My advice: Read quickly and "trudge on."
Sir Galahad of the G.O.P.
By David Brooks
The New York Times
The elevator guy is cheerful and the subway operators are polite, but there is something about the subterranean trip from the Capitol back to your Senate office building that gets you down. The dinginess. The barren walls. And you don't need that right now. You're a Republican senator supporting the immigration compromise.
For weeks now — months, actually! — you've been besieged by the close-the-border restrictionists, who shut down your phone lines and scream at you in town meetings. You've been hit with slopping barrages of manure by Limbaugh, Savage, Levin and every other talk-radio jock in the Northern Hemisphere. People who don't run for office don't understand how disorienting it is to have your base, your own people, suddenly turn carnivorous and out for your flesh.
They say you and your fellow immigration compromisers are performing the biggest act of political suicide in modern history, and you wonder whether they are right.
What bothers you about the restrictionists is not that they are primitives or racists. They're not. It's their imperviousness, their unwillingness to compromise. They don't have the numbers to govern, but they think they have the numbers to destroy.
They trumpet the studies indicating that immigration decreases wages, but ignore the ones that show it stimulates wages and growth. They mention the strains first-generation immigrants put on social services, but ignore the evidence that immigrants' children are so productive they more than compensate for the cost. They talk about the criminal immigrants, but look past the vast majority who are religious and family-centered.
You haven't been able to get your restrictionist friends to think pragmatically. Do they really think they'll get a better immigration bill in the next Congress, when there are more Democrats, or under President Hillary Clinton or John McCain? Do they really want to preserve the status quo for another decade? Do they think the G.O.P. can have a future if it insults even the Hispanics who are already here?
It's almost as if they are not going to engage in any back-and-forth as a matter of principle. On Monday night, many of them approached President Bush's speech looking for things to hate. They didn't want to hear his plan for serious enforcement measures. When Bush — the man they revered until the day before yesterday — said something tough about securing the border, they assumed he was dissembling, and they lashed out in ways identical to the Bushophobic left.
It's as if there's some displaced rage here, some anger that couldn't be expressed about other issues. Or perhaps they are punishing Bush for the sin of being unpopular, and thus robbing them of the sense of triumph they felt when the left was on the ropes.
This is no fun. Yet the worst thing would be to stop now, having angered everybody and not resolved the issue. So you and your fellow compromisers trudge on, hunched over like people walking into a hailstorm.
You are convinced of certain fundamental things. The current immigration system is completely unsuited to a global market economy. We need to move out of the era of failed prohibition into the era of flexible control.
You're convinced that earned citizenship will foster assimilation, that ID cards and employer penalties will toughen enforcement, that the only way to control the border is to both acknowledge the guest workers we need and deport recent arrivals who broke the law. And you're convinced none of these proposals can work alone; they have to be complementary.
As you vote on amendment after amendment, you begin to feel there is a constituency forming for comprehensive reform. This constituency is not made up of 3 a.m. e-mailers. It's made up of busy people who can get beyond their 20 minutes of anger over the system and start talking practically about complicated solutions.
Now that you are focusing on answers, you see this new constituency emerging in the polls, in the overwhelmingly positive response to the president's speech. And you feel the support in your politician's bones.
You know the Hagel-Martinez compromise is just a step. But there's something important in the way the Senate majority has been able to hold together amid the cacophony this week. Maybe the restrictionists are ferocious because they understand their growing weakness. Maybe Rove was right when he insisted that something can be done, even in a conference with the House.
So, braced against the storm, you trudge on.
Photo credit: David Brooks (The New York Times)