Lou Dobbs, Looking at Public Office, Says He's in Favor of Policy He Used to Spin as "Shamnesty for Illegals"

First, under pressure from above, Lou Dobbs gave up on the birther conspiracy theories. 

Then he said that perhaps he'd been wrong to assert that illegal immigrants were spreading leprosy far and wide across the U.S. (or at least he claims to have said he'd been wrong).

And now, in the ultimate betrayal of the faux-populist shtick he's been riding all these years, Dobbs told Telemundo (in an interview caught by the Wall Street Journal) that he now favors the very legalization process for unauthorized immigrants that he's long derided as a brain-dead "amnesty" policy pushed by pernicious liberal elites in order to keep down the wages of good, hardworking Americans.

If you've followed Dobbs' career at all, you'll understand that this is no standard-issue flip-flop:

Former CNN anchor Lou Dobbs, pondering a future in politics, is trying to wipe away his image as an enemy of Latino immigrants by positioning himself as a champion of that fast-growing ethnic bloc.

In a little-noticed interview Friday, Mr. Dobbs told Spanish-language network Telemundo he now supports a plan to legalize millions of undocumented workers, a stance he long lambasted as an unfair "amnesty."


Mr. Dobbs twice mentioned a possible legalization plan for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., saying at one point that "we need the ability to legalize illegal immigrants under certain conditions."

Perhaps reports in The Onion are accurate, and Lou Dobbs really is an undocumented Mexican immigrant named Luis Miguel Salvador Aguila Dominguez who's been passing as an American citizen since 1961.

The only other explanation for Dobbs' eye-opening reversal on comprehensive immigration reform is that the "fiercely independent" talk-show host is one of the greatest hypocrites the universe has ever known. Dobbs is reportedly eyeing a senate run in New Jersey. And here's a fun fact: in the 2000 census (PDF), Jersey was one of just six states with a foreign-born population of more than a million! And according to America's Voice, it was one of the three states in which Latinos represented the highest share of new voters since 2000.

But I'm sure Dobbs' sudden embrace of what he's long derided as "shamnesty" is heart-felt, and a result of sober introspection on the issue rather than some crass political calculation.

One has to pause for a moment and consider how Dobbs' most loyal fans must be taking this news (in the unlikely event they're fans of Telemundo). He's always sold himself as a fearless, plain-spoken everyman whose lack of mushy-headed political correctness drove him to call it as he sees it, never mind the repercussions. And this ostensibly put him a world apart from those craven political elites who would sell out the white working-class in a heartbeat for a few dusky "new voters."

That straight-talking right-populism has always been his appeal, and Dobbs' most ardent supporters lapped it up. What a sad joke it is -- sold out by their most passionate and visible champion. And how insulting it is to those fans that Dobbs even thinks he can hold onto their devotion and also try to soften his image with Latinos by going jiggly on the very issue on which his' hard-line stance has long defined him.

He won't be able to do it. Dobbs' problem is one shared by anyone who goes too far with the anti-immigration rhetoric and then seeks public office -- it reliably pleases the base and loses general elections (PDF). Dobbs' rants averaged 650,000 viewers out of a nation of more than 300 million; to grab a Senate seat he needs over half of New Jersey's 3.6 million voters.

Now let me offer an easy prediction. Dobbs has always lied, quite blatantly, about the legalization provisions in the comprehensive immigration reform bills Congress considered during the Bush years. If he's called on this flip-flop, he'll continue to do so. He'll say that he's for legalization, "with conditions," and spin it as if they weren't the exact same conditions in the Senate bill which prompted Lou to shake his abnormally large head and marvel: "This is no longer amnesty, but shamnesty."

As I've written before, the 2007 bill that Dobbs devoted so many hours condemning as a free ride for "illegals" was anything but -- the whole narrative was a Big Lie. While an amnesty connotes simply making people legal -- the bill Ronald Reagan signed required just a criminal background check and a very small paperwork fee -- the Senate proposal would have required undocumented immigrants to prove they'd been working and paying taxes in the country for an extended time, then fork over $9,000 in fines and application fees (for a family of four), and that would only have gotten them to the back of the line, with a four-year "Z" visa. Then, after those four years were up, the head of the household would have been required to return to his or her native country and file an additional application -- paying $4,000 more in penalties and application fees. Then, if the adults were to pass a health screening, an English proficiency test and another test of American civics, the family could become legal. But only after the backlog of existing applicants was cleared -- no "cutting in line."

The Lou Dobbs of this world knew all his at the time, and they also understood that people favor this approach as long as they know something about the various approaches to immigration control. That was the key finding in an analysis of a whole bunch of public opinion data by political scientist Ruy Teixeira during the 2006 immigration debate. "If you just ask, with no further specifications, whether we should make it easier for illegal immigrants to become legal workers," Teixeira wrote, "you get a negative response … And you get an even more negative response on whether we should make it easier for illegal immigrants to become citizens. But that initial reaction turns around if it sounds like helping illegal immigrants to get legal worker status or to become citizens isn't a free lunch for those who broke the law."

Teixeira concluded:

… the public favors a tough, but not punitive, approach to the problem of containing illegal immigration and is willing to consider fairly generous approaches to the illegal immigrants already here, provided they feel expectations for these immigrants are high and that they will play by the rules.

Public opinion's been relatively steady for years. Americans don't like "amnesty," but when pollsters explain that immigrants would be required to jump through some hoops to become legal -- paying fines and back taxes, learning English and American history and getting in the "back of the line" behind those already working the legal process -- large majorities say they favor the approach.

And while Dobbs prides himself on being the voice of the middle -- of independents and pragmatic moderates -- popular support for earned legalization, with those hoops, cuts across ideological and party lines. That was clear from a poll of Republican voters conducted this summer (PDF). When asked if they support Congress passing “comprehensive immigration reform” without hearing details about the plan, 63 percent of GOP supporters said yes, and when given the details behind reform --  asked whether they'd support a law that would “Secure the border, crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, and require illegal immigrants to register for legal immigration status, pay back taxes, and learn English in order to be eligible for U.S. citizenship” -- almost nine in ten were on board.

Obviously, what they support is not in any way an "amnesty" policy -- Americans don't favor an easy ride. So Lou Dobbs and his fellow travelers just spun it and spun it until thousands of furious constituents flooded their representatives' offices' with complaints about what they thought the reform legislation contained. And not only did Dobbs call the proposals "amnesty bills," he also had the nerve to accuse his opponents of dishonesty when they tried to correct the record.

Now, as he considers public office, he'll counter-spin, claiming that he's always championed a pragmatic approach to undocumented immigrants based on a tough-love process of earned legalization. But don't be fooled -- when it comes to "shamnesty for illegals," Lou Dobbs was against it before he was for it.

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