A little more than a year ago, during a frenetic newsmaking tour of the nation many would like to see him lead – no, silly, not Mexico – Jeb Bush paused at Saint Leo University to deliver an hour-long talk that sounded for all the world like his Presidential Stump Speech 1.0. It was a seamless, flawless, wide-ranging, detailed, thoughtful and mostly right-of-center critique of how to revive the American economy, up to and including his take on illegal immigration.
This is some of what I wrote then:
“His proposal is a four-legged stool supported by low-cost domestic hydrocarbon harvested from public and private lands; weeding antiquities from the vast regulatory code; reorganizing education around no-excuses accountability and student-centered digital learning; and broad-based immigration reform.
“Leg No. 4 remains controversial on the right, but Bush argued it’s time GOP candidates get over trying to be ‘the last hard-boiled egg at the picnic.’ Enforcement-only may play during the primaries, he said, but it’s a general-election killer.
“That said, Bush — synopsizing his March 1 book, ‘Immigration Wars’ — made re-imagined immigration policy, with stout borders, strict visa control and a plan of normalization for illegal immigrants, sound not only reasonable, but also economically advantageous and morally imperative.
“Leaving millions stuck ‘in the shadows’ who could be ‘catalytic converters for our economy’ is unacceptable, Bush says. ‘This is a better country than that.’ ”
Which makes me wonder what in the name of the Iowa caucuses Bush was thinking when he said this about illegal immigration during an interview on Fox News Sunday:
“It’s an act of love. It’s an act of commitment to your family,” Bush said. “I honestly think that that is a different kind of crime. There should be a price paid, but it shouldn’t rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families.”
Well, wow. Writing at National Review Online, Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, is having none of it.
“Jeb’s unspoken assumption is that people in the United States who can’t lawfully feed their children can rely on welfare, rather than shoplifting and car theft. Mexico, by his telling, is such a dysfunctional hellhole that even hard-working people can’t find honest work and will go hungry as a result. Prospective illegal aliens find themselves in a ‘Les Misérables’ situation, stealing bread — i.e., jobs in the United States — to feed starving children.
“This is horse flop. Mexico is an upper-middle-income country by world standards, with a per capita GDP, in purchasing-power parity terms, greater than that of Turkey, Brazil, Romania, Iran, South Africa, or Thailand. You want real poverty, try Congo or Zimbabwe, Somalia or Afghanistan. Funny that he’s not calling for unlimited immigration from those countries instead. For someone who makes a habit of assuring Mexicans that ‘I understand your people,’ Jeb seems to have a remarkably one-dimensional view of the place.
“Also, almost all Mexican immigrant workers in the U.S. had jobs in Mexico before they chose to come here. As the late Robert Pastor, no immigration restrictionist by any means, put it:
“ ‘Surveys of Mexican undocumented workers in the United States discovered that as many as 93 percent had jobs in Mexico before they came to the United States so they are not coming for jobs. Their motive is income; for similar work, they can earn six to ten times as much in the United States as in Mexico.’
“Wanting a higher salary is a perfectly normal and laudable ambition. But it depends on how you go about it. Sneaking into someone else’s country in violation of their laws, stealing American children’s identities, engaging in tax fraud, and then being subsidized by the taxpayers of the country where you are an intruder is not laudable.”
Jeb is bright, knowledgeable, engaged and open to new information. He also is intellectually nimble, which makes him staggeringly good in debates (as political historians will recall when he took on Democrat Bill McBride in 2002). But this? This was an unforced error that, should he decide to seek the Republican nomination, will not be easily forgiven – nor should it be – by the activist base that largely decides such things.