The heated exchange between Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, over the issue of in-state college tuition for illegal aliens, illustrates the way different policymakers might approach a problem for which there's no easy answer.
Where someone comes down on this issue shows whether a candidate is able to make tough but right decisions that best serve the citizens of this nation. Perry has been defending Texas's DREAM Act Lite.
To be up front about it, I personally favor Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination. But my analysis would be the same if the candidates' positions were reversed.
At Thursday's Florida debate, Texas Gov. Perry defended his support for a state law sanctioning in-state tuition for illegal aliens. "If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they have been brought there by no fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart," Perry said. "I still support it greatly."
Former Massachusetts Gov. Romney replied, "I think if you're opposed to illegal immigration, it doesn't mean you don't have a heart, it means you have a heart and a brain."
Perry's snarky soundbite reveals a lot about him. Some 32,000 illegal aliens have competed – unfairly – with native-born Texans, who are U.S. citizens, for a finite number of slots at state colleges. Perry gives those illegals a sizeable taxpayer subsidy, in-state tuition rates, equal to nearly $10 million this year.
Perry is willing to advantage one set of Texas residents over another, inherently more deserving set of residents – those whose nativity is not in doubt. He also willingly picks the pockets of Texas taxpayers by devoting their hard-earned dollars to subsidize foreign lawbreakers. Why does he come down on illegals' side and against legitimate, lawful state residents? Emotion.
Perry lets his heartstrings be his guide. He feels sorry for illegal aliens who purportedly came or were brought to this country as minors. Those matters of fact are hardly proven in each illegals' case, but Perry substitutes his sympathetic urges for the sort of toughness of thought and steely reasoning necessary.
That's not good enough. People who can't resist putting their personal feelings ahead of clearer, though tougher reasoning and allegiance to the requirements of justice are unfit to hold office. In-state tuition for illegals encourages more illegal immigration. It rewards illegal immigrants. It misallocates limited public resources, which the public has entrusted to officials. It punishes legal residents.
The American people need leaders who put the law, the rule of law, and constitutional principles ahead of their personal sympathies, if the two are at odds. Most people empathize with illegal-alien youths' predicament, but in-state tuition for them only makes matters worse. It's no solution and only compounds the problem.
There's also Perry's zinger. Perry charges those who oppose in-state tuition for illegal kids as being heartless. Those who oppose capital punishment might regard Perry's faithfulness carrying out that awesome duty as heartless. It surely is not. Execution is a wholly appropriate, justified form of the state bearing the sword of justice.
Such a charge as Perry leveled Thursday, whether against his political opponents or voters, reeks. It is beneath a serious candidate, expected from ethnic or racial identity politicians, but not legitimate contenders.
Voters should note the troubling similarity between Perry's and George W. Bush's views on immigration issues. Both possess moral confidence in carrying out the death penalty, but their moral acuity fails them on less sweeping matters.
Perry's position on what amounts to amnesty and a taxpayer-funded invitation to illegal aliens to stay in Texas is backfiring. He's also finding out that talking tough on "border security" doesn't cut it. Pro-amnesty, open-borders politicians like McCain, Obama, and Bush have poisoned the well for other pro-amnesty, open-borders politicians, as Perry is learning the hard way. Witness Perry's souring of voters due to his illegals-over-Americans positions:
Vero Beach activist Dorothy Frances, one of the more than 3,000 diehard Republicans who attended the convention, came into the weekend supporting Perry.
That changed when Perry answered a question about the roughly 16,000 young illegal immigrants who took advantage of the Texas tuition law last year.
"He was my man until then," Frances told CNN. "He defended it so strongly, about giving illegals breaks and things like that. He defended it so vehemently, so strongly. It disturbs me."
Naples resident Randy Freeman said Perry "stumbled greatly" on the immigration issue and may have seriously damaged his reputation with the Republican base.
It sowed doubts with voters like Jo-Ann Walker, a homemaker from Leesburg, Fla., who attended the conference. She said she's perplexed that Perry would defend the policy he signed into law in 2001, given that it means Texas universities charge less for an illegal immigrant who live in Texas than she would pay to enroll her American-born ninth-grader, who lives in Florida.
"Because I'm a Christian, I kind of see where he's coming from" trying to help young people in circumstances they didn't create, Walker said. But "that takes money away from my daughter when she goes to college in four years."
Something notable is that opposition to DREAM Act-type grasping at straws isn't a conservative position, really. It's more a matter of having higher regard for America and national sovereignty and citizenship than for internationalism and globalist allegiance. A candidate who can apply right reason, arrive at the right conclusion, and have the backbone to follow through to tell foreigners where the boundaries are has both a brain and a heart.