The Basic Fault: Why the Senate Bill Can’t Be Redeemed, Part 1

By Stanley Renshon on October 22, 2013

In 1968, the Hungarian psychoanalyst Michael Balint published his seminal book, The Basic Fault: Therapeutic Aspects of Regression. His insight was that for all structural and dynamic psychological complexities that characterized most adult functioning, the real roots of peoples' troubles lay in an early mismatch between their needs and their experiences. In Balint's view this "basic fault" represented the starting point of an emotional fault line that often carried over into later life. Even among successful people, the right circumstances could trigger this "basic fault" and undermine them.

Balint's concept of the basic fault was developed of course to help guide psychoanalytic work, but it has some usefulness in thinking about the basic faults that lie at the core of the Senate's immigration bill.

This becomes clearer in thinking a bit more about Daniel Moynihan's seminal article on the ways in which what was once considered deviant behavior can, over time, become acceptable.

In his article, as an example of what he had in mind, Moynihan called attention to the difference between the number of deaths from automobile accidents and the number from homicides. As to the first he wrote, "And yet keep in mind that the number of motor vehicle deaths, having leveled off since the 1960s is now pretty well accepted as normal at somewhat less than 50,000 a year, which is somewhat less than the level of the 1960's - the 'carnage,' as it once was thought to be, is now accepted as normal."

To that he adds, "This is the price we pay for high-speed transportation: there is a benefit associated with it. But there is no benefit associated with homicide, and no good in getting used to it."

The problem with applying this insight to illegal migration is that there are benefits associated it with, and they accrue to the groups that were at the forefront of efforts to pass the Senate's massive immigration legislation.

One of the two "basic faults" of that legislation was that it was conducted behind closed doors by a tightly selected group of like-minded stakeholders, all of whom started out with the assumption that legal immigration should be substantially increased and 11-12 million illegal aliens offered amnestied legalization.

Ryan Lizza in his useful background story on how the Senate immigration group was assembled wrote:

The Republican group was trickier to assemble. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, instructed McCain to include John Cornyn, of Texas, and Chuck Grassley, of Iowa, two conservatives who are skeptical of comprehensive reform. McCain thought the directive suggested that McConnell was trying to stifle the initiative. McCain ignored him and excluded Grassley and Cornyn from the group.

McCain, Graham, Schumer, and the other Democrats had a simple rule for admission to the Gang. Everyone had to agree that the members favored a comprehensive approach to immigration—all the major issues had to be settled in one bill—and they had to support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. (emphasis mine)

In other words, the group may have been bipartisan, but its policy premises were narrow; all its members had to subscribe to the same views.

This was not a recipe for debate and compromise, but a strategic effort to ensure groupthink.

Next: The Basic Fault: Why the Senate Bill Can't Be Redeemed, Part 2