FOR A pretty decent, mild-mannered guy, George W. Bush sure has a knack for engendering rage.
Liberals tend not to like the President because of what he's trying to do. Conservatives are upset with him chiefly because of how frequently he botches what he tries to do.
President Bush is a stubborn man. This is both a strength and a weakness. When he thinks he's right, he sticks to his guns, come hell or high water. That's basically how he faced down congressional Democrats (whose positions on issues are driven more by polls than by a sense of right and wrong) about funding for the war in Iraq.
But he is often wrong when he thinks he's right. At a press conference in Slovenia in June, 2001, he famously said of Russian President Vladimir Putin: "I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. I was able to get a sense of his soul."
Since then, the former KGB officer has been dismantling democracy in Russia and working night and day to frustrate U.S. foreign policy.
Many conservatives could have told Mr. Bush that if you look into Ted Kennedy's eyes, you won't see a soul much more trustworthy than Vladimir Putin's.
Yet, Mr. Bush said on Tuesday in Brunswick, Ga., that opponents of the immigration bill he cooked up with Senator Kennedy "don't want to do what's right for America," thereby insulting the many people who fear he is about to do the republic grievous injury. Among those the President implicitly criticized were all but one of the candidates vying to succeed him as the Republican nominee for president.
The President's criticisms are all the more remarkable because he rarely has had unkind things to say about those who call him a Nazi (and worse) for having overthrown Saddam Hussein in Iraq. He's accused them of mistaken judgment, but never of not wanting "to do what's right for America." But he slams the motivation of those who have loyally supported him over the years.
Of critics of his plan, Mr. Bush said: "It's clear they hadn't read the bill."
I beg to differ, Mr. President. I support the advertised elements of your plan, including a path to legalization for illegal immigrants already here and a guest-worker program. But I virulently oppose the bill itself because I've read enough of it to see it is a fraud. Amnesty is immediate, which is madness even to many of us who support amnesty, and the enforcement provisions are weak and conditional.
"We've tried to address immigration reform in the past by talking about only one aspect of immigration reform," the President said in Georgia at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. "To make it work, to address the concerns of the American people, there must be a comprehensive approach."
In 1986, Congress passed a "comprehensive" immigration reform bill (also authored principally by Senator Kennedy) that was to combine stricter border enforcement with amnesty for illegals already here. The amnesty provision was implemented immediately; the enforcement provisions never were. There were then about 3 million illegal immigrants in the United States. There are at least 12 million now.
I suspect the memory of the broken promises of 1986 is why so few Americans support this bill, though polls indicate two thirds or more would approve a path to legalization for illegals if the border were secure.
A Rasmussen Poll taken May 29 indicated only 16 percent of respondents think illegal immigration will decline if the Senate bill is passed. More than twice as many (41 per cent) think illegal immigration will increase if the bill becomes law.
President Bush chose the law enforcement center as the site for his speech to give the appearance that those who guard our borders support what he is trying to do. But the National Border Patrol Council, the union of border patrol agents, said the legislation he backs "needlessly jeopardizes the security of this nation."
"Every person who has ever risked their life securing our borders is extremely disheartened to see some of our elected representatives once again waving the white flag," said T.J. Bonner, the union's president.
The immigration controversy has driven President Bush's job approval numbers down to Nixon-after-Watergate levels. I suspect they'll stay there.
"I have over a hundred relatives in California," said an e-mailer to David Frum of the National Review. "Some of the women have married into Mexican-American families. I talked to many over the weekend. They are more than disappointed with Bush. They feel angry and betrayed."