Bush Fears for Nation's Soul

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, May 30, 2007; 1:00 PM

President Bush said yesterday he fears that the backlash against immigration being incited by opponents of his legalization proposal could result in the nation losing its soul.

His comments came in an intense interview aboard Air Force One with McClatchy Newspapers. "I'm deeply concerned about America losing its soul," Bush said. "Immigration has been the lifeblood of a lot of our country's history." He added: "If we don't solve the problem it's going to affect America. It will affect our economy and it will affect our soul."

My earlier doubts that Bush would not fully engage in this heated debate now appear to have been unfounded. (See my May 22 column, Has Bush Given Up on Immigration? Answer: No.)

In a speech yesterday at a law-enforcement training facility in Georgia, Bush promoted the compromise legislation worked out between the White House and a bipartisan group of senators. He charged opponents of the bill in his own party with fear-mongering and said they "don't want to do what's right for America."

But in his interview with McClatchy's Ron Hutcheson, a fellow Texan, Bush spoke about the issue in even more personal and metaphysical terms.

"I feel passionate about the issue," Bush told Hutcheson.

"Q Where does the passion come from?

"THE PRESIDENT: Look, when you grow up in Texas like we did, I did -- leave you out of the story here -- like I did, you recognize the decency and hard work and humanity of Hispanics. And the truth of the matter is a lot of this immigration debate is driven as a result of Latinos being in our country. . . .

"My only point is, is that I have seen firsthand the beautiful stories of people being able to take advantage of opportunity and make solid contributions to our society.

"Secondly, I'm deeply concerned about America losing its soul. Immigration has been the lifeblood of a lot of our country's history. And I am worried that a backlash to newcomers would cause our country to lose its great capacity to assimilate newcomers. And I believe that a newly arrived adds to the vigor and the entrepreneurial spirit, and enhances the American Dream.. . . .

"Q How invested are you on it?

"THE PRESIDENT: I'm going to work it hard.

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