Anti-immigrant tough talk has failed, once again, as it did in the 2006 election. The toughest of the tough-on-immigration candidates — Colorado’s Tom Tancredo — didn’t get to New Hampshire before his campaign fizzled. John McCain and Hillary Clinton, two of the weakest tough-on-immigration candidates, stole the show in New Hampshire, where immigration never became an issue.
There’s a lesson in this: Americans are confused on immigration, they don’t feel deeply either way, and the topic is mostly a source of anxiety. They’ll reward candidates who ignore it.
Politicians learned this from Tancredo’s demise. They also learned from Clinton, who waffled on the issue of drivers’ licenses for illegal immigrants and suffered in the polls.
Immigration, from any perspective, is a perilous, no-win issue for candidates on each side of the aisle.
And that’s too bad, because immigration may be the most important issue pertaining to our country’s economic plight.
A growing number of economists say our economy is already in recession. Meanwhile, the stock market continues to sag, and the nation’s leading mortgage lender teeters on the brink of bankruptcy, along with the largest insurer of municipal bonds. Investors abroad are deserting the dollar in favor of the euro and the yen.
Government statistics that show Americans spend the most in their mid- to late-40s, and the majority of baby boomers are beyond that. Younger generations are smaller in numbers, meaning the economy is heading into a period in which fewer people will be consuming services and goods, and a large population of seniors will be dependent on younger generations to drive the economy and care for them. It’s a gloomy equation.
Immigration — the “problem” a failed crop of politicians promised to fix — is the obvious answer.
Massive immigration is nothing other than a demand of our economy — a force powered by the wants and needs of some 300 million consumers who vote with their dollars every moment of each day.
Politicians such as Tancredo mistake the immigration influx as exploitation of America by a poorer class, believing that our country has tolerated the influx as a favor to Latin Americans.
They fail to grasp the American economy as a self-serving, self-correcting entity so powerful and sophisticated that market forces of correction mimic gravity, or the suction of a vacuous void, regardless of political whim.
The economy pulls immigrants in to give us a working class, and a base of consumers to help support the businesses and fill the homes that resulted from a large class of baby boomers, most of whom are moving past their most consumptive and productive years.
Americans know instinctively that politicians cannot, and should not, stop an immigration tide that’s pulled by the gravity of economic want and need. Most Americans know the immigrants who fix their leaking roofs and mop the floors at their children’s schools. Business leaders know the immigrants who buy their goods and services, and they’re thankful.
Presidential candidates will probably continue ignoring the debate, viewed as a proven campaign failure. As a result, the country will continue with inane immigration laws that mischaracterize a legitimate reaction to economic demand as a dark and unlawful attack on our country.
Open, honest political dialogue about the causes and benefits of immigrant consumers and workers — and ways to curtail the liabilities associated with them — could be the first step in saving us from recession, or worse.
Unfortunately, such conversations don’t conform to the emotional and expedient nature of presidential politics.
Neither, however, does tough-guy anti-immigrant talk.