The Mistake That Cost Republicans the Election – And Which Can be Corrected

There are many things the Republicans should have done differently over the last several years that would likely have yielded a different result on November 6th. Knowing when, where, and how to take a stand is an admirable trait, but it is not one the Republicans have yet mastered. Too many times an all or nothing approach to critical issues has put them so far on the outs with the American public that they (we) are alienated from the majority of the electorate, and the trend seems to point to a continued lessening of influence rather than to any reversal of a weakened position.

That the Republicans could have lost the Presidential election against Barack Obama, with his colossal failure in the first four years to accomplish much of anything of a productive nature and in light of the continuing incredibly weak economy, is almost inconceivable. The narrowness of the popular vote margin (currently at 50.5% to 48.0%) means that every faction of society alienated by the Republicans is an element that made a significant contribution to this loss. There is one in particular, however, that may stand out above the rest as a colossal failure on the part of the Republican Party specifically, and conservatives in general. That is the failure to embrace and adopt George Bush’s immigration proposal of 2007. Failure to adopt, or to propose a viable alternative, and even more than that, the tone taken in arguing against it, served to alienate a large and growing segment of the populace and to frame the perception of the Republican Party as anti-Hispanic.

George Bush had greatly advanced the relationship with the Hispanic community during his Presidency, receiving the support of 44% of the Latino vote in 2004 according to CNN, significantly more than any of his Republican predecessors. This election, the Latino vote exceeded 10% of the total vote for the first time, and that number will surely be increasing in future elections.

George Bush’s Immigration Reform proposal was both responsible and compassionate. Hardheads shot it down by claiming it was “AMNESTY.” The effect on the electorate was to strengthen the idea that the Republicans don’t care about people. That is a lie, but it is a very real perception and I must say that sometimes it sounds true in some quarters. The stance taken on immigration that made no accommodation for people whom we had welcomed for decades, even against our own laws, seemed uncaring, and it was indeed unjust.

We had an agreement with the immigrants. I tried to raise this point to no avail when I subbed for a friend as a talk show guest on a Christian college radio station where the apparently rabidly anti-illegal immigration host was in high gear against any “amnesty” for illegals. For decades we had laws that espoused one thing and a culture that practiced something else. We had selective enforcement of our immigration laws that said loudly and clearly, “Come on over. We could use your help.” This in effect became a covenant with the people whom we welcomed. Over time, this practice established a kind of relationship and an understanding with them that should not have been taken lightly and which could not be justly reversed at once by new policies forbidding their presence and participation in our society.

There’s a biblical example that is instructive along these lines. The Lord forbad Israel to enter into covenant with the inhabitants of the land he had promised them through Abraham and which they were about to repossess under the leadership of Joshua. After their second battle with and the overwhelming defeat of Ai, the other kingdoms were forced of necessity to gather themselves together for battle against the new tribe. One group, however, the people of Gibeon, recognized another possibility that could insure them peace and avoid the necessity of doing battle with Israel. They conducted a ruse by which a small party of Gibeonites, pretending to be emissaries of a distant kingdom, had come to request a treaty with Israel because of the great exploits of which they had heard by Israel and Israel’s God. Israel’s leaders were fooled and they entered into a covenant which they were then obligated to honor, insuring Gibeon’s safety.  The lesson is that covenants made improperly may be no less binding than any other.

By our actions, we had an implied covenant with the illegal immigrants who had been lead to believe that, though we had laws prohibiting their presence, they were actually welcome and that the chances of them being able to make a new life in this land of opportunity was well worth any risk that they would take in becoming established here. For us to, all of a sudden, change our practice and pivot on a dime was unjust and revealed that we could not be trusted. For this to have been led by Republicans, meant that Republicans couldn’t be trusted. That Republicans can’t be trusted has resulted in the loss of one of the greatest opportunities we have ever had to re-establish our principles at the heart of government in the U.S., and this was a major factor in that loss.

To properly transition from what has been to what should be requires that a path be set to revise the previous pattern, and to give opportunity for those we had welcomed to either leave freely or obtain a rightful presence. Whether or not this is exactly George Bush’s reasoning, this is in effect what his proposal would have done.
Here are the essentials of George Bush’s Immigration Reform:

  •  Make the borders more secure.
  • Allow those who wish to return home to do so.
  • Allow those who wish to remain to apply for a work permit or residency.
  • Require those who remain to pay any back taxes owed.
  • Require those who remain to pay a reasonable penalty for having broken the laws that were on the books.
  • Create a reliable verification system whereby employers could confirm the legitimacy of any residency or citizenship claims of their employees and prospective hires.
  • Strictly enforce all immigration laws going forward, including and especially those related to hiring of illegal workers, with heavy fines and penalties for employers who violated them.

This was and is a reasonable and responsible proposal. It shows respect both for our laws, our borders, our system of justice, and for the value we place on humanity, especially the less fortunate.

At a time when illegal immigration is at a low ebb, due to the economic downturn which makes immigration less attractive, the Republican party should not wait on President Obama to introduce Immigration Reform, a promise he has failed on so far, and should not wait for a new crisis or new tensions to arise over immigration but should take the lead in establishing a system of reform that will convey both our respect for the law and that will reaffirm our love for our fellow man. Republicans should acknowledge our failure on this front and re-propose the Bush Immigration Reform.