The Great Backlash of 2004 – Part I

By Doug Patton

January 12, 2004

Doug PattonJanuary 20, 2005 – Standing in the freezing cold before the United States Capitol, watching the 44th President of the United States taking the oath of office, the only word the mind could muster was “surreal.” Another Bush presidency had been cut to a single term.

Not since the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, when George Herbert Walker Bush had managed to turn an 81 percent approval rating into a disastrous 1992 political defeat, could anyone recall such a massive shift in American politics.

Most agreed that it was even more dramatic than the “Republican Revolution” of 1994, which resulted from two years of Clinton tax increases, gun bans and the attempted takeover of national health care.

This time, the grassroots earthquake had begun the first week of January 2004. With Congress still in recess, President George W. Bush had announced what amounted to an official amnesty for millions of illegal aliens. Of course, he had refused to call it an amnesty. Instead, the president had pointed out for the umpteenth time that “America was built by immigrants.” He called the illegals “undocumented workers.” He told us once again about all the workers who were filling the jobs that “Americans simply will not take.” In essence, his plan simply offered to throw open our borders to the world, inviting anyone with “the promise of a job” to come to the United States.

The media covered the story for a few days, then it disappeared from the front pages and from the evening news. But the backlash was greater than anyone could have imagined. It started with a flood of calls to congressional offices across the country. “Unbelievable” and “betrayal” were two of the most commonly used terms. Many others were not fit to print or even to repeat.

Moderates and liberals hailed the new policy as “bold” and “compassionate.” Meanwhile, conservative Republicans in Congress were hearing from great numbers of angry constituents in their own party. And as the White House continued to calculate that, come November, these voters would have nowhere else to go, many of them swore to their representatives that they would stay home from the polls before they would vote for Mr. Bush again.

Initially, most Democrats were gleeful at the prospect at their two-fold victory. Even as many complained publicly that the president’s proposal did not go far enough, they knew that despite the hopes of the president’s reelection team the fast-tracked illegals would vote in greater numbers for their candidates than for the GOP. They also believed that whatever backlash might occur would hurt only the president.

When Congress reconvened, the topic was on everyone’s lips. The calls, faxes, letters and e-mails had gotten their attention. But it seemed that only conservative Republicans were listening to their constituents instead of pressure from the White House, and in the end the president’s proposal sailed through the House 289-145, and through the Senate 64-36.

The business community was elated. Jobs at Burger King that had paid $8.00 an hour the year before dropped to minimum wage almost immediately. No one but the newly legalized aliens applied, and these positions were declared “jobs no American would take.” Of course, unless patrons could order at the drive-up window in Spanish, their orders were usually wrong. And the electorate fumed.

Meanwhile, seething beneath the radar of the pundits, the pollsters and the national media were the silent, brooding majority of legal immigrants – an untapped group of voters whose sentiments had been completely misread by the White House.

In February, the Constitution Party announced that four candidates had filed to run for their presidential nomination. The best known of these was commentator and former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan. His announcement was quickly followed by those of Congressman Ron Paul, the fiery Texas conservative who had previously run as a Libertarian; Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo, the most outspoken GOP House member on illegal immigration; and former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore.

The 2004 political conventions promised to be the most exciting in half a century.

(Next week: “The Great Backlash of 2004 – Part II”)

Doug Patton is a freelance columnist who has served as a speechwriter and policy advisor for federal, state and local candidates, elected officials and public policy organizations. His weekly columns are published in newspapers across the country, and on selected Internet web sites, including, where he serves as the Nebraska Editor. He also writes for Talon News Service ( Readers can e-mail him at