Saturday, March 12, 2011




Dwight Eisenhower is usually recognized as a fine president, and an even better general. But in the long run, he may be remembered as much for one warning he issued three days before leaving office in 1961:

“We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist,” Eisenhower warned. Americans, for the most part, paid little attention and the nation today spends more on its military than all other countries in the world combined.

It was little noticed, but a termed-out Republican governor issued a different, but possibly equally profound, warning to his party mates early this year, just as he was about to leave office. This was just as unexpected as when Eisenhower, the Allied commander in World War II and the pre-eminent American soldier of his generation, warned that the armed services and the defense contractors tied to them might acquire too much power and money.

The governor was Georgia’s Sonny Perdue, his state’s first GOP governor since Reconstruction and long one of the most conservative politicians in America, also an advocate of cracking down as hard as possible on illegal immigrants. Perdue was well aware that his state will receive one new seat in Congress next year on the strength of population growth largely fueled by Latino immigrants, both legal and illegal.

His possibly prophetic statement went like this: “The Republican Party needs to be very, very careful that it maintains the golden rule in its rhetoric regarding immigration. Immigration is a very emotive, emotion-filled subject that I think sometimes gets us out there where our hearts really aren’t.”

His party, Perdue added, “needs to ensure that people of color and people who are not U.S.-born feel welcome. And I think that is the challenge of the Republican Party.”

That’s also the lesson of California for the national GOP. Since 1994, when ex-Gov. Pete Wilson ran for reelection using commercials that steadily repeated the statement that “They keep coming,” most California Latinos have not felt welcomed by Republicans. Polls and voting results show this is generally as true for legal immigrants and longtime residents as for illegals. One result of Wilson's campaign is that more than 2 million California Latinos have become citizens in the more than 16 years since. Another is that movie star muscleman Arnold Schwarzenegger has been the only Republican elected to a top-of-ticket job like governor or U.S. senator during that time.

For whenever rhetoric against illegal immigration becomes shrill, hate crimes against Latinos rise, without regard to their legal status. Most Latinos know this and it colors their voting behavior. This is part of the reason every survey shows wide support among all types of Latinos for comprehensive immigration reforms that assure humane treatment for all Hispanics now residing in America.

Democrats in California always campaign on this plank. Most of their party mates in other places do, too. Not coincidentally, Democrats almost always win statewide races in California, which currently has no Republican in any major office.

But national Republicans, in spite of Census numbers that demonstrate a fast-growing Latino presence in many parts of America, still take strident stances against illegal immigrants, rather than a conciliatory approach that would call for tight borders, but some way for illegals to attain documented status and eventual citizenship.

An example is U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who has announced hearings about increased border enforcement, ways to increase arrests of illegals in their workplaces and expanding the E-Verify employee identification program, now set to expire late next year.

At the same time, President Obama insists he won’t give up his notion of immigration reform, which calls for employer sanctions, a (difficult) path to citizenship and strong border enforcement. It’s pretty obvious which approach is more likely to appeal to Latino citizens, who are today’s fastest-growing group of voters.

Perdue’s warning to his party mates essentially asks them to take a humane approach and not to be mean. It drew no response at all from the party’s national leadership.

It’s almost as if the national GOP is suicidal on this issue, sticking to its hard line no matter what the population trends and polls may say (virtually every survey indicates most Americans prefer an Obama-style approach).

It’s fashionable among pundits these days to say that California’s status as a national trend-setter is not what it used to be, but the handwriting is plainly on the wall for the national Republican Party: If it doesn’t heed the Perdue warning and soften its line on illegal immigration or advocate for humane treatment of those already here, within the next decade or two it may follow the path of its California branch and become almost irrelevant, no matter what happened in last year’s election.

E-mail Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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