A venture capitalist at Union Square Ventures, Fred Wilson, discloses that he and his partners hosted a fundraiser for Senator Schumer: "I was thrilled to hear Senator Schumer's optimism last night that we will get 'comprehensive immigration reform' in 2011, after the midterm elections." If this is as important to economic growth as Mr. Wilson apparently thinks it is, why wait? And if it is as big a political winner as its proponents apparently think it is (get that Hispanic vote!), why wait until after the election?
As the grandson of an immigrant, and as someone whose family might well have been killed by either the Nazis or the Communists in Europe had we not made it here to America, I'm a big proponent of immigration. Beyond my personal interest, I think it's good for economic growth. See, for example, the review on this site of the book Immigrant, Inc.
But even for someone like me, it's hard to escape the feeling that immigration is one of those issues where elite opinion and popular opinion are diverging sharply. When an issue is politically popular, like welfare reform, the politicians rush to get it done before the election, as they did with welfare reform in 1996. When the politicians start telling campaign contributors in July that they'll get to an issue after the November elections, it's a signal that they are running into some "consent of the governed" issues. What, Mr. Schumer thinks an immigration overhaul will have a better chance of passing in 2011 once, as widely expected, there are fewer Democrats in Congress and more Republicans? If that's the truth of the matter, Mr. Wilson should stop holding fund-raisers for Mr. Schumer and start holding them for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
I've read Profiles in Courage and I understand we have a representative democracy and not a plebiscitary one. Just because something is unpopular in a poll doesn't mean lawmakers shouldn't do it. The same right-wingers who were defending Bush's Iraq War when polls said it was unpopular and who are now assailing ObamaCare and comprehensive immigration reform because polls show that they are unpopular aren't exactly paragons of consistency. Still, there's a certain disregard for electoral accountability in Mr. Schumer's promise. I don't hear him saying, "We're going to go out and make the 2010 midterm elections a referendum on comprehensive immigration reform, and win ourselves a bigger Democratic majority that gives us a mandate to get this passed." I hear him saying, instead, in essence, "This is too heavy a political lift to get done between now and the election. Let's wait until the Republicans win some more seats, that way we can spread the blame around, and by the time the 2012 election rolls around, voters will have forgotten about it, anyway."