By all accounts, we are a nation in turmoil. We continue to fight an never ending war in Iraq, the housing crisis continues to spread throughout the financial markets, and the economy teeters on the edge of recession. To the observer, these are the greatest issues facing America in 2008. Yet, if you listen to the Republicans debate, its as if these issues don’t existIgnoring the obvious, they ramp up the rhetoric on an different issue, a new scapegoat for all the ills of society. A diversion from the last eight years of failure.
We on the left could dismiss immigration easily. America has greater concerns, and on the issues that matter now, Democrats win, hands down. But when was the last time Republicans ever won on the top issues of the day? Recent election history shows that re-framing the debate through wedge issues has been a winning formula. How many people decided between “you know where I stand” Bush and “flip-flop” Kerry last election on baseless Republican rhetoric? What matters most to America as a whole and what matters Americans at the polls are not the same.
The most contentious moment of the recent CNN/YouTube debate was during the introductory half hour spent solely on Immigration, in which almost every candidate got a say. But Immigration is not only about the 12 million undocumented, but has recently become, to Republicans, the most important issue of national security. Representative Tom Tancredo tied Islamic Terrorism with unsecured borders. Mike Huckabee and Rudy Guiliani debated whether or not educational and health benefits should go to the children of undocumented workers. Mitt Romney railed against sanctuary cities.
One argument goes like this: Immigration didn’t work for Republicans in 2006, it didn’t work in 2007, why will it work in 2008?
Yet when CNN spends more time in a debate discussing Mitt Romney’s yardworkers than the greatest foreign policy disaster since Vietnam, I begin to see images of Willie Horton, of Gay Marriages in San Francisco, of a little girl plucking a flower. As I watch John McCain declare the surge a success and watch Lou Dobbs declare a jihad on Mexicans, I wonder what we’ll be talking about in October 2008.
The Republicans are once again beginning to define the debate, and when they define the debate, we lose. From furloughs, to gay marriage to Immigration. Driver’s Licenses, Hillary Clinton’s most damaging moment in the election. The ugly whisper campaign about Barack Obama’s religion and his father. Are these merely a taste of what is to come? And how do we reclaim the debate, and talk about things that matter to Americans – ending the War, Health Care, and the economy.
What do you think?