Immigration: The New Third Rail of American Politics

Immigration is the new “third rail” of American politics.  I know, because I remember the old third rail. The old third rail, of course, was Social Security.  Touch it, and die politically.  

Back in the eighties the Republican Party would routinely come up with plans in Congress to “reform” Social Security.

Like clockwork — when the next Congressional election came around — the Democratic Party led by then Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’ Neil would demagogue the issue; and pronounce with TV ads that Republicans wanted to privatize Social Security and, by the way, cut or eliminate grandma’s benefit check.

Now, it’s the Democrats’ turn to touch the new third rail, immigration.  It’s happening to the Democrats nationally, and it’s happening to them here in North Carolina…  

Congressional republican incumbents were forced to play “defense”; as the late Lee Atwater used to say, “If you’re defending in campaigns — you’re losing!”

During the “Gingrich revolution” of 1994 Republican challengers in congressional districts through out America were schooled that “words mattered” and that the “best defense was a good a good offense.” So

the Republican message reflected the will of the majority of Americans that the social security contract must not be broken. And the phrasing in speeches and advertising reflected the will of the majority.

A key phrase was that many republican used and continue to use today is this — “We need to preserve, protect, and strengthen social security.” Republican incumbents and challengers alike were encouraged to “inoculate” on the issue — in essence to preemptively strike with a positive message prior to being attacked.

Still, and until this day, social security reform remains a volatile issue with the American electorate and to some degree a net plus for democrats. One only look at George W. Bush’s 2005 proposal for personal savings accounts for younger workers. It was “dead on arrival” in congress and it fell on deaf ears with the American public.

It seems to me that in the 2008 election the new emotional and substantive issue that the elite politicians did not grasp (John McCain’s amnesty bill) but now is squarely in their face — is illegal immigration with all its ramifications. Securing the borders and national sovereignty are issues that neither party can ignore.

One only look at how Hillary Clinton “flubbed” the question in a recent Democratic debate regarding New York Governor Spitzer’s decision to issue drivers licenses to illegal aliens to see the impact this issue can have on ones national standing and poll numbers. (And by the way — the a directive was recently rescinded under intense public pressure by Governor Spitzer.)

In the Republican presidential primary both Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney have tried to out do each other on the issue but both have little credibility with the voters based on past performances while in office.

“Sanctuary cities” have been the main topic of discussion between the two campaigns.

In the last Republican debate both Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Romney chose to attack each either rather than to offer substantive solutions. On the campaign trail both have been supportive of a  physical fence and or virtual fence but with no date certain for completion.

Now leading the polls in Iowa and South Carolina is former Governor Mike Huckabee who has laid out a detailed plan for border security and enforcement. His plan also includes a date certain for completion of a physical fence.  

Here in North Carolina, many Republican legislators in the General Assembly are trying to hold the Easley Administrations feet to the fire with  respect to the rule of law and Easley’s constant attempts to circumvent the process when it comes to issuing drives licenses to illegal aliens.

And recently — the community college system’s lawyer issued a  directive violating the law and admitting illegals aliens to community colleges if they pay out of state tuition. Debate is ensuing within the UNC system along the same lines.

What is clear is that illegal immigration is becoming the defining issue of the 2008 election.

Those who stand for amnesty, drivers licenses for illegal aliens, in state or out of state tuition for illegal aliens at our institutions of learning and open borders will pay a price at the polls. Conversely those who respect the rule of law, our sovereignty and the will of the American people will be rewarded politically when the citizens of this country cast their votes in the fall.