Faced with drooping poll numbers and the erosion of his conservative base, President Bush attempted last night to carve out a compassionate middle ground on immigration. Bush spoke to the nation, calling for 6,000 National Guard troops to be deployed to the Mexican border, a beefing up of Border Patrols, ramped-up technological surveillance of the border, as well as a guest worker program. But whomever Bush was hoping to mollify with his speech, it was hard to find much enthusiasm in the reaction of conservative circles, pro-immigrant groups, and the commentariat.
Not that Bush didn’t try.
“Tonight I am calling on Congress to provide funding for dramatic improvements in manpower and technology at the border,” Bush said in his televised address. “By the end of 2008, we will increase the number of Border Patrol officers by an additional 6,000. When these new agents are deployed, we will have more than doubled the size of the Border Patrol during my presidency.”
Get real, said the right. “It’s hard to say what was most discouraging about the President’s miserable performance last night,” writes National Review‘s Andrew Struttaford, in the conservative magazine’s group blog, the Corner. “Was it the dishonesty (the non-amnesty amnesty, and the way that his opponents in this debate were characterized)? Was it the implicit admission of incompetence (he’s only now ‘discovered’ that the National Guard is, apparently, needed at the border)? Was it the economic illiteracy (the idea that there is a shortage of labor)? Or was it the refusal to learn anything from Europe’s disastrous ‘guestworker’ experience? Incredible.”
“General consensus around here is that Bush’s speech needed a lot more frickn’ cowbell,” wrote the Corner’s Jonah Goldberg.
Conservative enthusiasm for Bush’s proposals was so lacking that Fox News turned its focus not to the president’s proposals at all, but to Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean’s ready critique.
“Democratic Party chief Howard Dean accused President Bush and the Republican Party on Friday of exploiting the immigration issue for political gain by scapegoating Hispanics,” charged the conservative-leaning network.
And that’s from the pro-Bush camp.
Over on the left side of the blogosphere, the commentariat couldn’t decide if the real issue was Bush’s proposals—or the right’s reaction to Bush’s proposals.
“A very spirited and provocative debate took place among right-wing bloggers over the past week,” notes first amendment lawyer and blogger Glenn Greenwald. “The question under consideration: Should George W. Bush be impeached for his failure to stop the “Mexican invasion” and protect our nation’s borders?”
“After more than a little trying, I think I’ve finally gotten a handle on this immigration debate,” wrote Josh Marshall, of Talking Points Memo. “If I understand this right, ‘comprehensive’ reform is reform that is so comprehensive that it reforms the thing in question in every possible way at the same time.”
“Politics and policy make for strange bedfellows, especially when it’s all politics, and no policy,” Marshall adds.
Others tried to get into the mind of a White House trying to shore up its conservative flank.
“I know what they’re thinking at the White House,” writes Duncan Black, aka Atrios, at his blog, Eschaton. “We can have a lovely little ‘fake war’ at the border, one with all the cool uniforms, hummers, helicopters, etc… A war which is entirely safe. A war where there isn’t really an enemy. And the president can safely visit that war, prance around in his codpiece, yell things out a bullhorn while sitting astride a massive hummer.
“Ridiculous, but that’s probably the plan,” Black concluded.
Laura Rozen is a senior correspondent at The American Prospect, and blogs at warandpiece.com.