Opinion

Nicholas Wapshott

Benghazi and the Republican abandonment of the center

Nicholas Wapshott
May 10, 2013 16:24 UTC

In World War Two, the Libyan port of Benghazi was hard fought over, changing hands five times between Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps and the Allied forces. Seventy years on, the city has again become the focus of a fierce battle, this time between Republicans and Democrats over the terrorist attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans on Sept. 11, 2012.

This week’s House committee resumed the fight, with GOP members eager to show the Obama administration at fault. Because Hillary Clinton has already emerged as the 2016 Democratic frontrunner, determining what exactly happened in Benghazi that day has become the first scuffle in the next presidential election.

In the weeks running up to President Barack Obama’s reelection, conservative commentators thought that in the Benghazi deaths they had found an explosive issue that would shock the nation. Despite their best efforts, which elicited an admission of responsibility from the secretary of state, the Benghazi campaign did not move the pollsters’ needle. The campaign to implicate the president andClinton was long on innuendo and short on facts. There was no smoking gun. As a result, voters did not grasp what they were being urged to be indignant about.

Despite this indifference, Republicans are pressing on. The former presidential hopeful and Fox News host Mike Huckabee has high hopes Benghazi will lead to impeachment. “I believe that before it’s all over, this president will not fill out his full term,” he said. “This is not minor. It wasn’t minor when Richard Nixon lied to the American people and worked with those in his administration to cover up what really happened in Watergate.”

But even after the House revisited Benghazi and took evidence from three State Department whistleblowers, the most alarming front-page headline Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal could come up with was: “Diplomat Airs Attack Details.” And its low-key editorial, “The Benghazi Awakening,” was a quiet plea for more information, not a cry for impeachment. Even the most eager conspiracy theorists may be excused for stifling a yawn. Once again, Republicans have raced off in their own direction, leaving the rest of us wondering what all the fuss is about.

What will 11 million new citizens mean?

Nicholas Wapshott
Feb 1, 2013 20:45 UTC

The United States is on the threshold of comprehensive immigration reform. Between the president and the coalition in the Senate, it looks likely it will pass, which means that within a few years we shall have 11 million new Americans with full voting rights. What will their emergence from the shadows do to our economy? And, perhaps more importantly, what will it do to our politics? Who stands to gain from this enormous influx of new blood into our democratic system?

The numbers who are here illegally have gone down since John McCain last tried to introduce reform measures in 2007. As the economy slumped after the financial crisis of 2008–09, migrant workers stayed at home and undocumented workers who could not find work began to repatriate themselves. Record numbers were also deported. Today, according to the 2010 census, 11.1 million illegals are in our midst. Assuming that Congress, led by a bipartisan coalition in the Senate, responds to the president’s appeal to seize the moment, in the next few years we will welcome them as full citizens. That means 11.1 million more people to be taxed and buy health insurance, and 11.1 million more able to vote.

Contrary to the common perception, a majority of illegal immigrants both pay taxes and make Social Security payments. The term “undocumented workers” is a misnomer. To get a job legally they need papers, which entails assuming identities to get official papers or obtaining forged documents. Either way, they are not the out-and-out shirkers opponents of immigration make them out to be. According to the most recent figures of the Congressional Budget Office, compared to the commonplace tax-dodging techniques employed by documented Americans, the majority of illegals are already model citizens.

Immigration reform could tear GOP apart

Nicholas Wapshott
Jan 25, 2013 17:06 UTC

Immigration reform is being discussed again on Capitol Hill. At his inauguration, President Barack Obama declared, “Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity.” Senior Republicans, too, seem ready to make a deal. They sorely need to do so, because Mitt Romney’s damaging policy of self-deportation ensured that Hispanics voted overwhelmingly for Obama, and demographic changes mean unless the party changes tack fast it will keep losing. But there is an enormous gulf between what the Republicans need to do and what the base will go along with. What is at stake is whether the GOP remains a party of government or becomes a mere protest movement.

Although he does not have a majority in the House, the president appears in no mood to compromise. He wants to help create a more tolerant America and believes he has the country behind him. Recent polling confirms that his views on gay marriage, gun control, abortion, immigration and other social issues all chime with a majority of the electorate, and he is determined to press his case. His inauguration speech spelled out the direction he is heading in, and his Feb. 12 State of the Union address is expected to chart the course. He appears to be relishing the chance to embarrass the Republicans if they stand in the way of progress. Catching Obama’s new sense of purpose, House Speaker John Boehner has become convinced the president wants “to annihilate the Republican Party” and “shove [it] into the dustbin of history.”

Senior Republicans appear to be aware that they are out of step with America and need to make significant changes to policies and their public image if they are to stand a chance of winning the midterm elections in 2014 or the White House in 2016. Former Secretary of State Condaleezza Rice believes “the Republican Party certainly has to stop turning off large segments of the population” and urges it to face “the big issue,” immigration reform. Says Senator Lindsay Graham (R.-S.C.): “We’re in a death spiral with Hispanic voters because of rhetoric around immigration.” Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), who burned his fingers pushing for immigration reform in 2006-07, thinks “we have to do immigration reform … There is no doubt whatsoever that the demographics are not on our side.” Conservative commentator Seth Mandel suggests it may be too late: “When they arrived here with nothing but the clothes on their back, desperate for a chance at a better life for themselves and their children, one party said, ‘Come on in,’ and the other said, ‘Turn around and go back.’”

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