Regardless of whether you tend to agree with President Bush on the war in Iraq, regardless of whether you think the war was a good idea, and regardless of whether you think that decisions about the war's conduct were correct, you have to grant that Bush is not taking the path of least resistance. Indeed, there is a considerably better than even chance that in the pantheon of American presidents George W. Bush will share space with those widely viewed as failures.
Bush got to where he is today not by following public opinion but by resisting it, even long after most of the nation soured on U.S. involvement in Iraq. We can question the wisdom of the war and how it has been waged without questioning Bush's resolve.
Similarly, one would be hard-pressed to find an issue that divides the Republican Party more than immigration. Many elements of the traditionally Republican business community -- particularly hotels, restaurants, and landscaping firms -- rely heavily on a steady supply of low-cost, undocumented workers, as do meat processors and agribusinesses. A crackdown on illegal immigration, that is, on the flow of low-paid workers coming into this country, would hurt these industries enormously.
But equally strong and passionate voices within the GOP argue that illegal immigrants exact an enormous financial toll on our social services and public schools, and that American culture as we know it is under siege. These Republicans take particular umbrage at immigrants who fail to learn English and to join mainstream American culture. The GOP foes of creating any path to citizenship for illegal immigrants argue that nothing short of our nation's future is at stake.
Immigration would be an easy issue for Bush to sidestep. He could just allow some future president, maybe even a Democratic one, to juggle this exceedingly hot potato. But instead, he has been pushing comprehensive immigration reform that encompasses a path to citizenship for some of the workers who are in our country illegally. His course is hardly the path of least resistance.
Although I disagree with Bush on the war and agree with him on immigration, I admire his grit and resolve on both. Yet those who disagree with him generally give him little credit for his tenacity and don't even concede that he is paying a terrible price for his advocacy on these issues.
Of course, Bush's support for comprehensive immigration legislation is dividing a Republican Party that he is trying to unite behind the Iraq war. With Democrats and independent voters solidly lined up against the war, Bush is relying primarily on the support of Republicans, who are divided on immigration. The more Bush pushes immigration reform in the coming weeks and months, the more he will fray his relations with those Republicans who vehemently disagree with him.
The 2008 presidential campaign is already well under way, with voters increasingly watching, listening to, and -- if they are lucky enough to live in Iowa or New Hampshire -- probing the candidates a bit. Voters are trying to find a balance between having a candidate who shares their values and ideology and having one who relies on personal judgment, regardless of whether it is popular.
But let's face it, presidential contests don't make it easy for voters to find a good balance and don't encourage candidates to demonstrate their ability to provide one. Too bad.