SAN DIEGO — Having left Dallas nine years ago, I now must watch from a distance the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party that is Texas politics. I keep doing so because, like a pot of boiling water on a stove, it is something that it is best not to turn your back on.
This year, I only have one question for Republicans in the Lone Star State: “Really?”
Just two decades after George W. Bush, while running for governor, showed the GOP how it could get as much as half of the Latino vote by refusing to demonize a group that now accounts for 38 percent of the state’s population, are Texas Republicans really going to have a race to the bottom where they try to prove who is the toughest on illegal immigrants and border security?
Less than three years after Texas Gov. Rick Perry – during a GOP presidential debate – defended his support for a Texas law letting undocumented students pay in-state tuition by telling Republican critics: “I don’t think you have a heart,” are Texas Republicans really going to turn a blind eye to, or make excuses for, a dime store demagogue such as state Sen. Dan Patrick, who is making a name for himself with irresponsible and incendiary rhetoric?
Given that Patrick appears intent on emulating disgraced Republicans such as former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, former Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado and former Gov. Pete Wilson of California, are Texas Republicans really going to concede one of the fastest growing segments of the electorate, and bet they can continue to win elections with only the votes of scared white folks who feel the state is being overrun by Mexico?
Is that the plan? Is this the electoral suicide mission on which the Texas Republican Party has now embarked?
I can see only one possible rationale for traveling this road. There are many ways for politicians and political parties to get attention, and it’s true that setting yourself on fire will usually do the trick.
An adult needs to step in and take away the matches. Just look at how the Texas GOP is dealing with Patrick, who is running for lieutenant governor and now locked in a runoff with incumbent David Dewhurst. That is, with kid gloves.
You would think party leaders would be more aggressive in turning the screws on someone who sounds like he’s a double agent working for the Democratic Party. After all, it’s the Democrats who benefit every time that Republicans set out to scare up votes from nativists who have night sweats about changing demographics. Patrick, who works in Houston as – surprise! – a right-wing radio talk show host, is on a mission to convince folks in the Lone Star State that they need to fend off an “invasion” of illegal immigrants who threaten their very way of life. In Patrick’s world, illegal immigrants are streaming across the border to rob America blind and offer nothing in return besides leprosy, tuberculosis and other contagious diseases.
Come to think of it, this kind of loose talk isn’t just incendiary. It’s insane.
For many Americans, including a good number living in Texas, illegal immigrants don’t threaten their way of life. Quite the contrary. They make a certain standard of living possible. They care for your elderly, cut your lawn, wash your dishes, cook your food, clean your house and wipe your kid’s nose while you’re at work. The Texas that I called home for five years, and the neighborhood I lived in, was chock-full of God-fearing folks who were practically tripping over themselves to hire illegal immigrants to do jobs that the native-born don’t want to do – at least not at the rate that employers are willing to pay.
Get a clue, Patrick. This isn’t an invasion. It’s practically an invitation.
This isn’t about leniency or compassion. It’s about something more fundamental: honesty and common sense. Granted, there has never been a surplus of those attributes in politics – especially the brand they practice in Texas. Still, shouldn’t we require them in our elected officials?
If you want to talk about immigration, have at it. You can beat your chest all you want. But you shouldn’t have to shut down your brain.
Ruben Navarrette is a columnist for U-T San Diego. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.