Long ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, with Adam and Eve, and Jesus too – no, not that long, just the late fifties – there was a time when the news was just the news, hourly on the radio, for five minutes, and then fifteen minutes on network television each evening, back when there were only three networks and a scattering of odd fuzzy UHF channels and no cable at all. No one made money at this – broadcast news, even when expanded to a half-hour and America finally settled on Walter Cronkite as the man who got things right. It was always a public service thing, a loss-leader. The money was in Ozzie and Harriet and Leave It to Beaver and Ed Sullivan. The prestige was in having the best news show – accurate and concise and comprehensive. It didn’t have to be flashy, just trustworthy – cover the stories of the day, in sequence – most important to least – and sign off. Cronkite signed off telling us that’s the way it was on that particular day, and we believed him. He had no agenda, nothing to prove, and if there was a theme that ran through all the new stories he covered, saying something about America, it was the viewers’ job to find that theme, not his job. The news was just the news.
That’s not true now. Those nightly news shows spun off news magazines and specials – from Edward R. Murrow to Sixty Minutes – and over time network news operations became profit centers for the networks, and then for cable. Profit became just as important as prestige, and profits come from showing advertisers that you have lots of viewers who don’t switch channels, and that your mix of viewers contains just the right demographic – moderately insecure folks with plenty of disposable income. Then those advertisers will buy lots of thirty-second spots at a premium – but then the task became how to hook those valuable viewers and keep them, which had little to do with news but had to be done under the rubric of news, which is difficult. There’s no way to depend on natural disasters or juicy scandals, or on someone famous dying or this international crisis or that – news of that sort happens when it will, all on its own, not when you need to sell the available thirty-second open slots.
Everyone knows how Fox News solved this problem – develop an ongoing narrative that underpins each and every story, a narrative about the bad guys out to destroy America and take all your stuff, aided by a liberal media in on the crime, which you will fight by being fair and balanced. This is news and not news, but it hooks their viewers. MSNBC just recently figured this out and is now thriving, having reversed the narrative. CNN hasn’t yet chosen a compelling narrative. They’re still suggesting that they’re the most trusted name in news, simply because laying a this-explains-everything narrative over the news is cheating – that’s not offering the news at all. CNN is, in fact, the most trusted name in news, when there’s a national disaster or any kind of crises, for just that reason, but of course at random. This is most unsatisfactory.
CNN is not alone. Most news organizations try to deal honestly with news as news, not epic drama, and suffer the consequences. Keeping their readership and their viewers is a crap-shoot. Each day will bring what it will bring, but if they’re lucky, something else will happen. A day will come along with only one major story that consumes everyone, a story that everyone is talking about. If you cannot have an overarching master narrative, or refuse to play that cynical game, at least there are days when there’s an overarching theme, a day when then nation itself seems to focus on one thing. That makes things easier, and that happened on Monday, January 28, 2013, which suddenly became Immigration Reform Day. Out of the blue, eight senators – four Republicans and four Democrats – announced that they had solved everything:
Reflecting the growing influence of Hispanics in American politics, a group of Republican and Democratic U.S. senators on Monday said they will move quickly with legislation giving 11 million illegal immigrants a chance to become citizens.
That new political reality, and a change in public opinion on immigration, makes this effort at comprehensive reform more likely to succeed than those of the past, they said, acknowledging that it still won’t be easy.
Yeah, it won’t be easy, but it had to be done:
“The Republican Party is losing support of our Hispanic citizens,” said John McCain, a Republican from the border state of Arizona and one of the eight senators working on the initiative.
Another member of the bipartisan group, Democrat Charles Schumer, said the public’s attitude has changed. “Four years ago they said ‘fix the border.’ Now they say they much prefer a comprehensive solution including a path to citizenship as well as fixing the border,” the New York senator said.
