One of the truisms in American politics is that Republicans tend to learn the wrong lessons from their political failures.
After electoral drubbings in 2006 and 2008, Republicans concocted the fiction that their party was thrown out because of too much spending and bridges to nowhere while conveniently forgetting that Iraq, a war of choice, had descended into a civil war. After the much bally-hoed Hispanic gap in the 2012 election, Republicans from columnist Charles Krauthammer to talker Sean Hannity claim that alleged Republican hostility to illegal immigrants is the culprit for their electoral woes with the group.
In an interview with Politico on Tuesday, Kentucky US Senator Rand Paul called for immigration reform with an "eventual path" to citizenship for as many as twelve million illegal immigrants. Understandably, many on the populist right have wondered aloud if this was Rand Paul offering amnesty.
Immigration, barely an issue during the election, if it actually was at all, is supposedly why Romney and Ryan lost last week. If only Romney hadn't run to the run during the primaries and made that "self-deportation" line!
This, however, ignores the fact that according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, President Obama, disappointing his liberal base once more, has actually deported illegal immigrants at a faster rate than George W. Bush, although not yet in raw total. So Bush, whose immigration record is at least comparable to Obama's, earned no higher than 40% of the Hispanic vote and the overall Republican share of that vote has been decreasing ever since. Does this suggest that amnesty is or is not what drives Hispanics to vote disproportionately for Democrats?
But there is at least one hitch in Paul's proposal that is not the usual amnesty. Moving on in the article:
"There would be an eventual path, but we don't make anybody tomorrow a citizen who came here illegally. But if they're willing to work, willing to pay taxes, I think we need to normalize those who are here.' "Paul said the 'trade-off' would be 'not to accept any new legal immigrants while we're assimilating the ones who are here.'"
In other words, in exchange for an amnesty-like program, Paul is calling for a halt, or moratorium, on all immigration. Even Peter Brimelow, founder of the populist VDare.com and whom no one would confuse for an immigration liberal, found merit in the proposal:
"To my knowledge this makes Paul the most senior politician to associate himself with a call for a (desperately needed) moratorium on legal immigration. . . . it is nice to see Rand Paul keeping up the family tradition of unique contributions to the American political discourse."
This is the way immigration used to work in the United States. Immigration restrictions would be loosened and then tightened again to allow those newcomers to assimilate into American culture.
There are other planks to Rand Paul's agenda, such as easing penalties on marijuana possession and a humbler foreign policy, but it's his immigration proposal that is not ideal in my estimation, if only for the unlikelihood that the moratorium would actually be enforced. Yet, it's a better idea than most Republican officeholders and mouthpieces have offered in a long time.