Unity in the Face of Adversity
Boston is a tribal town. I know because I grew up in the area. Back in the day, it was the Irish who held sway politically, while the descendants of the English, the so called “Boston Brahmins,” controlled business and finance. My grandmother could recall the days when signs appeared in shops that said simply, “No Irish Need Apply.”
Boston has changed dramatically over the years. The population is lot more ethnically richer and the city has become a world-class destination for tourists. The city is known for its concentration of outstanding universities and internationally known hospitals.
The new Boston was on display during the recent bombing attacks that targeted the crowd watching the Boston Marathon. Among the enduring images were people rushing toward the explosion scenes right after the bombs went off, looking to help in any way they could. The subsequent efforts to give blood, help police look for suspects and bring a sense of healing to the city all did Boston proud.
Sports plays a crucial role
In the days following the attack, it was the city’s sports teams that offered Bostonians a chance to recover and begin to heal. When the crowd took over the singing of “The Star Spangled Banner” that Wednesday night at the Bruins’ hockey game, you could feel the swelling emotions of the crowd right through your TV. And when the Red Sox came back to town and paid tribute to the police, first responders and the victims of the marathon bombings, the city at last began to exhale, take stock of what had happened and find a way to move forward.
Red Sox player David Ortiz may have offended some when he took the microphone at Fenway Park and said, “This is our (bleeping) city,” but the fans loved the spirit of defiance and perseverance that Ortiz was conjuring up.
Boston’s heartbeat is fueled by its sports teams and in those early days, in the aftermath of the bombings and the manhunt for the suspects, they played a crucial role in bringing people together to grieve, to remember and to find a way forward.
The Boston bombings continue to have fallout on Capitol Hill here in Washington. The attacks have become part of the widening debate over immigration reform that is likely to dominate the congressional agenda in the weeks ahead. Some supporters of immigration reform worry that opponents will seize on the fact that the two suspects in the Boston case emigrated to the U.S. from Russia. Senator Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, warned those he said would try to “derail the dreams and futures of millions of hard-working people.”
But Republicans who want to go slow on the immigration reform push are trying to raise some yellow flags. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a Republican and Tea Party favorite, urged his fellow senators not to proceed on the issue until there is an understanding on what he called “the specific failures of our immigration system.”
Huge political stakes
The reform push comes from a bipartisan group of eight senators that includes Florida Republican Marco Rubio, a much talked about potential presidential contender in 2016. Rubio’s Cuban-American roots and Tea Party cred makes him well suited to pitch the idea of immigration reform to conservatives who are generally skeptical of the idea.
It’s clear in the wake of the Boston attacks that supporters of immigration reform are going to have to emphasize border security more than ever and try to sell the plan as making the country safer, not more vulnerable. The central issue for most conservatives is a proposal to give undocumented immigrants a path to getting U.S. citizenship. Under the bipartisan plan, this would take several years. That may turn out to be too much for some hardcore conservatives to swallow, especially those who have railed for years against granting amnesty to undocumented immigrants.
Some conservatives in the Senate and House of Representatives are also floating the idea of doing the bill piece-by-piece, and having separate votes on sections like the path to citizenship. Immigration reform supporters oppose that idea. They think the only way to get comprehensive reform is to get a big bill through Congress. Dismantling it and voting on it piece by piece would, in their view, ensure a very watered down product will emerge in the end.
Democrats could reap electoral benefits
The website Politico has an interesting take on the debate that shows why many Democrats are eager to help the estimated 11 million undocumented residents, many of whom are Hispanics. President Barack Obama cleaned Mitt Romney’s clock among Hispanic voters in last year’s election and finding a way to bring in millions of new voters likely to be grateful to the Democratic Party if they become legal could be a huge boost for Democrats in future elections.
According to Politico, reliably conservative states like Arizona, Georgia and Texas could be in for some changes if millions of Hispanics were one day eligible to vote. In addition, states Mr. Obama narrowly won last year like Florida, Colorado and Nevada would probably move safely into the Democratic column in the future, giving them a huge advantage in the Electoral College and maybe helping Democratic congressional candidates as well.
Republicans might want to pay attention to the dedication of the George W. Bush presidential library this week. After all, Mr. Bush won more than 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, well above Mitt Romney’s 27 percent last year. Replicating the Bush model of appealing to Hispanic voters would be a boon to Republican chances of retaking the White House in 2016 and beyond.
Immigration now a priority after guns
For the president and his supporters, immigration reform has emerged as a political priority in the wake of the defeat of the gun background check proposal that failed in the Senate. Gun control was a huge focus for the administration after the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy last year in which grade school students were massacred. And the fact that the administration was not able to persuade enough senators to support a watered-down background check bill that won 90 percent approval from the public has left a bad taste in the mouths of many of the president’s supporters.
One of the arguments as to why the gun bill failed was because conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans were being asked to do too much too quickly. In addition to gun control and immigration reform, some lawmakers in Republican-leaning “Red States” were being pushed to support gay marriage as well.
But I happen to think that gun control is perhaps the hottest button issue around the country. Even some Democrats in Red States could not face the prospect of voting for even mild gun control, fearing it would be an act of political suicide to face an avalanche of ads funded by the National Rifle Association and others. Democrats need to find a way for those who oppose gun control to pay a political price at the polls. That is the only way to break the logjam on issues like background checks and the size of bullet magazines. But at the moment those prospects look doubtful. Red State America is too ready to jump to the conclusion put forward by the NRA that the federal government really does want to take their guns, no matter how many times the president and other Democrats say it just isn’t true.