Politico is reporting that Democratic operatives have crafted a new "get tough, no empathy" approach to discussing comprehensive immigration reform, sounding more like Republicans if they want to pass the reforms. The new approach is the result of extensive polling by Democratic firms according to Politico.

There is a kind of stupidity that is unique to pollsters. I recall the brief 2004 campaign of Gen. Wesley Clark. His pollster told the staff that Democratic primary voters did not respond well to the military, and were more concerned about health care and domestic issues. The staff was instructed to stop referring to Clark as "General Clark." He was henceforth, "Wes." The change was reflected in campaign literature. While leafleting in a neighborhood of mostly veterans in Muskogee, Oklahoma, the pamphlets left on door handles or mailed to Democratic voters failed to mention that Gen. Clark was a four-star general whose previous job had been Supreme Allied Commander at NATO. Mind you, the only rationale for Clark’s candidacy was that as a military man who had opposed the Iraq War as a strategic blunder, he could garner the anti-war vote without appearing weak on defense. No one looked at Clark as a viable candidate because he did his own taxes and, consequently, had special insights to the tax code. Campaigns do not just need pollsters, they need narratives, and when the pollster argues for a way of talking that does not fit into any conceivable narrative, find a new pollster.

So, why should Democrats avoid aping Republicans on immigration reform? First, if you get close to the fire, you are gonna get burned. Latino voters have learned to listen to the words and inflections of candidates. They know when they are being thrown under the bus. They know that someone who refers to "undocumented workers" is being more truthful to the circumstance of their situation than someone who uses the phrase "illegal aliens." Second, we are never going to out-tough the GOP on this issue. They own the "get tough" approach and the Democratic response should be to show how utterly ineffectual the get tough approach has been.

Most importantly, there is a better way to get immigration reform through the Congress and that is to focus, and continue to focus on the way current immigration law separates families and breaks apart communities. There are human stories about how current immigration laws destroy communities and families, the kind of stories that do not only make it on to the news but on to the soft news, those fuzzy 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. time slots that focus on human interest stories, time slots that aim at swing-voting, older women and stay-at-home Moms.

There is a religious aspect, and religious language, that further dramatizes an alternative approach: Just the other day a group of conservative evangelical pastors, including the president of the National Association of Evangelicals and a rep from the Southern Baptist Convention, came to Washington and held a conference call to discuss the need for comprehensive immigration reform. The effort was coordinated by the group Faith in Public Life which is increasingly making its presence felt in the power corridors of Wasington. One of the lessons you learn in Political Strategy 101 is that anytime an issue divides the other guy’s party, you seize it. Immigration reform splits both the evangelical Christian and the Chamber of Commerce wing of the GOP from the nativist Tom Tancredo wing. It does not so divide the Democrats: There are, at a maximum, maybe twenty-five House Democrats that might need to vote against the bill.

Finally, as I argued two weeks ago at NCR, the proper way to up the ante on immigration reform is not to start talking like Republicans but to send up to Capitol Hill the exact same proposal that President Bush sent up in 2006. Do not tweak the language or amend anything. Send the exact same proposal. Now, many Republicans didn’t like Bush’s proposal and they killed it, but some of them signed on and let them explain now why they would oppose it if they didn’t then?

Pollsters have way too much authority in contemporary political campaigns and it is stunning to me that candidates, that is the principals, continue to cede such authority to staff. Letting Mark Penn run the show surely did not do much for Hillary Clinton just as Gen., excuse me, Wes Clark’s pollster did not help him win the nomination in 2004. A good narrative will always trump anything you can get a focus group to tell you and, on immigration reform, the Democrats have a great narrative: It is the right thing to do. It is the American thing to do. It is the Christian thing to do.

 

Comments

Tom Maher | 6/11/2010 - 9:55pm
How astonishing it is that some people ask " What border crisis?" when on a daily basis horrible violent criminal acts are ommitted all the time along the border. Last month a harmless, peace-loving property owner and his dog were eantonly murdered by criminal elements crossing over the border.

