He's tanned, rested, and ready: Pete Wilson in '08! David Broder checks in on the man whose anti-immigration proposition slaughtered the California Republican Party so completely that "187" became a police code for murder:
The old Marine, as unyielding now at 72 as he was during his eight years as governor, may not be the spokesman the embattled House Republicans would choose for their fight with the White House and the Senate over the immigration reform bill now headed for conference committee. Wilson is blamed by many Republicans, including those around President Bush, for so alienating the growing Hispanic vote in California that the state's hoard of electoral votes has moved permanently into the Democratic column.
But Wilson, a former senator, rejected that charge at a Hudson Institute talk in Washington. And, despite being a Bush appointee (to the Defense Policy Board, a Pentagon advisory panel), he called on his former colleagues to resist White House pressure on the House and Senate to pass a compromise bill that preserves elements of the president's more generous approach and that includes a path to citizenship for the millions of illegal immigrants already here. He said the only reason the Senate voted for a more generous bill was that many senators had been "intimidated."
Wilson said House Republicans are right in insisting that the Mexican border be closed before any thought is given to a guest worker program or anything resembling amnesty. That was also the message the winner of last week's House special election in the San Diego area, Republican Brian Bilbray, said voters were sending when they chose him.
Build a wall the entire 2,000-mile length of the border, and do it first, Wilson said, or else "you'll have 20 million, 35 million, 50 million" illegal immigrants in the country.
I don't know that Pete Wilson is important enough to be considered a colossal failure; he's always reminded me of Charles Palantine, the cypher Presidential candidate in Taxi Driver. But from a pro-immigration point of view, I'd be interested in seeing somebody revisit Proposition 187, the ballot initiative that denied social services, health care and public schooling to illegal immigrants. The idea that illegals are a crushing drain on social services is largely fiction, but it's a powerful fiction: A new version of 187, written so that it has a better chance of withstanding a legal challenge, would at least get that argument off the table. (Real reform, of course, won't come until we pass Prop 188, denying social services to everybody.)