He should have delivered it 2 months ago. By waiting until last night, he allowed an enormous reservoir of ill will to build not just on the right but in the country generally. Everyone's already got a view of Bush's real position on immigration is. To those to Bush's right on the issue, he's a pro-amnesty squish, hopelessly in hock to the GOP's business wing, and any proposed efforts to toughen enforcement are just feints and/or boob-bait to distract from the real goal, to regularize the illegal immigrants we already have and encourage a further flow of cheap labor into the country. To those on Bush's left on the immigration issue, he's a thrall of his party's crypto-racist base, hell-bent on demonizing Mexicans and militarizing the border to bring home his base for the November elections, with the guest-worker plan just a concession begrudgingly granted to the business lobby as a way of bringing them on board. The lonely few who actually agree with Bush, like John Podhoretz
, find themselves surrounded by distrustful crazies* on all sides. These views are unlikely to budge, because they've had months to harden under fairly intense intra- and inter-partisan sniping. If Bush had come out with his big immigration proposal in months ago, before the marches, before the rancorous failure of Congress to pass a compromise bill, he might have brought more people on board, but now I think it's probably too late. (I can't help but wonder if the Administration's successful use of the rope-a-dope strategy during the Department of Homeland Security debate and lead-up to the Iraq War didn't play a part here. The problem is, when it's your own party that's punching itself out you get weaker, not stronger.)
(The above, by the way, is just one iteration of the larger problem that's plagued Bush basically since 1999. The libertarian wing of the party thinks he's really a social conservative who doesn't really believe in limited government [except maybe tax cuts]; the social conservatives think he's a secret business conservative who occasionally panders to the religious right [on gay marriage, for instance] but only in even-numbered years. The real answer: he's just unprincipled!)
As to the substance, I basically agree with Matt Yglesias
that the guest-worker program is a really bad idea, and that if we think the country has a labor shortage we should up the number of legal immigrants we bring in rather than create a class of second-tier non-citizenship-track residents whose continued presence in the country is dependent on the sufferance of their employers. (Though how bad an idea it is depends on what you envision these guest workers doing. If they're coming into the country for a month to harvest strawberries and then returning to their native country then it's a silly-but-not-disastrous idea. If they're coming into the country for an indefinite period of time to work in factories, or as construction workers or domestic servants, then the plan will be a genuine disaster, creating a large underclass of permanent non-citizens like Germany's gastarbeiten
, only worse, since some of these guest-workers will have citizen children who will have a legal right to stay in the United States regardless of the employment status of their parents.) A high-tech wall would probably be a good idea, if we actually make the effort to make it work. Sending the national guard to the border seems silly, especially if they're not going to be allowed to do any enforcement. The earned legalization stuff really is amnesty, whatever Bush wants to pretend, and I'm fine with amnesty provided we've actually demonstrated some ability to control the border. Otherwise, amnesty'll just create incentives for more people to come across the border in hopes of being part of the next grand amnesty in 2026. Yes, amnesty is unfair to those who are actually waiting on line in their home countries to immigrate to the U.S. legally, but them's the breaks. Reality-based policy and all that.
*Full disclosure: I am, to some degree, one of those distrustful crazies!