There is massive criminality on our southern border overfowing from Mexico. The numerous drug cartels of Mexico personnel cross the unsecured border to distribute drugs in the United States. In Mexico they have killed 23,000 people within the last year in war between Mexican drug cartels these killing overflow into the United States. Mexican drug traffics have killed numerous Americans on crossing the border especially law enforcement and border partol personnel. Also crossing the border are various other types criminals engaged in prostitution, human sex slave trade, extortionist, thieves, kidnapers, murder for fire and arsonist and other criminal enterprises. How is it possible that this chronic condition reported in the news all the time not be known as a serious problem?

The U.S. needs to stop without apology the wave of criminal enterprises from Mexico from menacing our border states daily. Our unsecured border with Mexico is a real, chronic problem that demands correction.
Anonymous | 6/11/2010 - 7:52pm
This was going around about a month ago and the principal sponsor was Chuck Schumer.  There was talk about an 8 year wait for citizenship, complete background checks and more.  It also emphasized the reinforcing of the borders.  Sounded like a Republican plan on steroids to me.
 
The one wild card in all this is why are there so many illegal aliens or undocumented workers in the country with 10% unemployment and 20% underemployment.  Why aren't some of these unemployed doing some of the work?  Around where I live some of the illegals are getting over $20 per hour and that is more than census workers make.  But it is not as cushy.
William Lindsey | 6/11/2010 - 5:35pm
Gerald Brazier, I find your information very helpful, and am grateful for it.  It's like a missive from the front, in which we get to hear authentic voices reporting accurate information.
 
I agree with you wholeheartedly when you note that the facts need to count, as we respond ethically to situations like the situation of illegal immigration.
 
I am deeply concerned with the responses of some of my Catholic brothers and sisters to various political issues, when those responses seem to set the data aside for ideological spin that ignores accurate information about a topic.
 
I'm even more concerned when core gospel values that have to norm our discussion of issues like this - our call to think first and foremost about the effect of our decisions on the least among us - are ignored as partisan ideological dogma dictates our viewpoint and response.
 
How have we come to such a point in our church, I wonder?
Michael Bindner | 6/11/2010 - 3:12pm
I totally agree. A good policy can poll badly. I wouldn't send the Bush proposal, I would send something much more friendly that takes into account how long someone has been there. The whole "going to the back of the line" meme should be silenced, since if you structure reform too harshly, some people will stay in the shadows. The other thing I would not do is focus too much on criminality. If someone is a felon, we already know it. If someone committed a few petty crimes, or was charged by racists in law enforcement, this should not be held against them - since it will simply keep these folks in the shadows.
Stanley Kopacz | 6/11/2010 - 2:11pm
I have no problem with slowing down the movement and migration of people.  I think it should be accompanied by the slowdown of movement of capital (whatever virtual existence that imaginary quantity has these days) and goods.
More localization and less globalization.  Only import things you don't have and can't make here and everybody else in the world does the same.  It'll make for more security and stability all around.
THe problem is practical.  The US & Mexico share a large border very difficult to patrol.  There is a large economic gradient at work here, forcing migration northward.  I thought NAFTA was supposed to slow this but the rural poverty in Mexico has become worse.
So, I propose, probably to the derision of the capitalist fundamentalists here, that all migrations be slowed down, people, capital, goods.   Fences make for good neighbors.
Anonymous | 6/11/2010 - 10:34am
Democrats may be beginning to understand much earlier than the left wing & "open borders" types that the immigration issue is a fiscal issue as well.  Nobody trusts Democrats when it comes to spending & fiscal policy & these times are calling for restraint and spending discipline.  So full ahead with the calls for "comprehensive" immigration reform, which only means to most liberals fewer restrictions & new "paths" to citizenship, thereby increasing the burden on government budgets.  Liberals are always harping about how we should look to Europe for guidance; well, look my friends at France, Germany &, increasingly, Englad to see the effects of un-regulated immigration.  Sometimes even a majority of people manage to be right about something. 
Tom Maher | 6/11/2010 - 9:52am
Politicains do need to have a narrative much more than just follow polls which often do not go to any depth in finding t people really think.

