Proposition 200, a measure requiring that applicants for state benefits and state suffrage show proof of eligibility for these privileges, was adopted in Arizona on November 2, 2004, by 56 percent of the total vote and 47 percent of the Hispanic portion of it. This happened in the face of opposition from the Democratic governor of the state; Arizona’s mostly Republican congressional delegation; its two GOP Senators; and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce. In Colorado, Mr. Immigration Reform—Rep. Tom Tancredo—easily won election to a fourth congressional term by taking 60 percent of the vote. A few days after the election, the Bush administration, claiming to have won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote (up from 35 percent in 2000, spokesmen insisted), announced that it was set to hoist its long-derailed amnesty plan back onto the tracks and open the throttle.
“Fate leads the willing but drives the stubborn,” said Seneca. The more psephologists study the election returns, the less likely it appears that exit polls were actually correct in the 44-percent estimate. Even if, in the end, they prove to have been correct, however, the import of what they have to tell us is that 56 percent of Hispanic voters voted against George W. Bush—the same percentage, exactly, of all voters who voted for Proposition 200 in Arizona. A bird in the hand is supposed to be worth two in the bush; so why can’t Karl Rove be content with the constituency he has? Why doesn’t he set, as the goal in 2008, taking 76 percent of Arizona’s total vote for the national ticket by pressing Congress for immigration restriction? The paradoxical answer—flabbergasting as the suggestion sounds—may be that his boss received 88 percent of the white vote nationally last November.
Very clearly, the Republican strategists, from the President himself on down, believe that, over the next several decades, brown voters must increase and white ones must decrease. The imperative, of course, is unconvincing; indeed, it is false (beyond a few percentage points, at least). The brown electorate will only add to its numbers if white politicians in Washington let more brown people into the country; and there is, currently, no majoritarian political force demanding that they do so. If amnesty prevails, and if immigration (legal and illegal) is not curtailed, it will only be because Washington wished to do as it did—for absolutely no good or coherent reason.
The Republicans would defend their actions by explaining that a vicious circle holds: More browns coming into the country mean more brown votes cast, while more brown voters mean more voters angered by restrictionist voters to vote for Democratic candidates. In fact, they are subject to no such pressure, since 47 percent of Hispanic voters are opposed to further Hispanic (and other) immigration to the United States. In short, there is no vicious circle, since the circle in question can be broken into at any point and reversed—or smashed altogether. The demographic-psephological “problem” Bush-Rove identify for their party is, in fact, no problem at all, and fixing nonexistent problems is almost the definition of a senseless enterprise. Thousands of tons of printer’s ink have been spilled by thousands of writers frustratedly trying to make sense of the Republicans’ Hispanic voter strategy and feeling defeated and humiliated when they cannot square the circle. But there is no circle to square: only the vain and vacant tangle of human irrationality, vanity, and self-delusion.
And yet, there remains something further to be said on the subject of the politics of immigration. When confronted by the will of the native majoritarian electorate of their country where it conflicts with the desires of the foreign-born nonelectorate, politicians are willing to risk the present solid support of the former for hypothetical future ballots cast by the latter. What their motives are in this matter, only their consciences can say for certain. As for the rest of us, we are at liberty to speculate. And we do.