David Brooks has a fine column today on why immigration reform (including, if there is a political "truth-in-advertising" law, "amnesty") is such an easy case. I'm particularly interested in his concluding sentence: "The second big conclusion is that if we can’t pass a law this year, given the overwhelming strength of the evidence, then we really are a pathetic basket case of a nation."
Jack has revealed himself to be the cock-eyed optimist that I have long suspected he is (and that makes him such a wonderful person and friend.) . Though I don't know if he loves the Constitution quite so much as his Yale colleague (and our mutual friend and casebook co-editor Akhil Reed Amar), both are basically without genuine anxiety when they ask if the Constitution itself, and not, as Akhil (or Paul Krugman) might put it, simply the fact that one of our two major political parties has been taken over by right-wing crazies, might help to explain why we might in fact be "a pathetic basket case of a nation." For Jack, this is the time that darkest before the dawn of "transition" and, in the word found in the title of one of his two books published last year, "redemption." For obvious reasons, I hope he's right, but I'm more pessimistic. Redemption will not be found before the Messiah comes, and I see no signs of that occurring.
But immigration reform (far more than "gun reform") offers a wonderful test case. Most "leaders" of the Republican Party (I put the term in scare quotes because we have no real idea who the present "leaders" are, as between, say, Rush Limbaugh, Ted Cruz, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Chris Cristie, and anyone else one might want to list)--or at least those recognized by Brooks, who in his previous column called for "Coastal Republicans" to enter into a fight to the finish with Southern and Midwest provincials (my terms, not his)--seem to agree that the GOP might be finished as a "grand" party if it doesn't come to terms with the fact that the Simpson-Mazzoli bill of 1986 (passed, of course, while the sainted Ronald Reagan could have vetoed it) fundamentally changed the country forever with regard to its political demography. But, of course, it is totally unclear whether the message has gotten to House Republicans. No doubt, the House can pass any law actually passed by the Senate if Boehner behaves as a true Speaker of the House instead of the leader of the Republican caucus and therefore schedules a vote on a bill that might pass with the support of say, 100% of the Democrats and 20% of the Republicans. The "Hastert Rule" is not, obviously, part of the Constitution. But the ability of one of the two Houses of Congress to inflict a death-ray veto on any law passed by the other house, even if it enjoys the support of the President and most of the public, most certain is part of the Constitution.
Moreover, even after (or during) the immigration imbroglio, there is the question of the Debt Ceiling charade, scheduled for May, and, of course, the fabled sequester, designed basically to crippe the national government and inflict great (and altogether needless) suffering on the most vulnerable among us (as well, of course, as reduce a bloated military budget, as Barney Frank, who ought to be representing Massachusetts in the Senate, would point out).
So it remains unclear how quickly Jack's "transition" will take place and what costs will be inflicted on the country at large, particularly the most vulnerable among us, as the result of our defective Constitution. Perhaps we'll look back, in 2020, when Julian Castro, now the mayor of San Antonio, becomes our first Hispanic President, on the present as the run-up to our new and happy future. May it be Thy ill, O Lord....
Before commenting, you might want to take a look at least at the first panel in last week's gathering, "The State of the Union," with comments by myself, Mickey Edwards, Bill Galston, Thomas Mann, Norman Ornstein, and Alan Wolfe. My own description of our present state is somewhere between "bleak" and "dire," in part because of our Constitution. For better or worse, I'm the distinct outlier n the panel (and in the conference) in focusing on the Constitution as part of the cause of what ails us. Jack, I am sure, is far more representative.