But any narrative will not be persuasive succesful with the voters in a general election if they are not authentic, believable and realistic.

Noone belives that the southern border of the United States is secure. Rather after decades of much talk little progress has been made to secure the southern border. Effectively the southern border is an "open border" where every day thousands of people crossover into the United States relitivley effortlessly and freely. Hundreds of thousdands of individuals arrive in the United States every year since the last immigartion reform law of 1986 that was suppossed to control the flow of illegal immigaration to United States. After decades of unsecured borders, the cumulative illegal immigration is in the millions. This is unacceptable to most Americans.

Most Americans do not want "Open borders" or "Open immigration" where the borders are not controlled and as many people who want to enter the country may do so without the consent, knowledge or control of the federal government. TRejection "open borders" is not "getting tough". Border control and immigration control are fundemental duties that any rational government must perform to perserve law and order. The ongoing lawlessness, mayhem and chaos on our southern borders is directly casued by the chronic failure of our federal government to control and secure our southern borders and control immigration.

Any realistic, believable and politically viable narrative to sell immigration reform must secure the borders and control the number of non-criminal people entering this country for legal immigartion purposes.

As been proven in the last several years, it is a wasted narrative to talk about immigrartion reform without first taking real action to secure our souther border.
GERALD BRAZIER | 6/12/2010 - 4:48pm
In a symposium held at the University of Texas-Pan American in mid-May the sheriff of Hidalgo County and the chief of police of McAllen, TX, both said emphatically that there has been virtually no "spillover" crime or violence from Mexico in their jurisdictions.  If the chief law enforcement officers of the third most populous border county in the country are saying this in a  public forum, then maybe "this chronic condition reported in the news all the time" is at least somewhat a creation of the news media.
This does not deny that the drug trade moves a lot of "product" through the area and that those involved with the drug trade on this side of the border sometimes solve their internal squabbles violently, but some of the comments to this posting are painting a picture of rampant violence and lawlessness in the U.S. border communities that simply is a ridiculous exaggeration.  El Paso, in the far west of the state, was within the month rated as one of the safest cities in Texas-it is right across the border from Juarez, currently one of Mexico's most violent cities.
Facts matter-try to be knowledgeble before speaking so emphatically. 
William Lindsey | 6/12/2010 - 9:01am
Tom Maher, Gerald Brazier lives on the border in question, and his report flatly contradicts yours.
 
Are you saying that Mr. Brazier is not speaking the truth?
 
And do you yourself live on the border about which you're reporting?  If not, could you please tell us where you're obtaining information that runs counter to what someone living on the border reports?
GERALD BRAZIER | 6/11/2010 - 2:51pm
Some commenting here are working with narratives themselves, and these narratives are not necessarlily grounded in the facts.  For example, "The ongoing lawlessness, mayhem and chaos on our southern borders," is a phrase that does not describe the situation where I live, which is in a South Texas border community with a population of more than 500,000 in the metropolitan area.  I live on the border and you cannot possibly characterize this area as lawless and awash with mayhem and chaos-crime rate is down, just as it is in Arizona.  Secondly, the estimates I have seen indicate that at least 40% of the undocumented have entered the country legally and remain on expired visas-increasing border security makes no dent in that problem.  Thirdly, "the burden on government budgets" is frequently misunderstood.  The undocumented do pay taxes-they pay sales tax and they pay property tax (indirectly through a landlord).  In Texas, there is no state income tax and so those two taxes form the entire taxation income for the state and local communities.  As far as the federal tax obligation is concerned, people in the lowest third of the income scale ultimately end up owing no tax anyway and since most of the undocumented work for low wages, what is the big concern on the income side?
Those undocumented who are working with "false papers" will never see their Social Security benefits but do have the payroll tax withheld anyway.  My experience with the undocumented indicates that it is very difficult and rare for them to able to fradulently became eligible for welfare, food stamps, etc.-most would never risk that level of involvement with the government.
Facts, not narratives matter.  Come to the border and see what daily life is like and then draw your conclusions and make your suggestions.
 
