Karl Rove's lease in the heart of Texas.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Off Message: Lest anyone forget the political motivations behind President Bush's prime-time address last night, the White House sent Karl Rove to give a "major policy address" at a Republican think tank yesterday afternoon. Rove was eager to prove that, despite losing his title, he's still a serious player on issues. "We're going to stay focused on good policy," Rove concluded optimistically, "confident that that will ultimately take care of the politics of the matter."
Rove insisted, "I am so completely off message on a day that we're talking about immigration, I don't know if they'll let me back into the gates at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue." But the most interesting comments he made were in response to a question about the impact of immigration on Social Security. Instead of giving a political answer (e.g., "It's hard to say which of the two will cost us the Congress!"), Rove revealed a personal anecdote:
We're a country of immigrants. I'm from Texas. I have a lease in Kenedy County, Texas. It's half the size of Rhode Island and has 973 people who live there. And I don't care if you're hunting deer in February or mowing the roads in the middle of the pasture in August, you'll find somebody carrying a plastic jug and a plastic bag in the middle of the cold winter or the very hot summer, trying desperately to get north in order to earn money to put food on the table for their families. We've got to deal with that reality. On the other hand, we've also got to deal with the reality that people die. I've seen a couple of corpses out there. I don't want to see them again.
Rove had told the same story in more detail at a conservative dinner last year at Ashland University in Ohio:
So, we've got to match border security with a willing worker program; so, look, I have a hunting lease in Kennedy County, Texas. It's half the size of Connecticut and 973 people live in the county. My hunting lease is the size of the island of Manhattan and nobody lives there. And I could be out there and it could be cold in the winter or hot as Hades in the summer, and you're just—either time of the season, you're likely to find 10 or 15 Mexicans coming across the—I mean it is a 70 mile walk from one end of the county to the other, and these guys are carrying a little water jug, a milk jug, and a plastic bag with twinkies in it. And, I'll tell you, I found a couple of them where the plastic bag and the water didn't hold out and what is left there is moldering bones and a carcass.
I don't doubt Rove's account—anything can happen on a Bush administration hunting trip. But for those of you keeping score at home, Kenedy County has a population of 407 (not 973) and an area of 1,946 square miles, which makes it just over a third (not half) the size of Connecticut (not Rhode Island). Perhaps Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, can use these discrepancies to bolster his client's faulty-memory defense.
Outer Boroughs: What's more troubling is to see immigration policy being shaped by the perspective of men with playpens the size of Manhattan. No matter how genuine the compassion, it can sound a little like a plea to hunt quail in peace.
Kenedy County, as you may recall, is home to the Armstrong Ranch, where Vice President Cheney had to deal with a little too much reality earlier this year. A few years back, Tobin Armstrong, the late patriarch of that ranch, grew so fed up with illegal immigrants trespassing on 50,000 acres that he testified before the House Immigration subcommittee. He told Congress he was worried about "forage contamination" and foot and mouth disease.
At least until recently, one of the few potentially worthy political projects that Rove and Bush had under way was to stop the Republican party from turning inward on immigration. These days, that promise is starting to ring somewhat hollow. A compassionate conservative turns out to be someone with a really big ranch who's sorry about all the "No Trespassing" signs. ... 2:09 A.M. (link)
Bruce Reed, who was President Clinton's domestic policy adviser, is CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council and co-author with Rahm Emanuel of The Plan: Big Ideas for Change in America.E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his disclosure here.
Photograph of George Bush on the Slate home page by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images.