Okay, Congress is dysfunctional – it has been since Obama took office and the Republicans vowed to vote against anything Obama or the Democrats suggested, even stuff they long supported themselves, or proposed themselves. The government barely functions. Republicans and Democrats working together on anything is something that doesn’t happen anymore, and cannot happen anymore. And now there’s this. The world had truly changed, completely. Only a few months ago Mitt Romney had been speaking of the wonders of self-deportation, the idea we should make it so excruciatingly uncomfortable for Hispanics in America that any of them who were here illegally would howl in despair and scurry home to wherever. There was talk of sealing the border with something like the Berlin Wall, but more high-tech and far more lethal. And now this gang of eight is suggesting almost exactly what Obama suggested more than a year ago:
In an attempt to build support among lawmakers, the Senate proposal would couple immigration reform with enhanced security efforts aimed at preventing illegal immigration and ensuring that those foreigners here temporarily return home when their visas expire.
Under the proposal, undocumented immigrants would be allowed to register with the government, pay a fine, and then be given probationary legal status allowing them to work.
Ultimately, these immigrants would have to “go to the end of the line” and apply for permanent status. But while waiting to qualify for citizenship, they would no longer face the fear of deportation or harassment from law enforcers if they have steered clear of illegal activity after arriving in the United States.
This offers a path to citizenship, which the Republicans have always opposed – these folks broke the law so kick them out. Not now, and needless to say, this screws up one existing narrative:
Conservative talk radio personality Rush Limbaugh said on his show Monday that it was up to himself and the Fox News network to stop a bipartisan effort to pass immigration reform which would create a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
“It’s up to me and Fox News,” Limbaugh said, “and I don’t think Fox News is that invested in this.”
He continued: “I don’t think there’s any Republican opposition to this of any majority consequence or size. We’ll have to wait and see and find out. But this is one of those, just keep plugging away, plugging away, plugging away until you finally beat down the opposition.”
Yep, he said that – and Fox News in now in a bind. Michelle Malkin has also offered Suicidal GOP senators join open-borders Dems for Shamnesty Redux and so on, but Fox News supports its Republicans and those Republicans are for this, reluctantly. Sean Hannity, for instance, now says this:
We’ve got to get rid of the immigration issue altogether. It’s simple, to me, to fix it. I think you control the border first. You create a pathway for those people that are here. You don’t say, “You’ve got to go home.” And that is a position that I’ve evolved on. Because, you know what, it’s got to be resolved. The majority of people here, if some people have criminal records you can send them home, but if people are here, law-abiding, participating for years, their kids are born here, you know, it’s first secure the border, pathway to citizenship, done, whatever little penalties you want to put in there, if you want, but then it’s done.
The best he can do is to say this is an Obama plot to divide Republicans and annihilate them, but Obama didn’t do this, and actually they’d better watch out for Obama:
The Obama administration has developed its own proposals for immigration reform that are more liberal than a separate bipartisan effort in the Senate, including a quicker path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, people with knowledge of the proposals said.
President Obama is expected to provide some details of the White House plans during a Tuesday appearance in Las Vegas, where he will call for sweeping changes to the nation’s immigration laws.
That goes like this:
For example, the Senate proposal would let illegal immigrants obtain legal residency quickly. But it would not allow them to seek full citizenship until border security had been improved and a new system was in place for employers to verify the employment status of workers.
Obama will not endorse such a proposal, the administration official said. The president intends to make clear the need for a more straightforward route for undocumented workers and students to obtain citizenship, reflecting fears among advocates that a cumbersome process would create a decades-long wait for some migrants.
Those eight senators did fine work, but not fine enough, and this will drive the Republicans crazy:
The president also is likely to support treating same-sex couples in which one partner is an immigrant the same as married heterosexual couples – meaning gay and lesbian immigrants in relationships with U.S. citizens could apply for citizenship. Such a provision is almost certain to draw opposition from Catholic and Baptist groups that have been supportive of comprehensive reform.
A majority of Americans support a path to citizenship for illegal but harmless immigrants, and a majority of Americans now also support gay marriage. Maybe Obama is out to annihilate the Republican Party, by opening up on them with both barrels.
