Listen, I’m not against some kind of DREAM Act-type law that deals with several kinds of hard cases when it comes to immigration (though I want to see the details.) I would actually be in favor of such a law, but the postelection Republican focus on “comprehensive” immigration reform is several kinds of mistaken. First, it is a bad idea to make policy in an atmosphere of despair. Before Republicans start making immigration policy, they should work on constructing a coherent and prudent platform. Just responding to the election results and whatever Obama proposes isn’t going to be good enough. DREAM Act-type laws aside, immigration policy won’t result in any major Republican gains among nonwhites by itself, and waiting a couple of months to think things through won’t hurt. Second, immigration policy, if it is not coupled with a wider agenda, has a chance to hurt the Republicans among middle and working-class voters if they aren’t careful. To a lot of people, Republican immigration expansion rhetoric sounds a lot more like employer interest group politics than a plan to improve the economy in general. Maybe Col. Sanders should pay better. To the extent that the Republicans are the party of ever lower marginal tax rates on high earners and ever lower wages for everybody else, they deserve to be marginalized.
Now this doesn’t mean that the Republicans should do NOTHING on immigration, but it does mean that their economic agenda should focus on issues that would help people in the two middle quartiles (and the last quartile) get what Reihan Salam called “the basics of a dignified middle-class life affordable high-quality medical care, education, and housing” With that in mind, here is a partial (and I’m not sure totally compatible) list of policies that Republicans should be looking at:
1. Making higher education more affordable along the lines laid out by Texas Governor Rick Perry.
2. Making the tax code both more pro-growth and easier on working-class and middle-class families.
3. Making it easier for those who are employed but do not have insurance through their employers to gain access to affordable health insurance.
4. Encouraging insurance approaches that increase worker take home pay while maintaining access to high quality health care.
If the Republicans want to make gains among the working and middle-classes of all colors and ethnicities, they need to focus on a program that offers more than just the supposed indirect benefits of cutting taxes on “job creators.” That isn’t the end of the story of course. No program can help the Republicans if the voters they need never hear about it.