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Shades Of Marley’s Ghost: John McCain And Amnesty

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John McCain’s crippled presidential candidacy is attempting a comeback in New Hampshire, a comeback built on amnesia –the hope that GOP voters won’t recall the Virginia Beach explosion against evangelicals in 2000, the votes against President Bush’s tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, the McCain-Feingold assault on free speech, the Gang of 14 undoing of the mandate to end judicial filibusters delivered by the Senate elections of 2004, and most especially the two attempts co-authored by Senator McCain and Senator Kennedy to overhaul the immigration laws of the United States and extend to the 12 to 20 million illegals living in the U.S. the opportunity to stay here forever.

On Meet The Press this morning, John McCain was again denying that McCain-Kennedy was an amnesty bill, and as soon as Russert took the conversation there, McCain had lost the hour and the momentum again. McCain’s indifference to public opinion and his colleagues on this issue (the famous f-bomb he threw at John Cornyn over the Texas senator’s demand for a tougher approach) and his eagerness to treat with Teddy K. are chains around political future. Recall Marley’s ghost in Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Marley had been Scrooge’s partner:

Seven years prior to the main events of the novel, Marley contracted an unspecified illness and died on Christmas Eve. After his death, Marley’s spirit was condemned to walk the Earth for all eternity. As punishment for his shutting out of his fellow man, Marley’s ghost could observe, but not interact with, living beings. As an added burden, his spirit was forced to drag around a heavy chain. This chain, made up partly of money boxes, was constructed by Marley’s own greed and selfishness.

Now McCain is a political Marley, and every time he rejects the charge of amnesty, he adds another link to his chain. Voters won’t trust his conversion on the issue unless and until he quite forthrightly acknowledges what he was attempting to jam down the public’s throats the past two years. It isn’t that he has flip-flopped on the issue of the Z-Visa. It is that voters don’t believe he has flipped at all.

Compounding his problem –another link in the long, long chain he carries– is one forged yesterday when he flat out misstated his record. Ramesh Ponnuru picked it up at National Review’s The Corner:

The Immigration Debate in NH [Ramesh Ponnuru]

Romney, aided by Tom Tancredo and Joe Arpaio, is predictably going after McCain on immigration. Romney will be helped by the fact that today McCain said something that not even his friends in the press can defend. He said, at that Peterborogh town meeting, that he had never supported, and would never support, giving any government benefits to “someone who came to this country illegally.” That is provably false. But maybe it won’t help Romney, if McCain’s friends in the press just ignore it.

It is false, and MSM may ignore it, but voters in New Hampshire and beyond won’t because of new media.

John McCain voted to extend social security benefits to illegal aliens for years they had worked illegally in the U.S.

That’s a fact. A hard, cold fact. Any unless and until John McCain admits he did so and that he was wrong to do so, it will dog him this week and the weeks beyond if he indeed has weeks beyond.

Here is John McCain’s debate with Nevada Republican John Ensign over whether illegals allowed to stay in the country would collect the social security benefits for taxes withheld while they were in the country illegally. Read the whole thing, carefully. It is the real John McCain on immigration, the one who didn’t care what his party or the public thought about the issue.

Note this exchange in particular:

MR. ENSIGN: Is he aware that it is a felony to use someone’s SocialSecurity number?

Mr. MCCAIN. I am aware of that.

Mr. ENSIGN. Under this legislation, we forgive that felony. We grant amnesty for that felony.

Mr. MCCAIN. Under this legislation, we allow the illegal immigrants a path to citizenship which, if they are convicted of felonies or misdemeanors, according to an amendment, then they would be ineligible to embark on that path to earn citizenship.

Mr. ENSIGN. Right. But, Mr. President, in Sections 601 and 614 of the legislation, it actually ensures that aliens who receive legal status cannot be prosecuted for document fraud, including the false use of Social Security numbers. Is the Senator aware of that?

So Senator Ensign is among those characterizing the McCain-Kennedy bill as an amnesty and doing so in the context of the debate over whether or not to allow illegal aliens to collect social security benefits for taxes paid while they worked in the country illegally.

John McCain argued in the debate last night, and again with Tim Russert this morning, that his plan wasn’t amnesty because illegals had to pay a fine of $5,000.

This argument is wholly unpersuasive for two reasons.

First, if by paying a sum of $5,000 you earn a future benefit stream from Social Security, that’s not a fine.It’s an annuity.

Second, would John McCain argue it wasn’t an amnesty if the “fine” was $1? $500? $2,000?

Most Americans looked at the $5,000 number and laughed, realizing that many thousands of employers would gladly pay that amount in a bonus to keep their worker, or that family and friends would cobble together the funds. It wasn’t a penalty. It was camouflage.

Some spin from last night’s decate is that Romney got pummeled, and indeed he took shot after shot but he parried almost all of them and stood his ground. None of his supporters would switched their votes last night, and some undecideds had to have liked the command of the issues and the poise under fire.

John McCain positively lost support last night and again this morning on Meet The Press beacuse he’s back attempting to defend the indefensible in the eyes of the GOP base: McCain-Kennedy. In doing so John McCain is revealed as the old John McCain, impervious to criticism, indifferent to facts, angry at the impertinence of any who would question his judgment.

And unrepentant about McCain-Kennedy. And unelectable as a result.

UPDATE: The front-page Manchester Union Leader article on the debate is all about the immigration clash. Add another link in the McCain chain. Key graphs:

On immigration

Questioned about an issue that he had admitted hurt him politically earlier in the campaign, McCain said he has not changed his basic beliefs on illegal immigration — comments that drew fire from Romney.

“The fact is, the American people have lost trust in government, and we have to secure the border,” the Arizona senator said, adding he continues to believe in a “fool-proof” temporary worker program.

“These are God’s children,” said McCain, insisting that he does not favor amnesty. “We have to address this issue as humanely and compassionately as possible but we have to protect our national security interests.”

Romney said, “If you have 12 million people here illegally,” and they are allowed to remain, “in fact, you have amnesty.”


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