Gingrich practices the fine art of political pandering
Do you think politicians ever get tired of pandering?
Sure, it's a time-honored practice -- for candidates of both parties.
But it's always a bit, oh, disappointing. And especially coming from a candidate who says he's determined to offer "serious leadership doing serious things" as president.
But here it is:
Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich, whose plan to give permanent residency to illegal immigrants has angered some conservatives, signed a pledge Thursday to build a double fence along the U.S.-Mexico border by the end of 2013.
"We haven't been able to build a fence on the border because we have not been a serious country," said Gingrich, as he prepared to sign the pledge following a morning speech to employees at Nationwide Insurance in Des Moines.
Oh please. If that's what passes for serious leadership these days, we're in more trouble than I thought.
Gingrich has no intention of building a border fence, much less a double one (and can someone explain why a double fence is better?) in the unlikely event he becomes president.
Rather, he's attempting to guard his conservative flank, which he left exposed with these comments during a recent GOP presidential candidates' debate:
"I do not believe that the people of the United States are going to take people who've been here for a quarter of a century ... [and] separate them from their families and expel them," Gingrich said. "I do believe we should control the border. I do believe we should have very severe penalties."
He continued, "I don't believe that the party that says it's the party of the family is going to say it’s going to destroy families that have been here for more than a quarter of a century. I'm prepared to take the heat in saying: Let's be humane in enforcing the law."
Gingrich knows that border enforcement isn't even a big issue right now. As The Times reported in September:
At a time when illegal immigration has returned to the political spotlight, figures released Wednesday show a sharp decline in the number of undocumented migrants crossing the U.S. border, in what researchers are calling the "first significant reversal" in 20 years.
Seems an ailing U.S. economy is far more effective in controlling illegal immigration than, say, a costly fence.
Heck, although Republicans won't admit it, the Obama administration has done a pretty good job of getting tough on its own about the border:
The government has cracked down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, and recently 1,200 National Guard troops were deployed along the U.S.-Mexico border to deter unlawful entry....
The U.S. government has also stepped up removal of illegal immigrants, with 387,790 deported in fiscal 2009, compared with 291,060 in 2007.
No, as Times columnist Doyle McManus pointed out in Thursday's Opinion pages, Gingrich's strategy is to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. And you can't do that without being "tough" on illegal immigration.
So the "humane" Gingrich of the debate gives way to the "tough" Gingrich on the stump in Iowa, where a phony issue such as illegal immigration might win him votes.
Gingrich can call it "serious leadership" all he wants, but it's just old-fashioned political pandering.
Photo: Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich talks to employees at an insurance company in Des Moines on Thursday. Credit: Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press