Stephen Colbert, the true-blue Democrat who plays a truly wacky Republican on his Comedy Central faux news show, provided a revealing insight into the political divide Tuesday. It came during his "Better Know a District" interview with U.S. Rep Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.).
Colbert asked for Duckworth's position on border security before providing his own border demands: "Wall, moat filled with flames, fire-proof alligators."
Duckworth stuck to the standard Democratic line: "I think we're doing a pretty good job of securing the borders now." When Colbert asked if she favored a wall she responded with a verbal shrug and her bottom line. "You know, if a wall makes somebody happy ... then fine, but as long as we have comprehensive immigration reform."
That was an honest statement of the prevailing Democratic sensibility on immigration reform. It was also an interesting contrast with the prevailing Republican sensibility.
For Democrats, the essence of "comprehensive reform" is the maximization of green cards for vulnerable people, especially those who have already come to the United States illegally. Many Democrats would rather not enforce laws that regulate the right to come here. They are willing to go along, reluctantly, with enforcement — or at least appear to go along — as long as they get what they most want.
That combination of "all-in" for amnesty and "well, if I have to" enforcement was the poison that killed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. That notoriously mis-named legislation's promise of amnesty was amply fulfilled, while its promise of enforcement died of neglect or deliberate subversion by those who equated enforcement with discrimination, or thought immigration is a human right, or cheap labor was a natural right for the business class.
Rep. Duckworth was candid with Colbert. The sensibility she represents runs deep in her party. Meanwhile, socially conservative Republicans — at least those not committed to the Chamber of Commerce — believe that unless immigration is regulated it can be disruptive and overwhelm the nation's capacity to integrate newcomers, especially those who are poor and poorly educated. (Some contrarian liberals of moderate sensibility, me included, side with the social conservatives on this one.)
Colbert, of course, thinks Republican concerns are absurd. That's why he talks about fire-proof alligators. That's why I'd like to see a true-blue conservative or liberal contrarian step up with a mirror-image of "The Colbert Report". They could have fun by offering this recipe for border security: pedicures for those who cross illegally, Border Patrol escorts to the U.S. destination of their choice, and interviews with employers who can't get enough of workers who will take $7.25 an hour.