The Government Is Dead. Long Live the Government!

The Government Is Dead. Long Live the Government!

Originally published by The New York Times

Bret Stephens: Gail, over the past few days, it’s been the battle of the shutdown hashtags. If you’re a Republican, it was the #SchumerShutdown. If you’re a Democrat, it was the #TrumpShutdown. I suspect that, for most Americans, the appropriate hashtag is #WhatIsWrongWithThesePeople? Now the Senate has voted to reopen the government, at least for a few weeks, and presumably the House will follow any minute. Give me your thoughts on shutdown politics.

Gail Collins: Well, the whole world agrees that this didn’t have to happen at all. Let’s stop here for a moment and recall the Obama era shutdown, when Donald Trump was on TV telling the world that the president has to be a deal maker who gets everybody into a room and keeps them there until they find a solution.

I am not going to be catty and say that at present, such a strategy would cut terribly into his cheeseburger-and-Fox executive time.

But with Mitch McConnell promising a “free and open debate,” let’s talk about the still-to-come fights. Tell me, Bret, what’s your theory of the ideal immigration plan?

Bret: Ideal immigration plan? O.K., here goes what remains of my conservative street cred.

First, we give Dreamers green cards provided there isn’t a criminal record. If they’ve served (or would agree to serve) in the military, I’d give them automatic citizenship. And if the political price for that is funding for a border wall, I would swallow it. I’d rather squander money on unnecessary concrete than continue toying with the lives of nearly a million people who are already our fellow Americans in nearly every respect save paperwork.

Gail: Sigh. Have to admit I’m currently with you on the wall. Took me a long time to get there. Even though it’s a stupid and offensive idea, it’s not worth shutting down the government forever. And I do have faith that since even many Republicans think it’s an incredible waste of money, the whole thing is never going to be built.

Bret: Next, I’d revoke Trump’s deportation orders for Salvadorans, Haitians and others who are here on so-called temporary protective status. Forcibly uprooting hundreds of thousands of people who have built lives and families in the United States and returning them to countries that are in no position to receive them is not the American way.

Gail: … still agreeing …

Bret: I’d dramatically increase the number of merit-based H1-B visas. Mitt Romney was right when he said it was crazy that we educate tens of thousands of engineers and scientists in the U.S. and then ship them back home instead of making use of their skills. At the same time, I would get rid of the diversity-visa lottery system. This is the one thing Trump is right about. Spin-the-wheel is not good policy, especially when a future terrorist winds up being the beneficiary.

I could go on for hours but the bottom line is that the United States is and should remain a land of immigrants, skilled or (like my ancestors) unskilled, provided they are eager to make a go of the American dream and play by American rules.

Gail: Whew, so glad you mentioned that terrorist. Otherwise I would have agreed with everything you said and then where would we be conversation-wise?

It is true that the guy who killed eight innocent people with a truck in Manhattan was a product of the visa program, a program that was started to give more Irish and Italians a chance to legally immigrate.

But what drives me nuts is that the president constantly points to this one terrible crime as an argument that the visa program is bad, while every single day we have stories about innocent people blasted to smithereens by guns, and we never hear a peep. If we wanted to keep America safe, we would really, really crack down on gun purchases.

However, I am not demanding we do that to keep the government open.

Bret: Please don’t get me wrong. My objection is to the visa lottery, not what’s invidiously called “chain” migration. As you and many others have reminded us, this is how many of our ancestors arrived in this country and worked their tails off so that they could afford to pay steerage for their wives and children. Republicans used to be the “pro-family” party, but that was in days of yore, when George W. Bush was president.

I wrote a column last week pointing out that the same stereotypes and slanders applied today by people like Jeff Sessions against present-day immigrants were made over a century ago against my impoverished Jewish ancestors, who didn’t speak English, didn’t have Ph.D.s, and in a few cases held dangerous political views. Yet just imagine how much worse off America would be today if it had kept out the parents of a Jonas Salk, a Leonard Bernstein or a Mike Bloomberg. The same goes for every single other immigrant group, past or present.

Except Norwegians, of course!

Gail: Isn’t it interesting that Trump almost never talks about his immigrant ancestors? That’s usually reflexive for a politician. The other day when Paul Ryan was trying to get past the “shithole” incident, he instantly began talking about his ancestors from Ireland coming here and laboring on the railroads. Trump’s ancestors came from a terrible town in Germany — full of fertilizer fumes and impoverished grape-pickers — but he never mentions it.

But about that little shutdown. Any other thoughts?

Bret: My gut tells me the Democrats were smart to back away from the shutdown, however well founded their doubts might be about getting to a good immigration deal. Bill Clinton crushed the Gingrich Republicans over the shutdown in the mid-1990s. Barack Obama crushed the Republicans again in 2013. And I suspect that’s what Trump is going to do to the Democrats, thereby helping himself politically when we might otherwise be focused on his alleged porn star liaisons and the possibility that the president is lying about it.

Why? Because the country doesn’t like having its government stop functioning on account of a partisan position, even one as worthy as a deal for the Dreamers. It will especially hurt vulnerable Democrats, like Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who is facing re-election in a state in which Trump crushed Hillary Clinton. And it reminds me of a purported exchange that Adlai Stevenson had with a voter who told him that “every thinking man will vote for you.”

“That’s not enough,” he supposedly replied. “I need a majority.”

Gail: I did notice that Democratic senators from red states who are up for re-election tended to vote to keep the government running, Dreamers or no Dreamers.

My bottom line is that the shutdown was so brief, it’s not going to last in anyone’s memory by the next election date. Presuming there’s no bigger problem down the road.

Bret: My big complaint with liberals these days is that they are overplaying their hand, politically, and underestimating Trump’s political cunning and resilience.

Gail: I know the guy got elected, but I still have more faith in the voters than to believe they’re going to want to keep him around if his persona as president is so deeply tied to racist ramblings and ineptitude. In retrospect I can understand why they did it once, but sorry, I don’t believe they’d want to go back to that well.

And the president is not doing his party any favors by running those loathsome ads saying the Democrats will be responsible for murders by immigrants. Maybe the hard-core base is into that stuff but average people do not like that kind of viciousness.

Bret: One of the things the 2016 election taught me, and I suspect other pundits, is that everything I thought I knew for sure about American politics was, if not wrong, at least no longer operative. So what should we make of the supposed rule that the parties of unpopular incumbent presidents — Clinton in ’94; Bush in ’06 and Obama in ’10 — tend to get pasted in the midterms?

Maybe that pattern will repeat itself once again, but I’m not so sure. If the economy continues to do well, a majority of voters get a bigger tax break than they anticipate, and the Russia investigation comes up empty-handed, then Democrats run the risk of being the party that cried wolf.

Gail: A lot of ifs, and it still doesn’t address what does seem to be a not-just-Democrats revulsion against the president himself.

Bret: That famous question Joseph Welch asked of Joe McCarthy — “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” — is not going to work against Trump. Not only is he impervious to shame, but so is his political base. I hope Democrats have a better game plan than riding a wave of moral outrage against this president and hoping that he continues to oblige them with fresh material.

Gail: As do we all. Meanwhile, maybe we should make a quick date to get together at a national park.

Read more:


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Please enter your username or email address. You will receive a link to create a new password via email.


%d bloggers like this: