Barnes: GOP immigration rhetoric is a mistake

The Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes compares the Democrat’s losing (the war and the voters) position to Iraq to immigration:

Yet Republicans are doing the same thing on another issue, trading away long-term gain for the immediate joy of pleasing voters who may (or may not) decide the winner of the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. That issue is immigration.

By dwelling, often emotionally, on the problem of illegal immigration as a paramount issue and as if nothing is being done to deal with it, Republicans are alienating Hispanic Americans, the fastest growing voting bloc in the country. What’s worse is many Republicans are oblivious to this or insist that losing Hispanic voters doesn’t really matter because they’ll never be reliable Republican voters anyway. These Republicans buy the notion that a sizable majority of Hispanics are and always will be Democrats.

Several points are worth making. First, he is talking about tone here. Jim Geraghty made the point about Tom Tancredo‘s performance at Ames:

Tom Tancredo has also made stopping illegal immigration his signature issue — but he’s a bit more likely to shoot his mouth off, and cause racially-tinged controversies in the process. He has introduced legislation to impose an indefinite moratorium on legal immigration to the United States.  …

Two candidates, both tough on border security, but with two very different styles and approaches. I would call one [, Duncan Hunter,] serious, one reckless. And we see where seriousness gets you.

Second, Barnes point out that the language is very simple to hear as racism, especially by legal Hispanic immigrants:

A key question is why would Hispanics who are American citizens respond unfavorably to attacks on illegal immigrants? After all, they’re here legally and polls show they oppose illegal entry.

The reason is simple: they see the issue as focusing entirely on Mexican and Central American immigrants. Illegals from other parts of the world who overstay their visas are largely ignored by Republican critics.

Now, there is one thing that disappoints me. Barnes doesn’t make a positive argument for immigration reform. And here, I think Barnes misses an opportunity. Much has been made of the Christian arguments for immigration by Gerson, the Southern Baptist Church and Richard Land, or the Catholics. The business community has made its argument clear. But the talk about immigration also creates another sharp disconnect in our tone.

Our talk on immigration is not the talk of a people with hope. It is the language of people under siege. This is not good for our party. It strikes me that conservative values and policies are most successful when framed in a positive light. For example, tax cuts and deregulation bring opportunity for everyone. Winning the Cold War for our values. Etc.

A politics that is driven by anger and fear has never been a transformative or a majority politics in America. This path is the path of the angry white male minority party afraid of losing its place. And the angry white male is losing its place. The only way to stop that is a positive vision. A real shift is taking place, and hopefully our party will react appropriately. Maybe this is just a typical response to shock. The process starts with denial — like NRO’s piece, typically shouting "stop". Then anger. Then, finally, acceptance.

But, electorally, it makes sense to move through the cycle quickly.