Jewish World Review May 30, 2006/ 3 Sivan, 5766

Wesley Pruden

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The yahoos revolt, and bigots vanish | The House and the Senate are no closer to agreement on immigration reform, but maybe we're making incremental progress on getting a little civility in the debate.

Only a few days ago, anyone who wanted the president to enforce the law protecting the nation's borders was "a racist," "a bigot" or a "nativist." The president himself has sometimes thrown the word "nativist" around in the debate over immigration and, before that, in the controversy over outsourcing the security of the nation's ports to suspicious former enemies. "Nativist," like "Hitler," is the slur of the season when you're losing the argument. The president has become more compassionate, having decided that the nativists are merely misguided conservatives in what was once his base.

With the real work at hand in the Senate-House conference over how to reconcile legislation that looks irreconcilable, "bigots" and "racists" and "nativists" have disappeared from the conversation and only the "yahoos" are left among us. Not the kind of people you invite over for a martini and dinner, certainly, but not necessarily hate criminals. In fact, Tony Snow, the president's new press secretary, reckons that folks who fret about the vanishing border with Mexico may be nothing worse than overzealous traffic cops, eager to write "traffic tickets" for the aliens whose border-plundering is no more serious than getting caught moving a few miles over the speed limit. We've elevated the conversation if not improved the debate.

The president's wise men have been caught not speeding, but sleeping. Karl Rove went up to the Hill the other day to set the yahoo congressmen straight on a thing or two, confident that once he explained everything in words of one or at most two syllables, the rednecks, crackers, peckerwoods and chipkickers of the House Republicans would finally get it, or at least get out of the way. He marched down the Hill feeling more like Rodney Dangerfield than Dick Morris, wondering why nobody bothered to tell him how angry the yahoos were.

The conventional wisdom among the media elites and their exciting new bedfellows at the White House is that all the House has to do to give the president the immigration legislation he needs is to agree to everything the Senate insists it wants.

The problem with this stratergy is that the more the House -- or anyone else -- looks at the Senate bill, the more they will be convinced that the senators voted for it in a fit of what the criminal lawyers and headbangers call "temporary madness." Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, one of the yahoos, set out some of the loopier provisions of the Senate bill that the House negotiators will read, even if some of the senators who voted for them will probably say they didn't.

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For example: The $2,000 fine an illegal could pay to become legal is only a fraction of what he likely paid to the coyote who sneaked him across the border in the first place. Some penalty. Under the Senate bill, an illegal alien gets the option of having to pay only three of the previous five years of back taxes. Such a deal, one that legal Americans would die for (and go to prison if they tried it). The Department of Homeland Security would be required to conduct "background checks" on the 11 million illegals and "encouraged" to do so within 90 days. We can imagine how thorough these checks will have to be, short of hiring millions of new Homeland Security agents.

Under the Senate bill, if an illegal alien applies for amnesty, the U.S. government cannot use any of the information for any other purpose. If an applicant in a burst of brutal honesty admits that he is Osama bin Laden's cousin, or a member of al Qaeda, the government cannot use this information for national-security purposes. If a federal agent, in a burst of patriotism, sends the information on to the FBI or Homeland Security, anyway, he is subject to a $10,000 fine (five times what the alien has to pay to get amnesty). Employers of illegals get a pardon for all taxes that went uncollected in the past.

Fourteen years ago, the president's father, listening to the wrong wise men, was persuadedno one had actually read his lips, and besides, his friends had nowhere else to go. He had agreed to the tax increase that infuriated his base, and it cost him a second term. George W. is flirting with a disaster that will leave him with a presidency that will end with a groan and a similar whimper. The trajectories are eerie.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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