George F. Will: Why immigration reform matters: Unity in the Republican Party

Published: Sunday, Feb. 16 2014 10:36 p.m. MST

George W. Bush was the first president since Woodrow Wilson to serve two terms and leave office with the average household income lower than when he entered it. Obama may be the second when he leaves during the eighth year of a wretched recovery. Forty-seven percent of the House Republican conference has been in Washington 37 months or less; 21 percent of them have never held any other elective office. Many plunged into politics because they were dismayed about the nation's trajectory under the current president and his predecessors. Many are understandably disposed against immigration because they have only dim memories of a more dynamic America, and have little aptitude for politics suited to, and aimed at restoring, vibrancy.

Some Depression-era progressives, expecting capitalism's crisis to produce a prolonged and perhaps permanent scarcity of jobs, hoped Social Security would open jobs for the young by encouraging older workers to retire. Progressives often are ambivalent about scarcities because they see themselves as administrators of rationing. But President Bill Clinton, refuting opposition — much of it from Democrats — to the North American Free Trade Agreement, splendidly said: "Protectionism is just a fancy word for giving up."

Opposition to immigration because the economy supposedly cannot generate sufficient jobs is similar defeatism. Zero-sum reasoning about a fixed quantity of American opportunity is for an America in a defensive crouch, which is not for conservatives.

George Will's email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

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