January 21, 2005,
EDITOR'S NOTE: This piece appears in the January 31, 2005, issue of National Review.
Next time President Bush explains his immigration policy, he should avoid the usual wonky details about "earned legalization" and non-amnesty amnesties, launching instead into a full-throated rendition of the opening number from Cabaret. It would entertain millions of people, soften his image, put some gay voters in play, and hit the mark. "Willkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome" expresses the Bush immigration policy far more crisply than any white paper could.
Most ordinary Americans, especially conservatives, have been slow to grasp this. In the campaign, when both candidates answered a question on immigration, Kerry outflanked Bush on the right. He attacked the president for failing to secure America's borders against illegal immigrants. Bush rather feebly maintained that the borders were secure and was slapped down by the challenger. To anyone who followed the controversy over immigration, Kerry had scored a small and insincere but definite victory.
But most viewers (and even some pundits) read this wrong. Their preconceptions got in the way. Since Bush was known to be a fire-breathing conservative, they jumped to the conclusion that he could not possibly be defending lax border enforcement or praising illegal immigrants. They must have misheard him. And they readjusted their perceptions. Indeed, the GOP has benefited electorally from its reputation as the party least favorable to both law-breaking and immigration even as it has winked at mass illegal immigration.
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