The Democratic Party is a coalition party, much more so than the Republican Party. The advantage of a coalition party is that it can add new members to the coalition. The disadvantage is that members of the coalition can be turned against each other. We have seen it happen with civil rights for Afro-Americans, women's rights, guns, gay rights, religion, the Vietnam War, and now immigration.
Each of those issues have caused, at various times, internal problems for the Democratic Party by turning members of the coalition against each other. In most cases it was white working class males, working class as being defined as people who do not have a four-year college degree, who were angered by postions taken by other members of the Democratic coalition.
It can be seen in the states of the Old Confederacy going from solidly Democratic to solidly Republican starting in 1964 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act. It can be seen in the voting pattern of so-called "Reagan Democrats" in both 1980 and 1984. Now it is being seen in immigration.
The Washington Post did a report dated October 23, 2007 on a special election held in Massachusetts that pitted the widow of the late Senator Paul Tsongas against a Republican. The Republican started hammering on the fact that Mrs. Tsongas came out in favor of giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. This is a quote from the article:
Then, just two days before Tuesday's balloting, Tsongas said illegal immigrants should each be allowed to get a driver's license. The final radio ad of the Ogonowski insurgency intoned, "And now for something truly incredible. You already know Niki Tsongas supports amnesty for illegal immigrants, but today we learned Niki Tsongas would go even further. Tsongas told the Boston Herald she wants to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants."
The result was that in a special election, in a district where Democrats were used to getting 57% of the vote, she only got 51% and won by about 5%. Now there is one big caveat in that result and that is the fact that it was a special election. The turn-out in special elections is usually much lower than in other elections, and often can be swayed by advocates of a certain position mounting a drive to get their supporters out to vote. Still the result indicates how much of a hot topic the idea of illegal immigrants getting goverment benefits and services may be in the 2008 election.
The issue of driver licenses for illegal immigrants came up in this week's debate for Democratic presidential candidates. Hillary Clinton seemed to waver on whether she supported a plan by Governor Spitzer of New York to allow illegal immigrants to get driver licenses. The idea behind the plan is to get illegal immigrants to get insurance by allowing them to get licenses. Clinton's position at the debate was described by her opponents as muddled, although, according to the Washington Post, she now supports Spitzer's plan. Keep an eye of the issue of illegal immigrants receiving government benefits in 2008 because it could be big.