As the euphoria wears off from the thrilling victory against the President's immigration reform, and the reality sets in, we shall come to see that not much has changed. We are where we were.

Today Tocqueville points us to a Thomas Sowell column (here): Bipartisan Betrayal: “Where is the fence?”

Although he probes some telling subjects, I would argue that even Sowell, one of the most incisive thinkers in the conservative movement, is still in fundamental denial concerning the reality of the moment.

Sowell writes:

With immigration, as with other issues, the most important decision is: Who is to make the decision?

Important point. Sowell uses this truism to launch into an assertion of American sovereignty. But the more practical answer to his question of who?--is the Congress of the United States.

America is sovereign, and the will of the people, in theory, should drive the process to regulate the flow of immigrants, secure our borders and establish procedures for naturalizing would-be Americans.

The rule of the people is fine in theory--but, even in theory, we are not a direct democracy. Popular sovereignty is filtered through a complex political process, which is the product of a constitution and centuries of rules and traditions and personalities.

In reality, all federal legislation is dependent upon party interests, composition of the Congress, timing, leadership, media, awareness, and much, much more. Making law is an art--not a science. More telling, it is an "art of the possible."

What is possible?

Take a look at yesterday's vote on Alberto Gonzales (roll call here). Although the Gonzales question is completely unrelated to immigration, the vote is, nevertheless, instructive. When push came to shove, there were 38 Senators willing to stand up to the grandstanding Democrats. Take a look at the list (roll call here once again).

My suspicion is that most of those thirty-eight Republicans are not fans of Gonzales; we know that they are fairly disenchanted with the President. But there they were, casting their "votes of confidence" like fearless patriots of a embattled cause. In essence, these are your stalwarts. These true believers are most likely the full extent of the "cultural conservatives"* on immigration in the United States Senate (plus or minus one or two).

I noted recently the logical fallacy of reading the polling data that indicates only 22 percent of Americans supported the late immigration bill and then assuming that 78 percent are for the cultural conservative alternative (sealed borders and no amnesty for the twelve million illegals). It is also naive to assume that last week's victory in blocking the reform bill in the Senate (where it takes sixty votes to legislate) is tantamount to building a coalition for positive action acceptable to cultural conservatives.

One more thing: as for the will of the people. The people have not demonstrated an employable interest in a hard-line immigration package. Yes, there is polling; there is talk radio; there is anger among certain segments. But the power of the cultural conservatives on this issue has yet to be demonstrated at the ballot box.

Reminder: Republican leadership in the 109th Congress, beset by scandal, dissatisfaction on Iraq and fiscal malpractice, sacrificed serious discussion of solutions to place all their hopes for survival on immigration as an emotional issue to save their rotten skins. The strategy proved a dismal failure.

I will believe immigration "hardlining" is an effective electoral strategy when I see it. Or, perhaps when Tom Tancredo rises above 1 percent in the national polls. I don't say all this because I think politics should drive policy (in fact, I bemoan that GOP mistake every chance I get). But elections matter in that they carry "mandates." So far, there is no electoral mandate for hardcore immigration action; as a result, there is little chance for cultural conservative success in passing legislation.

Sowell points out that we, in fact, have a current policy of open borders and de facto amnesty.

Sowell blames both parties and avers:

Neither wants to risk losing the Hispanic vote, though it is doubtful whether all Hispanics are in favor of open borders.

That strikes me as a facile explanation. Why?

1. Historically, Hispanics have not shown themselves especially active voters. Isn't this much ado about not much?

2. Lets assume Sowell has a salient point: It may work for Democrats, but it seems an oddly indirect strategy for Republicans. Hispanics have always leaned Democrat. Instead of trying to legitimate, activate and then convert Hispanic voters, why wouldn't the GOP prefer to just round them all up and shut down the borders--if the issue was merely about elections and stopping immigration was an option. Instead of hoping for the best, we could kill the problem in its cradle.

I tend to think the motivations here are much more complicated and less sinister than Sowell suggests. Let me think about it for a while; I will try to return to this question at some later date.

Sowell attempts also to address some of the more familiar arguments for immigrants:

The first of these frauds is the argument that the economy “needs” illegal immigrants to fill “jobs that Americans won’t take.” Both parts of this argument ignore the most obvious three-letter word that is left out: Pay.

Virtually any job is a job that Americans will not take, if the pay is low enough. Nor is there any reason for pay to rise if illegal immigrants are available at low pay.

This is true enough on its face. If we paid enough to have our lawns mowed and our toilets cleaned, I suppose we could recruit college graduates from wealthy families to do these jobs. But is it really in our interest to initiate a massive restructuring of salaries?

A dirty little secret: low-skilled workers have been essential to our increasingly pampered, high-powered, low-inflation existence over the past few decades.

There is an important humanitarian question in all this: are we willing to exploit the most unfortunate among us (granted: the victims are complicit in all this) in order to maintain our elevated lifestyles? By the way, this is a potential point of agreement among cultural conservatives and soft-hearted liberals. Cultural conservatives should pursue this possible alliance.

More Sowell:

Then there is the “family reunification” fraud which claims that we cannot in good conscience keep out the families of illegal immigrants who are living in the United States but must let those families reunite.

Of all the cultural conservative demands, this one disturbs me most. Have a heart. Let people in or don't let people in. Give them a path to citizenship or don't. But if someone is good enough to be an American citizen, have some compassion for the basic human need for family. I don't see that brand of cultural conservative thinking as at all traditional.

More Sowell:

The grand fraud of all is the claim that we must have “comprehensive” immigration reform — that is, simultaneously deal with border control and the legal status of illegal immigrants already here.

There is no logical reason why these two issues must be dealt with together, though there are political reasons why elected officials want to do so. Passing border laws described as “tough” gives Congress political cover when they legalize the illegals.

Historically, comprehensive solutions have always proved the necessary glue for divisive legislation. Comprehensive solution is the highway of compromise, the bridge over impasse. Neither side is ever willing to accept defeat on the promise that compensation will come later at some unspecified date. Too often later never comes. Neither side trusts the other in this case, and there is no reason to trust. Get it done sooner rather than later--but neither side is going to take a bullet on this issue without getting something tangible in return.

Finally, from Sowell:

Last year, the sop to the American people was the promise of a fence on the border. This year, the big question is: “Where is the fence?”

This is the reality. There is no fence. There will be no fence. There are not enough votes for a fence. There is not enough will for a fence.

Deal with it. Accept it. Try to change it. But wishing and wailing are not constructive solutions.

*Note on language: For lack of a better word, and as a result of my conversation with Tocqueville, I am referring to conservatives who are against liberal immigration reform as cultural conservatives.