Last night’s presidential debate illustrated once again the vast differences between Donald Trump’s immigrant-bashing Republican Party and the kinder, gentler Democrats. Instead of fighting over who would deport more people—or speak less Spanish—Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders vowed to intervene (even personally!) to help poor, undocumented immigrants.
But are immigration politics really as simple as good guys vs. bad guys? Evil Donald Trump wants to build a wall. Benevolent Hillary Clinton voted for building a wall.
Nasty Ted Cruz thinks immigrants compete unfairly against low-income Americans, driving down wages. Sweet Bernie Sanders, at least until very recently, thinks the same damn thing.
It’s an unpleasant but perennial truth: Politicians politicize things! They play on people’s fears! And they reverse themselves, usually without shame. Ten years ago, Hillary Clinton said “I am, you know, adamantly against illegal immigration.” Last night she pledged never to deport children living in the U.S. illegally.
People love their political narratives so much that they’d rather not grapple with the fact that Barack Obama set new records for deportations, that George W. Bush tried to be the immigration president, and that 20 years ago one of our major parties paved the way for Donald Trump by saying in its platform: “[W]e must remain a nation of laws. We cannot tolerate illegal immigration and we must stop it.” Yes, that was Democratic Party of Bill Clinton.
The truth is that politicians will disappoint you. They’ll rarely say two sane things in a row. For instance, Bernie Sanders is great on the follies of Iraq and Libya. But Hillary Clinton was right to smack the democratic socialist around the face and neck for saying nauseatingly kind things about Fidel Castro.
Foreign policy and immigration are hard problems. You should beware any politician who pretends they’re easy. Or even that they’ve held the same position all along.
Go to http://reason.com/reasontv for downloadable versions and subscribe to Reason TV’s YouTube Channel to get automatic updates when new stories go live.