How can compromise lead to a bill that everyone dislikes?

Raise your hand if you were surprised that the United States Senate all of a sudden came up with a compromise immigration-reform bill that doesn't address the real issues and tries to please just about everybody--but in the end pleases no one, and would probably make things much worse. If your hand is raised, yes, you can go to the bathroom.

My favorite part of the announcement came when Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl--who just started his third term a few months ago and therefore has a looooong time before he has to answer to his constituents--got up and said that he hoped for a vote by Memorial Day. Yes, after the Senate sat on its collective hands for 20 years after the passage of the last crappy immigration bill, Kyl now wants the deliberative body to introduce, hash out, debate and vote on a bill in less than 10 days. All he needed was "What A Beautiful World (IGY)" playing in the background, with Donald Fagen sneering, "The fix is in ..."

You know the old saying that a camel is a horse built by a committee? Well, an immigration bill hammered out by compromise in an evenly split Senate is the third-generation clone of Mega-Camel on steroids.

To be sure, this is a thorny issue; many people can't even agree on some of the basic points. Throw 100 people in a room and ask them about the border. At least one or two will sincerely believe that there should be no such thing as national borders. (You'll need to excuse these people from the rest of the proceedings, because they're probably busy planning next week's Star Trek-themed picnic with the Sept. 11 conspiracy folks.)

Some might agree that these people have broken U.S. laws by coming here and staying here, but they'll say it's OK, because our crappy jobs pay more than did the crappy jobs these people had back from whence they came. Others will say that our laws are bad, and still others will claim that we're responsible for this mess, having built an attractive nuisance next to a Third World country. Heck, people can't even agree on how strongly (or whether) the border should be enforced.

In a way, they're all right, and yet, they're also so driven to be right on at least part of the issue that they make any compromise unwieldy and unsatisfying. It's as though each position is so rigidly staked out that a compromise couldn't consist of a homogenization of viewpoints, but rather a randomly shaped mass of pushpins on a cork board, one where an attempt to locate a center of gravity might lead to the discovery that it lies outside the mass itself.

Maybe, just maybe, we can start by agreeing on some of the terms that are being thrown around. Take, for example, the word "amnesty." For those on the con side of this debate, "amnesty" is a dirty word, a capitulation to the dark forces (and dark people) who are dragging this nation down. It's such a dirty word that those on the pro side refuse to come into contact with it, lest it leave an indelible stain that won't wash off before the next election cycle.

It reminds me of those days, not long ago, when the Rush Limbaughs of the world somehow managed to make "liberal" a dirty word, and longtime liberals desperate to stay in office all of a sudden became "moderates" or "progressives."

Why not call it amnesty? That's what it is. Heck, we Americans are forgiving people. Amnesty is generally a good thing, not a bad thing. Why not say, "It would be impossible (and probably wrong) to try to send everybody back to their respective countries of origin, so amnesty is our next-best course of action."

Plus, you look stupid if you keep trying to duck the word. "It's not amnesty. They have to earn the right to stay here by paying a fine." All that means is that they're buying their amnesty.

Then there's the hilarious part about a "tamper-proof ID card." My son, Alexander, is not even out of college yet, but give him a laptop and a couple of hours, and he'll tamper the heck out of it. And he's a good kid and a law-abiding citizen. He'd tamper just to prove to himself that he could do it. There are a whole lot of people out there who aren't nearly as straight an arrow as Alexander, and they would have visions of dollar signs dancing in their heads and would see tampering as a whole new cottage industry.

The final thing we can agree on is that the term "guest-worker program" is the most egregiously cynical euphemism to come out of Washington in a long, long time. It is the Bracero program, revisited. I'm at least glad to see that some people are coming around to my position on this abomination. U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., says that the proposal "would create a permanent underclass of imported workers to fill American jobs."

Well said.

Next week, I'm going to ask a couple of questions that nobody wants to ask--and that damn sure nobody wants to hear the answers to.

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