Commentary Magazine


What’s Love Got to Do with It, Jeb?

Yesterday Jeb Bush said his decision to run for president in 2016 would hinge in small part on if he can advocate for his beliefs without getting drawn into a “political mud fight.” I’m not sure how anyone can expect to avoid the no-holds-barred style of political combat that comes with a presidential candidacy but if Bush does run, it’s likely that another passage in that Fox News interview will supply his detractors with some of the ammunition that they will use against him:

There are means by which we can control our border better than we have. And there should be penalties for breaking the law. But the way I look at this — and I’m going to say this, and it’ll be on tape and so be it. The way I look at this is someone who comes to our country because they couldn’t come legally, they come to our country because their families — the dad who loved their children — was worried that their children didn’t have food on the table. And they wanted to make sure their family was intact, and they crossed the border because they had no other means to work to be able to provide for their family. Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love. It’s an act of commitment to your family. I honestly think that that is a different kind of crime that there should be a price paid, but it shouldn’t rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families.

Bush’s position makes a lot of sense but unfortunately—and he knew when he uttered those words—only one phrase will be remembered: “act of love.” Suffice it to say that this son and younger brother of presidents will be endlessly mocked by many, if not most, conservatives for expressing what will be depicted as a bleeding heart liberal’s view of illegal immigrants. That Bush would campaign as an advocate for immigration reform—a position that is considered anathema by many in the Republican Party’s grass roots—was never in doubt. But what makes this a political gaffe of a sort is that Bush chose to make the argument for a rational approach to the fact that 12 million illegals are in the country by playing the sympathy card rather than an appeal to cold, hard economic logic.

Those who believe that the rule of law is at stake in the effort to punish illegals can’t be blamed for taking out the proverbial world’s smallest violin in response to Jeb Bush’s effort to evoke compassion for those who cross the border without permission. People don’t come to the United States out of pure love. They do it because there are jobs waiting for them that are not being filled by those already here.

This goes to the heart of the long-running argument about immigration on the right. Much of the left spent most of the last century trying to rewrite or ignore basic economic truths in order to make it conform to false Marxist theories. Nowadays, conservatives seek to do the same by saying that basic laws of supply and demand with regard to employment can be overcome in order to keep immigrants from Mexico or other Latin American countries out. Some make these arguments because of a reasonable concern over our porous borders. Others do so because they want to exclude Hispanics for either racial or political reasons. But either way, they are asking us to ignore the basic fact that as long as there are low paying jobs that most Americans won’t fill, immigrants, whether legal or illegal will find a way to take them.

As much as there is a strong case to be made for strengthening border security, the idea that 12 million people can be deported at the stroke of a pen or that there will be no negative consequences (regardless of the negative impact on the future prospects of Republicans if they continue to alienate Hispanics with negative stands on immigration) is fanciful.

It’s an open question as to whether enough Republican primary voters will listen to such commonsense arguments in 2016, whether made by Jeb Bush or someone else. But there is certainly an opening for someone to speak truth to them on this issue rather than merely engaging in the sort of “severely conservative” rabble rousing on immigration that Mitt Romney employed in order to distract GOP voters from his inconsistency on state-run health care. But my advice to anyone who tries to do so would be to leave love out of it.

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