Section of the Mexican Border Fence (Photo: Edmond Meinfelder, flickr)

Section of the Mexican Border Fence (Photo: Edmond Meinfelder, flickr)

The Western Republican Leadership Conference debate Tuesday evening
at the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino in Las Vegas was characterized by a depth and variability in moods.  The discussion portrayed unusual levels of instability in those moods, black and white thinking, idealization and devaluation episodes.

The discussion about immigration (THE BORDER) was particularly detached from reality, displaying true borderline characterizations.  To the candidates, the entire emphasis of immigration policy should be on the border. More specifically, we’re talking about THE FENCE.   Comprehensive reform was simply AWOL.

There was absolutely no discussion of a comprehensive approach that involves reopening a dialogue with other nations in a meaningful and progressive way.  There was absolutely no mention of the fact that the number of Border Patrol apprehensions declined 61 percent from 1,189,000 in 2005 to 463,000 in 2010 and from an all time high in 1986 of
1,693,000 in 1986 immediately preceding passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA).  Ridiculously simplistic sound bytes, a disconnect from reality and hostile language continues to dominate
the discussion.

When asked whether he would stand by his comments about immigration policy, Herman Cain proposed “ a combination of a fence, technology, as well as possibly boots on the ground for some of the more dangerous areas….  I don’t apologize at all for wanting to protect the American citizens and to protect our agents on the border.”

Herman Cain further proposes to build an electrified border fence that could kill Mexicans who try to illegally cross into the U.S., as he said Saturday.  He also added, “It’s going to be 20 feet high. It’s going to have barbed wire on the top. It’s going to be electrified. And there’s going to be a sign on the other side saying, ‘It will kill you — Warning,’” As a special accommodating gesture, he specified that the sign would be in English as well as Spanish. He later said he was joking.

Congresswoman Bachmann’s immigration “policy” places more emphasis on “prevention”.   She claims that, “Job number one, I will build a double fence”. Bachmann has signed onto the Americans for Securing the Border pledge and lent her support to construction of a “double fence” along the entire southern border of the United States.

Estimates currently place the cost of building of a fence along the entire border at $30 billion and give it a timeline for completion of 1o to 15 years.  Mr. Perry pointed it out on Tuesday night and The Department of Homeland Security agrees.

So let’s get this straight: Michele “cut-all-government-spending” Bachmann proposes a $30 billion dollar government spending increase.   This is a border discussion best characterized as “borderline”.

Two decades of “enforcement-only” policy has not worked.  Yet the Republican candidates propose to make immigration policy even more punitive, focusing only on the U.S.-Mexican border, ignoring the potential benefits of working with Mexico, and all otherimmigration originating countries.

Not one candidate acknowledged that legalizing the nation’s unauthorized workers and putting new legal limits on immigration that rise and fall with U.S. labor demand could help lay the foundation for strong economic growth. There was no mention that $4.5 billion to $5.4 billion in additional net tax revenue that could accrue to the federal government over three years if all undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States were legalized.  There was no mention of the disruptive effects that deportation has economically and socially.

There was no mention of the kind of nation that would erect a 2000 mile barrier between itself and one of only two contiguous neighbors.  What kind of long term prospects would that encourage for diplomatic, social and economic relations with Mexico?

This is not immigration reform.  It’s a reversion back to the Cold War,  21st Century style.

Other topics were equally myopic in framing the issue as well as the solution.  Much of the health care discussion focused on whether RomneyCare spawned that even worse evil, ObamaCare and how we could best eliminate that national plan that proposes to bring health care to millions of uninsured Americans.

My personal favorite on the topic was this gem from Rick Santorum to Romney:  “What you did is exactly what Barack Obama did: focused on the wrong problem. Herman always says you’ve got to find the right problem. Well, the right problem is health care costs. What you did with a top-down government-run program was focus on the problem of health care access.” More than 50 million Americans are now without health insurance. If you are currently one of 50 million Americans without health care insurance, I’m guessing that “access” might be an issue worth looking at . Sure, cost drives access but let’s not say that it’s the wrong problem.

Other highlights were a proposal to repeal The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.  Credited for restoring and maintaining financial stability through accountability and transparency in the financial system, to end “too big to fail”, ending bailouts, to protect consumers from abusive financial services practices, and for other purposes.  In short, it’s a safeguard to keep us from landing in our current economic situation again.  These candidates think it’s unnecessary.   They apparently prefer tape of the ticker rather than red type even if that means an even worse recession.

Finally, among the other issues discussed was Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 tax proposal which he insists “….does not raise taxes on those that are making the least…..”  According to the Tax Policy Center, Cain is flat out wrong on this.  A recent study issued by the Center shows that the average annual tax rate after phasing in Cain’s plan would result in a net increase for everyone earning $100,000 per year and less.

The proposed 9 percent federal sales tax alone would constitute an increase over and above what everyone now pays. This would hit lower income folks the hardest, representing a disproportionately higher amount for those consumers.

We continue get borderline solutions to comprehensive issues. Unfortunately, the candidates have again demonstrated that realistic policy solutions for a sustainable United States will apparently have to wait.

Thomas P. Davis

Thomas P. Davis

I'm a freelance writer based in New Jersey. I've been writing about public issues for 10 years.