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Hey Democrats! Send Home The Wonks

Wonks can be useful people. Having studied the deep innards of public policy, wonks are essential to constructing programs that can function as desired. They help write complicated laws. But whereas wonks may know all the parts that make a clock work, they are usually not good at selling the clock. You need marketers for that.

Politicians are the marketers. They tell ordinary people what’s great about their proposals. When they have to drag a wonk onto the stage to explain something — or have to play the wonk themselves — they’re in trouble.

Enter section 1325, part of Title 8 of the U.S. Code. You still here? Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro is pushing the idea of getting rid of section 1325. Doing so would make it no longer a criminal offense to be an unauthorized immigrant in the U.S. It would, however, still be a civil offense. As proposals go, this is dumb on a number of levels, above all the political one.

Castro was mayor of San Antonio, America’s seventh biggest city. It surprises me that this savvy, polished, and pragmatic Texas politician would propose this kind of tinkering with the law.

Why on Earth would he, in effect, decriminalize illegal border crossings when Americans are so concerned about illegal immigration?

Preet Bharara asked that of Castro on his popular podcast. Castro elucidated: Decriminalizing illegal entry but leaving it as a civic infraction would not prevent an undocumented immigrant from being deported. (The online wonks offered similar explanations.)

The scary part is that Castro and other Democrats who endorsed his idea apparently think that the great American non-wonk majority will hear this as a moderate salve for the crisis at the border — as something that makes entering the country illegally still illegal but just a little less so. If it’s not going to make that huge a difference, why even push something that sounds like a relaxation of border controls?

Let’s move on to Medicare for All. Sure, polls show large numbers of Americans liking the idea. But when asked about whether they want a new health care system that would end the private coverage — which a true Medicare for All plan would do — large numbers say they don’t. And these are largely the same people.

Guess what. The public doesn’t do wonkery. Bernie Sanders insists that once the American people understand the savings of his plan, they won’t mind paying higher taxes and losing their coverage through work. Furthermore, many aren’t especially happy with their private coverage.

The above may be true. That doesn’t mean that the public can follow along. (Alternatively, everyone could be required to take a night class on health care economics.) And however Americans feel about their private insurance, they may not be ready to dive into the great unknown.

Wouldn’t strengthening the Affordable Care Act and adding a public option — a government-run health plan that would compete with private plans — be the easier sell? Joe Biden is championing the idea.

Other Democratic candidates promoting Medicare for All have panned Biden’s public option proposal as not radical enough. But they have very short memories.

The public option was originally part of the ACA bill and had to be yanked out because even some Democrats were afraid to support it. The Wall Street Journal opinion pages, meanwhile, have burst into flames with warnings that a public option would destroy the private health insurance industry.

Wonks adjust the wheels and gears of public policy. When they’re done, they should go home and let the politicians take over. If politicians can’t sell their idea to ordinary people, the idea is in trouble.

Why The Republicans Refuse To Fix Immigration

President Trump and the Republican leadership have made clear that they have no intention of repairing our chaotic immigration system. Why not? Because illegal immigration is a problem that bothers most Americans. Fix it and all these politicians have are tax cuts for the rich, environmental degradation, soaring deficits and the loss of health care.

As a campaigner, Trump learned that when audience passion flagged, he could demand a wall with Mexico and his folks would jump to their feet. The week that America went into convulsions over Trump’s racist vulgarities about certain immigrants is a week we’ll never get back again. But it did cancel right-wing displeasure over his seemingly constructive comments on immigration reform a few days earlier.

“Is Trump a racist?” the TV commentators kept asking. He said racially disgusting things as a candidate and again as president. Asking whether he’s a racist deep in his cheesecloth soul is a pointless exercise.

Trump shows all appearances of “not playing with a full deck,” despite a doctor’s report of good cognitive health. It really doesn’t matter much whether he is crazy or just acts crazy.

But with his promises to protect working people breaking like fine crystal dropped from Trump Tower’s 26th floor, his policy deck has become quite thin. Illegal immigration remains one of the few potent cards he has to play. Why take it out of play by solving the problem?

This thinking did not begin with Trump.

In 2013, the U.S. Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform in a bipartisan vote. It would have legalized the status of most undocumented immigrants while putting teeth in enforcement going forward.

There were enough supportive Democrats and Republicans to pass the reform in the House, as well, but then-Speaker John Boehner didn’t put it up for a vote. Passage would have made some hotheads in his Republican caucus unhappy.

Some foes of comprehensive reform pointed to the 1986 immigration deal as the reason they couldn’t support that one. Their reason was baloney.

True, the law enacted in 1986 gave amnesty to millions without stopping the flow of more undocumented workers. Its big flaw was letting employers accept documents that merely “looked good” as ID for hiring someone. An explosion of fake Social Security cards and other documents greatly weakened the ability to enforce the ban on employing those here illegally.

The 2013 legislation would have closed that loophole. It would have required companies to use E-Verify, a secure database, to determine every job applicant’s right to work in the United States. That would have made all the difference in hiring practices and the ability of government to enforce the law.

Had the reform passed in 2013, America would now be in its fifth year of mandatory E-Verify. Instead, we have a law that still lets even poorly counterfeited documents become tickets to employment. The numbers on illegal immigration, falling since the Obama administration, would probably be smaller still had the 2013 reform passed.

And those brought here illegally as children would be enjoying a secure life as Americans. But Trump and many Republicans apparently see value in periodically threatening to deport these innocents. They’re useful as a political plaything.

As for Democrats, they would make a big mistake in underestimating the public’s hunger for an orderly immigration program. Polls show that Americans want a program based on respect — for the immigrants themselves and for the laws designed to protect U.S. workers from unfair competition.

If Democrats make clear that they are on board with both kinds of respect, they’ll be fine. Trump is grasping his one powerful card with both hands. Democrats should not help him.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

Relatives separated by deportation and immigration hug at the border during a brief reunification meeting at the banks of the Rio Bravo, a natural border between U.S. and Mexico, October 29, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez/File Photo

Danziger: Hot Commodity

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel.

Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.com.

Danziger: Always Ready, Always There!

Jeff Danziger’s award-winning drawings are published by more than 600 newspapers and websites. He has been a cartoonist for the Rutland Herald, the New York Daily News and the Christian Science Monitor; his work has appeared in newspapers from the Wall Street Journal to Le Monde and Izvestia. Represented the Washington Post Writers Group, he is a recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army as a linguist and intelligence officer in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. Danziger has published ten books of cartoons and a novel about the Vietnam War. He was born in New York City, and now lives in Manhattan and Vermont. A video of the artist at work can be viewed here.