immigration
back to a more moderate level is now, before Hispanic voting power
In the long
term, fortunately, an immigration restriction would incline more
Hispanics toward the Republican party. Gigot himself argues that
Hispanics are like Italian Americans, who "become much more
Republican as they rise in income and assimilate." What Gigot
doesn't mention is the huge role that the 1924-1965 immigration
timeout played in helping Italian Americans become wealthier and
cutback would do the same for Hispanics as it did for Italians.
With a smaller annual influx of Spanish-speakers from the south
of the border, current Hispanic Americans would assimilate faster
into speaking English. Further, once they no longer had their wages
pounded down so dramatically by the huge "reserve army of the
unemployed" that now arrives each year, Hispanic Americans
would more quickly climb the social ladder into prosperity and Republicanhood.
In the meantime,
the GOP could concentrate on raising its share of the vote among
the 94% that isn't Hispanic. In 2000, Bush won only 48.6% of that
huge bloc. He certainly has lots of room for improvement.