by Robert Robb, The Arizona Republic columnist - May. 15, 2010 05:33 PM
I sense that the tide is turning in terms of national reaction to Arizona's new immigration law.
When the law was passed, opponents reacted swiftly and fiercely and spun it as a civil-rights issue.
Opponents charged that Arizona was relegating Latinos to second-class status. The law was racist and xenophobic. Allusions to police states, the segregated South and even Nazi Germany abounded.
It's become clear, however, that most Americans see this principally as a law-enforcement issue. A steady stream of national polls consistently show the same thing: A solid majority of Americans (usually around 60 percent) believe that local law enforcement should be doing the kind of things the Arizona law provides. Moreover, a solid majority of Americans also believe that Arizona was right to take action on its own, rather than wait for the federal government.
That changes the game. It's easy for critics to depict a small state as a bunch of racist rubes. Harder to do that for the entire country.
• Attorney General Eric Holder's admission, in a House committee hearing, that he hasn't read the Arizona law is also likely to be a turning point.
Holder has denounced the Arizona law. He has said that the federal government would be closely watching its implementation and will consider suing to keep it from going into effect. All without actually reading the bill.
Holder's admission was both breathtaking and unsurprising.
Opponents of the bill routinely and grossly mischaracterize its provisions. Even national news accounts are far more often inaccurate than accurate in describing them.
I suspect that among those denouncing the law and Arizona, Holder is more the rule than the exception.
• Meanwhile, immigration-rights groups, whose top priority is legal status for those currently in the country illegally, are touting their own polls to encourage Democrats to get bold on immigration.
According to them, comprehensive immigration reform, including legalization, is an electoral winner. In fact, they claim that even legalization standing alone, not buried as part of ostensibly tough border and workplace enforcement, is a winner.
It's clear that Democratic politicians actually running for office don't believe this. Almost universally, their strategy is to allow as little daylight as possible between them and their Republican opponents on immigration.
Arizona's Democratic candidates are a good example. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, running for re-election in southern Arizona, is stressing her call to deploy the National Guard to the border. Ann Kirkpatrick, defending her seat in northern Arizona, has introduced a bill providing for an additional 3,500 border guards and denounced the calls to boycott Arizona because of the new state immigration law.
Harry Mitchell, running for re-election in the East Valley, will tell you he supports comprehensive immigration reform - if you ask. But what he voluntarily tells voters is all the enforcement stuff he favors. Jon Hulburd, the impressive Democratic candidate for John Shadegg's open seat, has a tough-as-nails statement on immigration on his website that doesn't even use the word "comprehensive" or refer to legalization at all. In fact, it flatly embraces the new John McCain position: "No discussion of immigration reform is possible without first addressing real border security."
Presumptive Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry Goddard is stressing his support for making illegal border crossings a federal felony.
This is all because Democratic politicians understand an electoral dynamic that the immigration-rights groups don't: What a majority thinks isn't as consequential as what a majority of those who care about the issue thinks. In American politics, intensity matters.
• Most of what is being discussed in the U.S. Senate won't really do much to protect taxpayers against future bailouts. An exception is an amendment offered last week by McCain.
It would have reinstated the $400 billion cap on taxpayer subsidies to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, eliminated their federal conservatorship in two years, and required them to be stand-alone entities without any implicit federal support within five years.
The taxpayers are already into Fannie and Freddie for $145 billion with no end in sight. The Obama administration lifted the $400 billion cap, clearly indicating an expectation to blow by it.
The amendment was defeated 56-43, with only two Democrats, Evan Bayh and Russ Feingold, voting for it.
I sometimes wonder how much different 2008 might have been if McCain had stuck with his anti-bailout instincts rather than succumbing to the apocalyptic warnings of Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke.