Wednesday, May 31, 2006

[GOP, Politics]

How GOP Demogogues Came to Eat Their Own.
dem·a·gogue (n) - a political leader who gains power by appealing to people's emotions, instincts, and prejudices in a way that is considered manipulative and dangerous.

(v) -
to elicit people's emotional and prejudicial biases on an issue
The past two weeks Tim Russert has invited Republican leaders of the House and Senate to discuss their very different versions of immigration reform. What emerged was a fascinating example of demagoguery in action. We have seen it ad nauseum over the past six years, but until immigration, we haven't seen the GOP demagogue an issue against ... the GOP. And once the partisan dynamic is removed, it becomes all the more obvious.

Here's how the two houses approached the issue. The Senate made a good faith effort to come up with workable law, and in the process produced a bill that depends on compromise from both sides. Which in fact it received in the Senate, passing 62-36, with Dems almost unanimous in support, and the GOP split down the middle. Liberals might be frustrated that it ghettoizes immigrants in a perpetual "guest worker" limbo, and conservatives, particularly bigotted ones, feel that it is too generous to "those people." But it's a real and serious problem, and that means compromise.

The House, meanwhile, demagogued the issue, creating not policy but an appeal to the worst instincts of their constituents. The House bill has zero chance of becoming law, but serves as a useful political tool for House members who all face re-election this year. They won't be punished for hard talk, but they just might if they brought home a bill the rabble, whom they've spent 12 years whipping into a froth, dislike.

Demagoguery, by its nature, is a tapestry of spin and manipulation, and can't stand up to simple logical explorations. For six years, demogogues have actually been able to push through legislation that can't stand up to simple logical exploration--tax cuts, Medicare "reform," and so on--but eventually that political ploy runs aground on the shoals of reality. The split we're seeing in the Republican Party right now is happening because the more far-sighted senators are realizing that they'd better do some governing pretty damn quick or they'll be out of power while House members are content to keep on demagoguing. It's the perfect storm created by the hyper-gerrymandered House districts that will protect most of the Republican demagogues.

(Closer to home, just as it appears a Republican may finally become governor of Oregon, his moderate candidacy is jeopardized by the entry of a far-right demogogue who can't tolerate his soft-on-abortion stance. Such candidacies have torpedoed at least two Republicans in the last 20 years.)

If you wish to listen to the broadcasts, I've discovered that iTunes has a free podcast you can download. (You don't have to have an iPod--you can listen online--and iTunes subscriptions are free.) The transcripts are here (May 21) and here (May 28). Since this post is already running a bit long, I'll include one passage from an interview in the comments as a way of illustrating demagoguery in action.

1 comment:

Jeff Alworth said...

From the 5/21 MTP. The poison pill in the legislation that is both its most popular feature (to demagogues) and the reason it can't become law is the provision that undocumented immigrants immediately become felons when the bill is passed. Further, in order to gain re-entry to the States, every undocumented immigrant must leave the US first, which would devastate certain industries like agriculture, where 24% of the workforce is illegal. The legislation makes for great red meat back home, but look what happens when you actually have to defend it to a broader audience:

EP. NORWOOD: Well, the definition of amnesty is elusive.... What I think the Senate bill basically says is that if you are a foreigner and you’ve come in our country illegally, they say you can stay and at some point in time you can become a citizen. Now, that’s sort of what they came here to be here for to start with. They came here illegally to stay and we’re actually saying in the Senate bill that you can do that. And I also want to point out, I don’t know anybody that has a bill that requires mass deportation. Nobody is saying that. We’re not suggesting that that’s the solution. We are suggesting, though, that if you allow people to come into the country illegally and reward them for being here illegally, which is what you’re doing when you say you can stay, you can be on our social programs until finally you can become a citizen. That’s...

MR. RUSSERT: Congressman, what happens to the 11 million illegal immigrants now in our country?

REP. NORWOOD: What happens to them when?

MR. RUSSERT: Well, if the Sensenbrenner bill that you support is adopted.

REP. NORWOOD: Yes, yes.

MR. RUSSERT: Do they become felons?

REP. NORWOOD: Well, first of all, the Sensenbrenner bill should become adopted because that basically does what the American people want, which is secure the border. Now I was standing about 10 feet from Chairman Sensenbrenner when he offered to remove that part about felons and the Democrats refused to let him remove it.

MR. RUSSERT: What happens if that legislation passes to the 11 million illegal immigrants?

REP. NORWOOD: Well, I’ve got a plan for what ought to happen to the 11 million illegal or 11 to 20...

MR. RUSSERT: If the Sensenbrenner bill passes, what happens?

REP. NORWOOD: Nothing really happens at that point except we secure the border. At some point we have to deal with the 11 million illegal immigrants that are here. We have to deal with a guest worker program. But nobody’s really very willing to do that, Tim, until you secure the border.

MR. RUSSERT: But should the 11 million illegal immigrants be sent home?

REP. NORWOOD: Sent home, no, no. We need to have them go home on their own through attrition. Now, this is a Charlie Norwood program, it’s not in either bill, but there is a way to handle this without any mass deportation, without running people off immediately, but eventually letting them go back home, get in line, come back into America through a work program, and then become a citizen if they like.