The recent debate over immigration into America (both legal and illegal) has thrown the entire political status quo into disorder. The American political map has been shown to be not just a horizontal axis of Left and Right, but also a vertical axis of globalizaton or isolation. Allow me to explain.
Before, the most heavily debated issue was Iraq. The Democrats, despite many of them voting for the Iraq War in 2002, managed to collaborate with the anti-Bush media and persuade single-sentence-depth fashion sheep that either 'Bush lied about WMDs', or 'Saddam had nothing to do with Al-Qaeda', or 'The war is for oil'. Logic and facts could be ignored, as the 'Right' was the clearly defined enemy, and the end of opposing them justified the means.
Most Americans neatly found homes on one of two sides of this issue, and the prominent generals of both armies were clearly defined and recognized. One could predict what a particular person's position on the Iraq War was merely by hearing their opinion on tax cuts or Supreme Court Justices.
Then, along came an issue that entirely scattered the ideological bastions of both hordes - the issue of how America should deal with and categorize those who would seek to come immigrate here. On the venerable conservative magazine National Review, Larry Kudlow and Rich Lowry, joined like Siamese twins on every other pillar of conservative thought, had entirely opposing articles on immigration, on the same day. Lou Dobbs, previously disdained by conservatives as an isolationist, is now praised by some conservatives and smeared by leftists as a racist. Pat Buchanan and Tom Daschle, thought to be opposite extremes, agree with each other wholeheartedly at panel symposiums on C-SPAN.
Why have the battle lines been blurred? Because the vertical axis of globalization and isolationism splits political ideologies into 4 quadrants, effectively four rather than two columns of fighters.
The only predictable column is the fifth one. Anti-American fifth columnists (8-10% of the US population) invariably support the position that hurts America, but they are not sure how to use this particular issue to do that. Other than demand bilingual public schools, in-state college tuition for illegals, and support fringe separatist groups, they are unable to figure out what other indisputably harmful schemes they can inflict upon America within this issue.
The fifth column only has power when the media, and hence the 35-40% of the US population that are fashion sheep, side with them (as in the case of the Iraq War). But in the same way, it is difficult for the fashion sheep to determine what view, in fact, is fashionable.
Is it fashionable to say that businesses need cheap Mexican labor for jobs that Americans won't do? Is it fashionable to declare that India and China are producing more engineers than the US, and so the US needs to import as many engineers as possible? Is it fashionable to say this is eroding the wages of the American middle class? Is it fashionable to say that politicians are pandering to the 'Hispanic' vote? If so, which party is it fashionable to criticize? Is it fashionable to accuse people of racism, even if the celebrity in question opposes the Iraq War? Fashion sheep are bewildered by the complexity of this issue, and will not come to agreement on what fashionable statements they can collectively unite behind to memorize. Thus, they will not unify behind one position solidly enough to be a factor in this debate.
The only fashionable nuance that has permeated this debate is the deliberate refusal of the American public to distinguish between :
Legal immigration, and
This cognitive dissonance is astonishing, and is at the source of the massive galaxy of contradictory one-liners flying around the stadium of political discourse. Herein lies the soft underbelly of America's future as we head to the crossroads of our civilization, the 2008 election.
When the public demands something they don't fully understand, that neither party can address without offending large groups, while there is so much confusion about what benefits America and what hurts it, the climate is ripe for a third-party candidate to emerge and cannibalize voters from the other two parties. The passions are running high enough that a candidate running solely on the issue of sealing the southern border could easily siphon 6% or more of the popular vote, leaving a major-party candidate with 47% to garner more electoral votes, and defeat an opponent with 46%.
This has already happened in the 1992, 1996, and 2000 elections, where a third party ensured that the winning candidate had less than 50% of the popular vote. The question is, would such a candidate in 2008 siphon away more voters from Democrats or Republicans?
Therein lies the true unpredictability that the vertical axis introduces. Unions oppose immigration but classical liberals and university intellectuals support it. Evangelicals may see Catholic Mexicans as undesirable non-adherents, or as prospective converts. Uneducated illegals consume taxpayer resources, but white-collar immigrants effectively subsidize the US economy to the extent of $200 billion a year by being educated at the expense of another country. Legislation that Mexicans in California welcome, Cubans in Florida might vehemently oppose, particularly as stereotypes of Mexicans also engulf them. Agribusinesses benefiting from inexpensive illegal labor will be in opposition to Silicon Valley knowledge businesses seeing their California taxes rise. Which party comes out ahead in forming a conglomeration to appease more of the above lobbies than their opponent?
Throw the large and powerful 2008 blogosphere into the mix, and we can expect a maddening political pandemonium ahead of us.