Although the issue of health care reform can be an important political issue during the 2010 elections, I believe it is a serious mistake to argue that it will be the primary determinant of how the election cycle swings. Recently, the Whitehouse quietly announced that their next major legislative issue will be immigration. Clearly health care reform is a very expensive initiative and the “death panel” arguments have created an emotionally heated argument, but comparatively speaking, health care reform is a very mild emotional topic when compared to immigration reform.
While immigration reform is obviously an important legislative matter and The White House will undoubtedly need to tackle it before 2012, the political timing of addressing this controversial topic is quite interesting. The unique political characteristic of immigration reform, from a strategic perspective, is its potential to expose major fissures in the republican machine. The Bush Administration’s position on immigration and the reaction of the GOP rank and file was an early indication that this would be a deadly issue for the Grand Old Party. Bush sided somewhat with the left and was in favor of a lenient (by GOP standards) “guest worker” program. Many felt the program was specifically designed to allow corporate America access to cheap labor but that it would at least allow undocumented workers some access to job safety and possibly even a retirement plan. The GOP foot soldiers were furious and reacted so angrily that the issue was quickly defeated and pushed to the bottom of the pile. The truth about immigration was out, the wealthy corporate republicans were dying to get their hands on a new generation of cheap labor and the Limbaugh listeners were looking to get rid of unwanted brown people who speak a foreign language. Once again, the chickens from the racist southern strategy were coming home to roost.
In the next few months healthcare reform will be finished and the GOP will once again face the internal divisions that are exposed by the issue of immigration reform. The Tea Party Movement will go nuclear at the mention of legislation that creates an avenue for undocumented workers to become US citizens. They will demand mass deportation and move to unseat all GOP incumbents who stray from their rigid anti-immigrant position. Meanwhile, GOP Congress members are facing a growing Latino population. This amounts to the trifecta of political headaches for the Republican incumbents come November. The Corporations favor lenient policies for foreign workers, the right wing rank and file favor rigid anti-immigrations laws, and the increasing numbers of Latino voters favor extremely liberal immigration policies. The paradox of man has always been that our greatest strength is also our greatest weakness. As was the case in upstate New York, the Teabag purist may very well dominate the GOP internally and produce general election candidates too extreme to claim any votes from the center, thus handing some reliable republican seats to a democrat. It is quite possible that the rigid right wing fury of the Tea Party Organization ultimately proves considerably more helpful to the President and his party, than the GOP.