Alex Pareene also offers this context:
The problem comprehensive immigration reform ran into last time is that Republicans don’t want it. The business community wants it, obviously, but Republicans forced to choose between donors and their right-wing white constituents are generally more terrified of pissing off their constituents. Right-wing nativism has declined a bit since its recent height in 2010, but it’s still arguably worse than it was in 2006, when mass conservative revolt killed the last deal.
As all of America’s recent legislative fights have shown, House Republicans are protected from national anti-conservative trends by very safe and conservative districts. They are more vulnerable to getting primaried than they are to losing to moderates or Democrats in a general election. A majority of Americans may now support a path to citizenship, but a majority of Americans also support hiking taxes on the rich, and the GOP nearly shut down the government rather than agree to that.
Here we go again, just like with the fiscal-cliff mess on New Year’s Day:
The entire deal rests on Speaker John Boehner again bringing a major, controversial bill to the floor without a majority of Republican support, and relying on Democratic votes for its passage. I’m not sure he can do that again without ending his career. I imagine he’d be perfectly fine with killing whatever the Senate passes and allowing his caucus to pass some sort of “flying border drones and giant fences only” version of “immigration reform” instead.
Yes, but Boehner is trapped now too, as are the Republicans, as Ezra Klein explains here:
Two numbers explain why a rational Republican Party needs to do something dramatic on immigration: 27 percent and 2 percent. Twenty-seven percent is the percentage of the Latino vote Mitt Romney received in 2012, according to the exit polls. Two percent is the projected increase in the non-white electorate come 2016.
That’s the problem in a nutshell, and Jonathan Chait argues here that the plan seems to be to “go left on immigration, right on everything else” and use their two stars:
The key figures leading the way are Paul Ryan, the Republicans’ de facto leader, and Marco Rubio, perhaps its leading presidential candidate. The two have moved generally in tandem, with Rubio leading the way on immigration, but the whole party apparatus has jolted into action. Within days of the election, partisan barometers like Krauthammer and Sean Hannity had announced they had suddenly changed their mind and now favored comprehensive reform. Freed up to cut a deal, Rubio has thrown himself behind a reform plan liberals can happily accept, while he has steadily neutralized every source of conservative discontent. (Hardly a day goes by without some new Republican praising Rubio’s plan.) Crucially, Ryan himself has signaled support for Rubio. The party’s rapid embrace of immigration reform has been a sight to behold, a ruthlessly efficient exercise in partisan calculation.
This is getting complicated, but it’s not:
The theme and overarching tone of Ryan’s remarks has been “prudence,” and this may sound like moderation, but it’s important to understand what Ryan is really getting at here. When Republicans stormed into control of the House two years ago, they – or many of them - believed they could actually force President Obama to accept their agenda through sheer willpower. Most of the last two years have been a spate of Republicans forcing crises in order to bend Obama.
That is the context in which Ryan is arguing. He is gently trying to talk the ultra-crazy faction out of its belief that the crisis method offers a promising path to legislative success. He is not fully renouncing it, only counseling the party to use threats more carefully and with more limited means.
In short, don’t fight this battle. It’s not worth it, and Jamelle Bouie explains why:
If it passes – if both sides can avoid stumbling blocks and partisan mistrust – comprehensive immigration reform will be good for the country. The United States has 11 million undocumented immigrants. Bringing them out of the shadows and providing a path to permanent residence and citizenship will pay dividends for our economy, our politics, and our social cohesion.
What it won’t do, however, is fix the GOP’s political problems. If Republicans have signed on to immigration reform, it’s out of fear for their future – the demographic wave that reelected President Obama could wash away their electoral fortunes if they don’t adjust and adapt. Indeed, if Florida Senator Marco Rubio – one of the architects of the framework – has had success bringing conservatives to his side, it’s because he has used this fear to push Republicans to reconsider their opposition to comprehensive reform.
