Amnesty’s cynosure problem

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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I was on a Ricochet show recently pontificating about why Obama’s agenda was getting too crowded for amnesty-backers’ comfort–the CW, in essence–when someone (OK, it was Pat Sajak!)  asked whether it wasn’t odd that Washington could only tackle one issue at a time. Yes, it’s odd, I explained–but there comes a moment in the life of every bill when pressure has to be applied to get it over the hump. The issue takes the main stage, everyone’s attention is focused, drums are beaten, editorials are written, chits are cashed, favors traded in a crescendo of artificial urgency. I’d been through the process with welfare reform in ’96, and that’s what happened. I envisioned a similar potential process for amnesty: the first crescendo when the Senate attempts to pass a “comprehensive”  bill—and then a second when intense pressure gets focused on Speaker Boehner to let such a bill come to a vote on the House floor, Hastert Rule or no Hastert Rule.

Only after the broadcast was over did it occur to me I might be full of it–that maybe amnesty can’t pass this way. Welfare reform benefitted from its moment of cynosure, after all, because ending welfare and requiring work was wildly popular (as it had always been). It’s not something politicians wanted to be seen standing in the way of. Amnesty hardly has the same sort of support–some polls may show voters favor it, just as polls show they favor Obama’s position on the sequester. But do they care that much? The people who care most–outside of the Hispanic caucus and Republican consultant caucus–are mostly agin’ it. A moment of cynosure is more likely to focus antipathy than support.

This seems like a strategic dilemma for amnesty promoters. It means they can never use the most potent weapon our political system has–popular pressure–to get a divided government to finally act. They’re like a football team without a fullback or offensive line to punch it over the goal line.

Sure, an amnesty bill might burble along in the background while Congress tackles various granfalloonish efforts like gun control and climate change. And if amnesty doesn’t do well in the spotlight, maybe these issues aren’t crowding it out after all–my apologies to Sajak–so much as providing convenient temporary cover. But how to punch it over the line? Maybe Obama could schedule a vote during the NBA playoffs, or in the last weeks of August, when relatively few are paying attention. But this is amnesty, not an infrastructure bill. It will be hard to sneak through, and not just because it’s the #1 or #2 legislative issue in Obama’s term, or because its opponents will always pay attention, or because when its proponents mobilize and march (with the inevitable one or two Mexican flags and leftish rhetoric) they typically alienate the general population. The marchers can be kept quiet (as they’ve been).

But the media–that’s harder to control. The media is commmitted to overcovering this issue. Reporters are rooting for it, plus they have pages to fill and Latino audiences to reach, and grants from foundations and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to make them do it. That’s why you’re still reading breathless, glowing accounts of the seating arrangements of the Schumer/Rubio Gang of Eight even when they aren’t making any news. (“They sit in arm chairs arranged in a circle and sip water or soft drinks … The mood in the meetings varies between lighthearted and serious.” … “McCain and Schumer sometimes take the lead …” )

Amnesty will simply not be denied its time on center stage–unless the White House controls the entire MSM the way, say Rupert Murdoch controls Fox News  more crudely and efficiently than even a paranoid like me believes. And that’s a big problem for its supporters, no?

Mickey Kaus