The radio debate at 9 a.m. this morning was ostensibly about border issues; actually, it was about handling the current public hysteria about the border, and we got little more than platitudes from both sides, reflecting the talking points of each party caucus. Part of the problem was that the moderator, Fred Martino, accepts the operating assumption, shared by the commercial news media, that the border represents various forms of wickedness threatening us and that each wickedness requires a militarized response. The candidates were basically asked to provide policy options based on these assumptions. Since current discourse about the border reflects this hysteria, both candidates were eager to go along.
Immigration? Send more troops to the border. My opponent hasn't been as tough as I on this. Drug trafficking? Send more troops to the border. My opponent isn't tough enough. Violence in Juarez? Send more troops, my opponent is weak here, too. You expect this kind of rhetoric from congressional candidates in Kansas City. But in a border congressional district? At no point in the discussion did anyone point out that immigration and drug trafficking have been dealt with for decades by sending more troops to the border, with no tangible results. Today illegal migration and recreational drug supplies are worse than ever, untouched by the billions of dollars spent on border patrol, customs, ICE, and all the other alphabet soup agencies. Perhaps its time for new thinking? Perhaps a little demand reduction? Nope, just send more troops to the border, thank you, vote for me. The candidates might have been asked if the federal government might play a role in helping to develop the Santa Teresa border crossing and related infrastructure--as a border security measure, and if stimulus money might be used.
I'm being too harsh. In a congressional campaign you don't try to change public opinion, you cater to it. But at least I'd like to have had a glimmer of hope that the candidates might end up having something more intelligent to say in Congress about the border than the typical politician from Paducah Kentucky. There is no question, each of the two candidates has been to the border umpteen times, talking to border patrol agents, customs agents, ranchers, and sheriffs. They know what's on the ground. But the answer to our immigration and drug problems will not be solved by asking border patrol agents what to do: they will be solved by creating rational policies in Washington that have widespread public acceptance and the will to follow through, and for too long now we've gone along with the fiction that hotels, meat packers, restaurants, roofers, and other industries don't knowingly hire undocumented migrants, and that we can stop the supply of illegal drugs entering the U.S. with stronger border controls at check points, and that law enforcement corruption exists only in Mexico. And until our political system can deliver rational policies on these issues, expect the bipartisan game of sending more troops to the border to continue, with no tangible results other than the kind of frustration that leads to an angry electorate.