Jay Cost of National Review Online delves into the partisan politics associated with today’s fights over immigration.

The American political discourse is not famous for its high tone. We the people do not have dispassionate conversations about the appropriate levels of taxation, regulation, and social welfare, so much as we accuse one another of being enemies of all that is good and right. It has always been this way, more or less. Mass, participatory politics did not exist before the United States, and apparently this is just how these things work when you give the people the right to decide their own fate.

Yet even by the admittedly diminished standards of our “civil” discourse, immigration is, and has always been, an issue that we seem uniquely unable to discuss straightforwardly or calmly. This dates all the way back to the 1790s, when the Federalists more or less accused Republican-leaning immigrants of being agents of a foreign power. That set the tone for everything that followed.

There are many reasons for this, but I want to focus on one — perhaps the biggest one, or at least one whose importance is belied by the fact that it is hardly ever discussed. That is: calculations of raw political power.