2372668 | 6/15/2010 - 11:13am
Thanks to Gerald Brazier and Mike Carter for contributing their ''reality based'' persepectives to this thread, and to William Lindsey for reminding us that, as Catholics, we are called to evaluate political issues through the prism of our religious and moral values, informed by a Scriptural tradition that says we will be judged on whether or not we welcomed Him in the stranger.
As an attorney who currently works primarily in the immigration field and formerly worked in the area of public benefits - primarily welfare and food stamps - I'd like to address the concern about government costs.  First, many ''documented'' immigrants are not eligible for these benefits, let alone the undocumented.  Second, many undocumented immigrants apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number from the IRS and use it (legally) to report and pay their federal and state income taxes.  And they are not eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit, even for US citizen children.  Finally, regarding the costs of processing of any legalization program:  people applying for most immigration benefits have to pay significant fees.  Until May 1, 2001, most undocumented persons applying for legal permanent residence (''green cards'') had to pay fees over $2000 to the then-Immigration and Naturalization Service for this step of the process alone.  IIRC, it included a fine, over and above the usual fee, of $1000 and was actually a money-maker for the government
Immigration reform that acknowledges the humanity of the people who have come here to better their lives and are, even now, contributing to our communities and to our economy, is not a foolish thing to do; it is the right thing to do.
2372668 | 6/15/2010 - 11:13am
Thanks to Gerald Brazier and Mike Carter for contributing their ''reality based'' persepectives to this thread, and to William Lindsey for reminding us that, as Catholics, we are called to evaluate political issues through the prism of our religious and moral values, informed by a Scriptural tradition that says we will be judged on whether or not we welcomed Him in the stranger.
As an attorney who currently works primarily in the immigration field and formerly worked in the area of public benefits - primarily welfare and food stamps - I'd like to address the concern about government costs.  First, many ''documented'' immigrants are not eligible for these benefits, let alone the undocumented.  Second, many undocumented immigrants apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number from the IRS and use it (legally) to report and pay their federal and state income taxes.  And they are not eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit, even for US citizen children.  Finally, regarding the costs of processing of any legalization program:  people applying for most immigration benefits have to pay significant fees.  Until May 1, 2001, most undocumented persons applying for legal permanent residence (''green cards'') had to pay fees over $2000 to the then-Immigration and Naturalization Service for this step of the process alone.  IIRC, it included a fine, over and above the usual fee, of $1000 and was actually a money-maker for the government
Immigration reform that acknowledges the humanity of the people who have come here to better their lives and are, even now, contributing to our communities and to our economy, is not a foolish thing to do; it is the right thing to do.
Mike Carter | 6/14/2010 - 1:12pm
According to the law enforcement types in Southern California, the cash value of illegal guns going south is substantially higher than the cash value of drugs coming north.
I lived in what was then West Germany for a total of 9 years during the heyday of the fortified Inner German Border. When I hear the American Conservative Party (or whatever you can call these people) do the ''good fences make good neighbors'' thing, two things become clear. First, they never read the Robert Frost poem they are misquoting. Second, they have no idea just how porous that border truly was. The East German records, now that they are available, show hundreds of ''probable departures'' monthly. The West never disputed this, since the whole point was to portray the Warsaw Pact as a near-invulnerable force of 7-foot tall killing machines (and that was just the admin techs). Most of the people who crossed the supposedly impermeable border (in both directions) simply did so, kept their heads down, and melded into the community. But the myth lives on, and moch of the proposed Southern Border design is based on the Berlin sector of The Wall.