Immigrant March Milwaukee 4.1.06(AP Photo) 

Yesterday’s New York Times featured a staff editorial chastising what they, as part of America’s sizable minority that supports open borders, regard as shameless political obstructionism by Republicans as many increasingly distance themselves from politically toxic policies that smack of amnesty.

‘The fakery is hard to watch, as it comes at a time when courage and bipartisan realism are critically important. The Iowa maunderings of two candidates in particular — Senators Sam Brownback and John McCain — have complicated the prospects of a bipartisan immigration bill that would affect millions of lives. While its fate is being decided in difficult closed-door negotiations in the Capitol, they and other G.O.P. hopefuls are on the stump, tying themselves in knots over “amnesty” and dancing farther out to the fringes of public opinion.’

Courage and Bipartisan realism” are values that are thoroughly in the eye of the beholder, though, and there are multitudes of non-New York Times-reading Americans who think true courage and realism involves taking politically incorrect stands on a sensitive issue — many of whom will be voting in the crucial bellwether primaries that will determine the Republican candidates’ fates.  And “the fringes of public opinion” are debatable as well, with poll results varying dramatically between polls with different frames and rhetoric embedded into the questions.

Still, the New York Times serves up a vituperative assault on Republican candidates’ varying flip-flops and changes of frame with this issue:

‘The Boston Globe posted audio clips of Mr. Romney praising, in 2005, an immigration bill sponsored by Mr. McCain and Senator Edward Kennedy as sensible and “quite different” from amnesty, then dissing it as amnesty in this year’s campaign. Mr. Romney now wallows in the support of Joe Arpaio, the showboating Phoenix sheriff famous for humiliating prisoners and pushing a round-’em-all-up approach.

Rudolph Giuliani has sharply changed his tone. Once a stout defender of immigrants, Mr. Giuliani now talks about sending people to the back of the line and installing “heat-seeking equipment” at the border. He insists that he opposes amnesty, but the “amnesty” he objects to is an “amnesty” nobody is talking about — blanket forgiveness, a free pass to a green card. Once you hear him talking about helping immigrants who pay fines and back taxes, stay out of trouble, learn English and wait in the back of the visa line, it seems clear that he belongs in the comprehensive-reform fold with Mr. Kennedy and others — whether he admits it or not.

‘Of all the retreats, the most disheartening may be Mr. McCain’s. This former straight talker once lent his name to the most promising immigration bill in Congress. But as Senator Kennedy has struggled to draft a compromise this year, his former partner has been trumpeting border security on the campaign trail and letting momentum for comprehensive reform stall in Washington.’

Aside from the fairly hostile editorializing going on, the Times does identify the ends to which the candidates — two of whom represented constituencies that were very open to relaxing immigration policy and the other, McCain, who supported a politically correct and business-friendly bill fitting his reputation as a maverick — now go in order not to alienate the large (and bipartisan) grassroots movement that has mobilized against immigration on account of its economic effects and, perhaps, the profound demographic transformation it will bring to the United States.  The question is not the degree to which their adjustment pleases the New York Times, but how much it convinces primary voters across the nation.