From the Washington Post:
"The most dramatic overhaul of the nation's immigration laws in a generation was trounced this morning by a bipartisan filibuster, with the political right and left overwhelming a coalition of Republicans and Democrats who had been seeking compromise on one of the most difficult social and economic issues facing the country.
The 46-53 tally fell dramatically short of the 60 votes needed to overcome opponents' dilatory tactics and parliamentary maneuvers that have dogged the bill for weeks.
The failure marked the second time in a month the bill was pulled from the Senate floor, and this time, Democratic leaders of the Senate indicated it would not be back.
The vote was a major defeat for President Bush, dealt largely by members of his own party. The president made a last-ditch round of phone calls this morning to senators in an attempt to rescue the bill, but with his poll numbers at record lows, his appeals proved fruitless. Bush has now lost what is likely to be the last, best chance at a major domestic accomplishment for his second term."
I was, as I have said, very ambivalent about this bill, and the more time went on, the less I liked it, since the price of getting the Repblican support it didn't have the first time around seemed to be adding new provisions that made it much worse, like the touchback provision for all illegal immigrants. I really, really want a decent solution to the problem of illegal immigration, as I wrote here, but this was never that solution to start with, and the more time went on, the truer that was.
I do have one thought about all this, though. Ever since the argument that erupted in the comments to publius' post on this subject, I've been mulling over the question: what is it about this issue, exactly, that has made so many conservatives go absolutely ballistic? (A couple of caveats: first, I am asking, here, not why anyone cares about this issue, a question to which I assume the answer is: because it's important; nor am I asking why any conservative cares about it. I am interested in the motivations of that particular branch of the right that favors not just some strict immigration reform package, but provisions like touchback, which seem to have no good rationale other than a desire to make life miserable for illegal immigrants, and which are, when you think them through, likely to be counterproductive in terms of conservatives' stated goals. Others can speak for themselves, but I do not believe that many people here are among the people I'm asking about. I really mean this; I don't want conservatives here to think I'm talking about them when I'm not. The test is: when I hear about the touchback provision, do I think, "Hell yes!"? If so, I am talking about you. If not, not. -- Also, I assume, of course, that all sorts of people have all sorts of motives; I will necessarily be overgeneralizing.)
I think that the answer can't be something like: those conservatives think that the laws should be respected, because a lot of those same people have not been sent round the bend by all sorts of other violations of the law. (The FISA program, torture, Scooter Libby, etc.) I also assume that there are people out there for whom the answer is just something like "racism, duh", but I also think that that's nothing like the whole of it, and that it oversimplifies things to think that it is. There is, I think, something else going on, and I think that it has to do with the implosion of Bush's presidency, and of the Republican party. I think it might help to explain what I think is going on if I told a seemingly unrelated story.
As I have mentioned, I arrived in Israel the day before the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, and spent the first couple of months working on a kibbutz. At that point, Israel had a hugely argumentative political culture in which almost anything could be said, but there were still a few things that were just off the table. It was not OK to criticize the conduct of a war while that war was going on, for instance. Everyone, even the most bitter ideological enemies, rallied to the side of the government and the army when a war broke out. That was an absolutely unquestioned obligation that everyone I ever encountered accepted absolutely.
At the same time, most of the people I encountered, both on and off the kibbutz, had deep misgivings about the invasion. Was it the right thing to do? Was the government going about it in the right way? Almost every previous war had been in response to an invasion or to the imminent threat of one; this war was not, and that threw people into uncharted territory about which they were very, very uneasy. But because absolutely no one thought that it was OK to criticize the government's conduct of a war while that war was going on, they had no way of expressing this unease. It wasn't that they had fully formulated thoughts about what was wrong, thoughts that they suppressed; it was as though they didn't have a way even to think clearly about what it was that disturbed them so much; as though they lacked a language in which to formulate and express their uneasiness.
Then came the massacres at Sabra and Shatila, in which the Israeli Defence Forces seemd to have stood by and allowed the Lebanese Phalangists to slaughter nearly a thousand people. The effect of this was like dropping a paperclip into a jar of saturated sugar-water: the liquid looks clear one moment, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, something that had been there all along crystallizes and becomes visible. Criticizing the government during wartime based solely on one's own sense that something was badly wrong seemed to be literaly unthinkable, but criticizing the government for standing by while civilians were slaughtered -- that was something everyone could understand. In less than a month, a tenth of the Israeli population was in the streets demonstrating.
I think that immigration plays something like the same role for Republicans. Suppose that a lot of them have had a growing sense that there is something badly wrong with President Bush's administration. It might be hard to express this, or even to figure out how to think about it, especially for those who have a lot invested in defending the administration, or who are heavily invested in the thought that liberals are always, by definition, wrong. It would be especially hard to express misgivings about the war, since on that issue battle lines were drawn up, and defensive formations created, long ago. If this is right, then some non-negligible number of people on the right would have had a growing sense that something is badly wrong that they had no way to articulate.
If, into this mix, someone were to drop an issue that was not Iraq, and that did not involve agreeing with liberals, but that did allow these conservatives to express their own serious concerns about this administration, I think it would play the same role that the Sabra and Shatila massacre did when I was in Israel -- giving people a clear, readily understandable, and legitimate way to express serious misgivings that until now had remained largely silent (with, in this case, the exception of the Harriet Miers nomination, which played a similar role in a more limited way.) In that case, one would expect the issue to be driven not only by people's views on immigration itself, but by an anger that had, until now, no other form of expression.
Likewise, consider this quote from the Post article:
"Against that was the rhetoric of opponents, such as Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who declared: "Americans feel they are losing their country.""
Americans are not literally losing their country because of illegal immigration. They may have to deal with more people who speak an unfamiliar language, and some of them might face real and serious economic problems because of competition from people not governed by e.g. minimum wage laws, but we are not "losing our country", any more than we "lost" it to Chinese immigrants at the turn of the last century, or to the Irish in the mid 1800s. I think that if people did not already have the sense that their country was in some sense slipping away from them -- if they felt secure enough about our country and its direction -- then they would be a lot less inclined to think that illegal immigrants were taking it away from them. But the reason they think their country is slipping away from them need have nothing to do with illegal immigration itself, as opposed to a more general sense that the rules are stacked against them, and no one obeys the laws, and decent people who work hard get screwed.
UPDATE: Forgot to include the roll call vote. Mostly Democrats plus 12 Republicans voting for cloture; mostly Republicans plus fifteen Democrats and Bernie Sanders voting against.