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A Wall — and a Bridge

Tennessee’s Corker and Alexander support compromise on immigration bill.

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Back in the 1950s there was a spate of science-fiction movies highlighting this or that group of stealth invaders — or sometimes a single, abominably oversized monster — from somewhere else. As often as not, the peril was the result of mutation caused by atomic radiation.

The newish science of semiotics would tell us the obvious — that all these creatures from the Black Lagoon or the ones that came from outer space were a mish-mash of the real-world specters that haunted the public imagination: nuclear warfare and invasion by foreign powers. The "iron curtain" of Cold War lore was an additional veil of secrecy that magnified the threat posed by these ersatz aliens.

All that has passed — or, rather, mutated into a new array of threats, in the van of which are the cinema world's currently unending supply of vampires and zombies. As before, these beings represent the challenge to normalcy presented by certifiably different Others. Of the two, vampires come off with distinctly better P.R. No longer do the blood-suckers represent an unmitigated repellent evil.

There is, for example, Robert Pattinson, the hemo-goblin as hunk, who exists among a whole and various world of diversity in which his kind have as much chance of being good guys as not. Today's vampires seem to represent the ambiguities of a society that is still sorting out  just who represents what among the new human types, some still in disguise, that a greater degree of tolerance has fostered among us.

Not so with zombies, those grotesquely unappealing and undeniably "different" invaders who used to shuffle menacingly toward us with malicious intent but now are doing so in spades, romping en masse over all the ramparts and impediments we can place in their way, destroying and consuming everything, including ourselves, that we consider sacred. In a time of immigration paranoia, do we really need to ask what all this is about?

Not quite two decades ago, the right-wing columnist and sometime presidential candidate Pat Buchanan began demanding that we build a fence — a wall, really — covering the 2,000-mile border between the United States and Mexico, so as to prevent all them troublesome furriners from pouring in.

At least Buchanan, a self-proclaimed champion of what he calls "Western civilization," was relatively candid about the caucasoid bunker he had in mind to build.

Others cite purely economic threats — as right here in Tennessee, where each new legislative session sees the introduction of bills to identify, segment off, and expunge these supposed predators on the jobs of indigenous American workers and alleged leeches on the welfare and Social Security systems.

In reality, the case can be made that most of the migrant workers who came here from Mexico almost a generation ago A) were enticed here by the home-building industry as sources of cheap labor; B) performed jobs that the native population wouldn't do; C) largely stopped coming after the boom ended; and D) have contributed more in consumption and Social Security taxes (based on bogus IDs faked in many cases by their employers) than they took away.

In any case, Buchanan's concept of a border fence is now accepted doctrine and, in the form of an amendment, is incorporated into the currently pending immigration bill sponsored in the U.S. Senate by a nonpartisan "gang of eight." For the record, the gang is composed of Michael Bennet (D-CO); Richard Durbin (D-IL); Jeff Flake (R-AZ); Lindsey Graham (R-SC); John McCain (R-AZ); Bob Menendez (D-NJ); Marco Rubio (R-FL); and Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

The amendment is by Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and John Hoeven (R-ND) and is clearly intended to bridge the gap between supporters of moderate immigration reform and those in Congress who are adamantly opposed to any concessions to illegal immigrants or to what supporters call a "pathway" to legal citizenship.

In a nutshell, the Hoeven-Corker amendment would increase border surveillance, both in technology and manpower, and commit to 700 new miles of fencing on the U.S.-Mexico border, while creating strict standards for permanent residence, enforced by the Department of Homeland Security.

In theory, the amendment creates a compromise measure that can transcend the consistent partisan gridlock that plagues the Senate and these days strands almost every controversial bill somewhere between filibuster and cloture.

The other Tennessee senator, Lamar Alexander, was an enthusiastic supporter of Hoeven-Corker, contending that it "takes big and important steps on the immigration issue that matters most: border security," though he maintained his options on the bill itself: "As this legislation reaches its final form, I will be examining it closely to determine whether it creates an effective immigration system that respects the rule of law. My goals will remain securing our border, ending de facto amnesty, and creating a legal immigration system."

Among the opponents of the bill is (wait for it) Sarah Palin, these days a scold-without-portfolio, who opines: "Just like they did with Obamacare, some in Congress intend to 'Pelosi' the amnesty bill. They'll pass it in order to find out what's in it. And just like the unpopular, unaffordable Obamacare disaster, this pandering, rewarding-the-rule-breakers, still-no-border-security, special-interests-ridden, 24-pound disaster of a bill is not supported by informed Americans."

Not to be outdone was talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, who opined: "[I]t's not even the gang of eight. ... It's the gang of nine, with Obama as part of it, or it's the gang of one, and it's all Obama. ... [T]his Hoeven-Corker amendment is really the Obama amendment. It was Obama's idea, possibly, and they found a couple guys to put their names on it." 

That one of those "couple guys" is Corker, increasingly regarded as a bridge between the two sides of the aisle, and that his home-state colleague Alexander is a chief supporter are facts consistent with the traditional conciliatory role of Tennessee senators, in and out of historical mood swings.

Though they vote the GOP party line more often than not — and can be as stiff-necked as any of their party mates at filibuster time — the two Tennesseans are still to be numbered among those who, speaking of walls, can find pathways through and around the ideological ones that so often confound the prospect of getting anything done in Congress.

• Not to throw any cold water on that assessment, but both Corker and Alexander can go big-time partisan, too. Simultaneous with Alexander's statement of conditional support for the pending immigration bill was one exulting over the Supreme Court's decision to hear arguments on the constitutionality of President Obama's January 2012 appointments to the National Labor Relations Board.

Said the senator: "It is good news for American workers and employers that the Supreme Court will rule on whether the Senate or the president decides when the Senate is in session. In the meantime, the Senate should pass my bill to stop the National Labor Relations Board from issuing more decisions and creating more workplace uncertainty until the Supreme Court has reached a decision."

That bill, co-sponsored by U.S. representative Phil Roe (R-TN), "would prohibit the National Labor Relations Board from taking any action that requires a quorum until the board members constituting the quorum have been confirmed by the Senate, the Supreme Court issues a decision on the constitutionality of the appointments to the board made in January 2012, or the first session of the 113th Congress is adjourned."

The bill is targeted at recess appointments, which all presidents have resorted to when decisions on their nominees to federal offices, often lesser ones, have been blocked by recalcitrant Congresses.

• State senator Mark Norris (R-Collierville) has been reelected for a third two-year term as chairman of the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations. The commission was tasked in the 2013 legislative session with conducting a comprehensive study on urban annexation and with making recommendations on the subject to the General Assembly in January.

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