It’s the fear, but there’s another problem, those they wish to impress:
The problem for Rubio – and other pro-reform Republicans – is that Latinos need more than a softer line on immigration if they’re going to support GOP candidates at any level of government. Latinos have been a reliable Democratic constituency for more than thirty years – Walter Mondale won 66 percent of Latinos, Michael Dukakis won 70 percent, and on average, Democratic presidential candidates finish with 63.5 percent support from Hispanic voters.
The reason is straightforward: Latinos are more liberal than the median voter. According to the most recent Pew poll on these questions (released last year), 75 percent of Hispanics say they support bigger government with more services, compared to 41 percent of the general population. Fifty-one percent say abortion should be legal, and 59 percent say “homosexuality should be accepted by society.” There just isn’t much appetite among Latinos for the traditional small government approach of the GOP. Comprehensive immigration reform may reduce hostility towards the Republican Party, but it won’t increase vote share.
There may be no way of winning this:
The GOP’s best hope comes from assimilation. If Latinos follow the path blazed by Irish and Italians – and ethnic identity becomes less salient to political affiliation – then Republicans stand a chance at winning a sizable share of their votes. Already, you can see hints of this in Latino public opinion: First generation Hispanics are the most supportive of “big government” (81 percent to 12 percent), but third generation are the least supportive (58 percent to 36 percent).
But even then, you have a situation where the bulk of younger Latinos are broadly supportive of government. In other words, no matter how you slice it, Latinos will remain a Democratic constituency. Republican outreach might work on the margins, but there’s no reason to expect anything more than that.
David Frum is on the same page:
The same senior Republican leaders who believed that Mitt Romney was winning the 2012 election now insist that immigration reform will deliver Hispanic votes. They’re just wrong about that. Republicans face increasing difficulty with the Hispanic vote for pocketbook reasons.
As the Hispanic electorate becomes less Cuban, more Mexican and Central American, it becomes less susceptible to GOP cultural themes. The claim that Hispanic voters are “natural Republicans” is based on nothing but wishful thinking, fortified by ignorance.
Ah, wishful thinking, fortified by ignorance – that’s also the definition of the current for-profit news industry. Now all the master narratives are messed up, and Kevin Drum offers this:
The four Republican senators who have agreed to this framework are John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Mike Lee, and Jeff Flake. It’s not clear how much clout these guys have with the rest of the Republican caucus, or how much clout Senate Republicans have with House Republicans. … I wouldn’t be surprised if the fiscal cliff and immigration reform are the sole exceptions to an all-obstruction-all-the-time strategy from House Republicans. They might not like it, but a sheer sense of self-preservation suggests that the GOP’s best strategy is to pass something fairly quickly so that they can get immigration off the table as a political issue as soon as possible. Once that’s done, they can at least get started on the task of mending their ruinously suicidal relationship with the Latino community.
He’s just not that hopeful, even if Obama offers more:
Tougher enforcement – which included building the fence, beefing up border patrols, pushing ahead with E-Verify, and escalating the number of deportations – has worked alongside a weak economy to slow illegal immigration to a crawl over the past four years, and this has steadily whittled away at the appeal of the immigration table-pounders. Combine this with a Republican Party that desperately needs to stanch its bleeding among the fastest growing ethnic group in the country, and you finally have, for the first time in decades, a political climate that just might make immigration reform possible. But I doubt that this moment will last very long. This probably needs to happen in the next six months if it’s going to happen at all.
Wait. The Republicans, in spite of their nativist wing of folks who always thought Obama was from Kenya and recoils at brown folks with an accent, want to do this deal, to survive as a party, and passing this rudimentary form of immigration reform won’t likely win them even one more vote? And if Drum is right, this moment will pass soon enough and nothing will be done anyway? This was the big news story of the day, when the theme of everything was immigration reform and the usual master narratives were abandoned?
This almost makes you long for the old days, when news was just news. Walter Cronkite might report this another way – eight senators, four from each party, today agreed to something everyone thought should be done, but probably cannot be done, and if done would make no political difference – and this breakthrough moment of comity and cooperation will soon pass and no one will remember it ever happened. Then there’s the sign-off. And that’s the way it was, Monday, January 28, 2013.