Global consistency reigns supreme this holiday season. In our current haze of national ennui and deja vu, Republicans still equate tax increases with hari-kari, Italian bond interest rates increase daily like clockwork and Gail Collins never fails to mention that Mitt Romney once tied his dog to the roof of his car on a trip to Canada. It would have been fair to characterize anyone interested in substantial policy change as holiday travelers planning a winter-long vacation, who eschew vitriolic charges of hyper-partisanship and Grover Norquist sound bites for a nice day on the beach. Yet such an extreme stance is pleasantly undermined by small cracks in our echo room of spin and unfairly passes over the smallest steps of progress. Case in point: At the most recent Republican presidential debate, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich forcefully broke from Republican orthodoxy on the matter of illegal immigration.
Gingrich advocated two primarily intriguing policies. First, he supported at least a provision of the DREAM Act, stating that the children of illegal immigrants who serve in the military can have a pathway to citizenship. Second, he recognized the inherent reality that uprooting every illegal immigrant is impossible. According to his campaign website, Gingrich supports "giving local communities the authority to allow those with long established roots in the neighborhood a legal residency status, but not citizenship."
Admittedly, both are small steps in the right direction, especially the first one. It seems inimical to the ideals of the country that we would deny citizenship to soldiers who put their lives on the line for our nation. Furthermore, the country would benefit more from the human capital bonus by following the lead of Gov. Lincoln Chafee '75 P'14 and adopting a federal DREAM Act. We would also be wise to quickly listen to Romney before he changes his mind and staple a green card to every student who graduates with a graduate degree in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
It is Gingrich's admittance to the basic understanding that America as a society will not be able to deport every illegal immigrant who has unlawfully entered the country. Not only is it an egregious waste of resources, but the nation just has more pressing problems, namely a $1.56 trillion deficit.
Yet ask every other Republican primary candidate and they would imply that as president they would secure the Mexican border with some manner of fence — double walled for Bachmann, electrified for Cain — and refuse any form of amnesty for the 25 million illegal immigrants currently residing in the country. Straying away from this basic track was proscribed as political suicide. Most credit the "Perry Plunge" of Gov. Rick Perry's poll numbers to his statement arguing that the GOP's position on immigration was "heartless."
Let's expand on the Perry anecdote a bit. The Texas governor signed into law a bill giving in-state tuition rates to the children of illegal immigrants in Texas. He then defended the bill, an identical copy of legislation found in conservative bastions like Nebraska and Kansas, at a Republican debate. Conservative activists disapproved. Perry's poll numbers plummeted. Perry has been apologizing ever since.
Gingrich's position is by no means a safe or particularly smart one for the primary and therefore leads to the question of why he would even take it in the first place. It is possible that Gingrich is pandering to a burgeoning Hispanic electorate that historically votes Democratic. It is also possible that Gingrich is taking advantage of his recent frontrunner status to look ahead to the general election, where his primary views have to be moderated to appeal to the droves of independent voters who decide presidential elections.
Whatever his reason may be, it does not matter. For the United States to overcome its current malaise, compromise between the two parties will have to be reached. Republican willingness to agree to anything has been suspect. Tying back to the Republican allergy to any form of tax increases, a previous Republican debate notably featured every presidential candidate refusing to support a deficit reduction deal that featured $10 of spending cuts to $1 of tax reform. The autopsy results of the recently failed supercommittee found that there was no deal to be had because there was no common ground to be reached. Gingrich's immigration policy is making steps toward finding that common ground.
That may sound highly unsatisfying, and it is. It is unfortunate but true that not every Republican is at heart willing, like Chafee, a former Republican senator, to pass a state DREAM Act or compromise over fiscal issues. But to reach any form of compromise, that common ground will need to be formed. Gingrich is taking the bold step to steer his party's discussion back toward the center. It may be a small step, but he should still be applauded for it.
Chip Lebovitz '14 is still waiting for Chafee to respond to his letter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A previous version of this column incorrectly stated the size of the national deficit in fiscal year 2011 to be $15 trillion. In fact, it is $1.56 trillion. The Herald regrets the error.