Deep in some locked and long-forgotten sub-basement of her soul, or what remains of it, Hillary Clinton might still retain a conviction or two. It would be lovely to think one made a fleeting appearance in her recent speech on immigration, which was not all bad.
Clinton embraced a path to citizenship for unlawfully present migrants and intimated that she would go even further than President Obama has to grant them amnesty from deportation. But a close reading of her words shows that she left herself substantial wiggle room. For example, she said only that undocumented immigrants should be able to "make their case and be eligible for the same deferred action as their children." She didn't say they should actually get it.
What Clinton says, however, is almost immaterial. She will say anything she needs to say, and do anything she needs to do, to win the Oval Office. Last summer she insisted that the children streaming over the border into the U.S. "should be sent back as soon as" their parents or responsible relatives can be found. Then she amended and revised those remarks. Her speech last week came shortly after news emerged about the Koch Brothers' LIBRE effort to reach out to Latino voters, who have begun drifting toward the GOP in recent years.
That trend could accelerate if the GOP nominates either Florida Sen. Marco Rubio or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who have been called the Republican Party's "Latino superstars," or Jeb Bush, whose immigration moderation ("There is no plan to deport 11 million people. We should give them a path to legal status.") has earned him boos from conservative dogmatists. Barack Obama has done well among Hispanics, but John Kerry's margin over George W. Bush among Hispanic voters was a mere 10 points. So Hillary's swerve to the left on immigration looks like a play to stop any further Republican gains among Latinos before they become serious.
Now, people can have more than one reason for doing something, and on immigration Clinton might have found an issue where her careerism dovetails with her conscience, if she still has any. And regardless of her reason for embracing a more open immigration policy, it is welcome. On immigration the GOP is, with a few exceptions such as Rubio, utterly swivel-eyed. Its leaders rave about "amnesty" and "self-deportation" and "securing the border," to the point that more than one has suggested the U.S. put an electrified fence along it. Even Sen. Rand Paul, who once served as standard-bearer for libertarianism, wants to "seal the border." Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker goes so far as to advocate reducing not only illegal but also legal immigration in the name of "protecting American workers and American wages."
Remember, these are the views, at least for public consumption, of a party that claims to believe in free trade. "We envision a worldwide multilateral agreement among nations committed to the principles of open markets," said the 2012 GOP Platform. Yet Republicans who think consumer goods should move freely across international borders say the opposite about consumers themselves. Republicans are also, quite rightly, hostile to governmental meddling in private business.
The regulatory state, they contend, does nothing but monkey wrench the engines of economic progress. Then they turn around and insist that the regulatory state should be able to tell a businessman he can't hire a willing worker from another country without a permission slip from a federal bureaucrat. Government, say Republicans, is a "wire that cuts into the living fullness of the world," to borrow from novelist Mark Helprin. Except when it's putting up barbed wire along the Rio Grande. Then it's just awesome.
As they do whenever a Democrat occupies the Oval Office, conservatives have become alarmed about the threat of jackbooted government goons stomping on civil liberties. "Armed EPA Raid in Alaska Sheds Light on 70 Fed Agencies With Armed Divisions," notes Fox News. But apparently not all raids are created equal: "Republican lawmakers called on the Obama administration to return to the era of workplace raids to arrest illegal employees," reported The Los Angeles Times four years ago. Oh.
Republicans "celebrate" entrepreneurs in one breath—"America's small businesses are the backbone of the U.S. economy, employing tens of millions of workers," says the party platform—and rail against immigration in the next, studiously ignoring the data that show immigrants are more likely to start a business than native-born citizens. As the Partnership for a New Economy has noted, immigrants "have founded more than 40 percent of America's Fortune 500 companies (and) are now more than twice as likely as the native-born to start a business." Yet according to Scott Walker, keeping more of those people out will be good for American workers.
All of which raises a question: Is it better to express the right conviction opportunistically, as Clinton does, or—like her Republican rivals—to sincerely hold the wrong one?