Back in the midst of the healthcare debate, I had posted a couple of items about what bipartisan means in this age of the Permanent Campaign. Given that every elected leader we have is now bound to the political/media machine that forces them to campaign first, support their party second, and govern third if at all, how can bipartisanship even exist anymore?

It no longer is possible to be bipartisan, in the sense of negotiating compromise legislation on important topics that is supported by significant portions of both parties. Other than acts of war, we really haven’t seen any of that in a long time. The agonizing healthcare debate was a gut-wrenching demonstration of this new reality. Initially, Obama naively defined bipartisan to mean Republican votes. When he gave up on that notion and instead pushed liberal Democrats, for whom the bill was too moderate, on board, he got the deal done.

But there was another way that could have been pursued, and I think it is illustrative of what the Democratic leadership should do on the illegal immigration issue. In healthcare, the Democrats should have incorporated much more of the Republicans’ best ideas into the final bill. Not worry about whether the Republicans were going to vote for it, just include those provisions anyway — stronger tort reform, multi-state insurance competition, more means-testing in the Medicaid program, etc. Man, they really could campaign on that sort of legislation come November, and Republicans would have a harder time campaigning against it.

When it comes to immigration, we have similar politically irreconcileable positions. Republicans are all about border security and deportation; Democrats are all about a reasonable path to legal status for the illegals. So do both. If China could build a Great Wall 2000+ years ago, if the Soviets could really isolate the eastern half of Europe in the mid-20th century, I think we could physically secure our border if we really wanted to. Do it. And simultaneously create a fair path to legal status for the 12 million or so currently illegal aliens living here. It is a ridiculous fantasy to think they could be deported anyway, or that doing so wouldn’t severely disrupt important sectors of our economy. Do it.

Don’t ask the Republicans for support or votes. Just do it. It is better policy, and better politics. A new style of bipartisan compromise.

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The NY Times reported today that not a single Democrat in the Arizona legislature voted for the illegal immigration bill that was signed into law this past week. I am curious what people think of that, relative to the Congressional voting for (and against) the healthcare bill.

About Arizona’s shiny new illegal immigration law, The New York Times offers that “opponents and critics alike said was the broadest and strictest immigration measure in the country in generations.” Okay, that’s one thing most of us can agree on. Another thing most of us can agree on is that rampant, unchecked illegal immigration is simply an unacceptable state of affairs. No one wants to live with the feeling that our borders and laws are that permeable. So far, so good.

Where the debate lies, where it always has lain, is in what to do about illegal immigration. It’s not that complicated. In the end, the only two solutions for any given immigrant are to become legal, or to get deported.

I understand the benefits when the end result is legal immigrant status. Our economy gains the benefit of inexpensive labor, holding down consumer product prices on a vast array of goods and services. Immigrants are brought inside the system, to pay a full share of taxes and participate fully in the country’s economic and political life. They buy stuff, creating jobs. Studies show that over an extended period of time, illegal immigrants pay more in taxes than they consume in government resources. These are all good things.

I also understand some of the concerns when a legal immigrant started off with an illegal immigration. That these people move unfairly past those who waited patiently and legally for legal immigrant status. That during their illegal status phase, they consume public resources in schools and hospitals without paying their fair share. So the idea of immigrating illegally, and then gaining legal status with impunity also is a non-starter for me.

But when a law specifies deportation as the sole solution, we lose the benefits cited above and get practically nothing in return. We lose this source of labor. Our prices go up. Other than righting the wrong of the act of illegal immigration, what is the benefit? Why do we want an army of millions of embittered deported Mexicans on the other side of the border, people with no prospects or economic options, and with a huge anti-American chip on their shoulder?

How is any of that good for America? Why not instead extract a proper price, a penalty, for the act of illegal immigration, and then extract the benefits of these people remaining here?