Listening to Republicans in Washington (and Texas and Arizona) scream about the "crisis" of migrant children arriving from Central America on our southern border, it is puzzling to realize they don't actually want to do anything to solve the problem. Nor do these hysterical politicians -- led by that down-home diva Rick Perry, the governor of Texas -- want to let President Barack Obama do anything, either.
Except that they insist the president absolutely must visit the border, in person, preferably with a thousand members of the National Guard (who could join the Border Patrol and local police in accepting the children as they surrender). Strangely enough, these Republicans, along with a few Texas Democrats, seem to believe this is the most important action Obama could undertake.
Understandably, the president is skeptical. "This isn't theater," he responded tartly. "This is a problem. I'm not interested in photo ops. I'm interested in solving a problem." As he knows, this episode is only the latest in a long sequence of similar clown shows, with Republicans citing ridiculous reasons to delay or prevent government action. His irritation is fully justified.
But perhaps Obama should have gone down to the border anyway, stood in the blazing sunlight with the dim governor for as long as Perry wished -- and allowed the television cameras to show that their presence had accomplished exactly nothing. Of course, if Obama showed up at the border, the Republicans assuredly would criticize him for wasting time on a photo op. They have become the party of perpetual whining.
When they aren't bleating about Obama, they're concocting weird theories about his secret plans to destroy America. Only last week, Perry coyly hinted -- although he said he didn't want to be "conspiratorial" -- that the White House must be "in on" the border crossings, because migrant kids couldn't have showed up en masse without "a highly coordinated effort." Later, he tried to persuade CNN's Kate Bolduan that he didn't really mean what his idiotic words said -- an explanation everyone has heard from him before.
While Perry has taken the lead, he isn't the only elected official whose mouth spews absurdities on this subject. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., offered a policy approach that would please any simpleton, when he explained why the president's request for $3.7 billion in emergency funding looks far too big to him. "I've gone online and have taken a look on Orbitz and taken a look at what does it cost to fly people to El Salvador and Guatemala and Honduras. You have fares as low as $207. There's nonstop flights at $450. You take those numbers and it costs somewhere between $11 million and $30 million to return people in a very humane fashion," he opined.
Evidently nobody informed the Wisconsin senator about the myriad other costs involved in rounding up and caring for these terrified children, who are entitled to a court hearing and other consideration under an anti-trafficking law signed by former President George W. Bush. Anyone who wants to expedite their removal -- a disturbingly inhumane and unnecessary policy -- must first provide more courts, judges and lawyers. And anyone who wants a decent policy, which includes action against the drug warlords who are threatening and killing these innocents, must be prepared to spend more than the cost of an Orbitz ticket.
Some Republicans, notably Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., are urging the president to include their pet projects, such as electronic verification requirements for employers and at border crossings, in his spending bill. And many GOP lawmakers, having demanded action on the border issue from Obama, are equally adamant that the funding must be "offset" by cuts in other programs.
None of these geniuses appears to realize all their barking, carping and mooning are frustrating the president's attempt to address the "crisis" that is agitating them so fiercely. Or more likely, they know exactly what they're doing -- and the point, as usual, is to embarrass Obama.
But not every Republican talks total nonsense about the border and immigration. Alfonso Aguilar, who headed the Office of Citizenship under Bush, recently wrote: "Contrary to the narrative of some opportunistic politicians and pundits, this unfortunate situation is not the result of the Obama administration failing to enforce the law. In reality, most would-be-migrants believe that crossing the border has become much more difficult, and in the last decade, the U.S. government has greatly strengthened border security and interior enforcement."
Meanwhile, the majority of Americans is increasingly repulsed by the primitive nativism and partisan opportunism of Republican leaders on immigration. Democrats, independents and even many rank-and-file Republicans want a more decent and constructive policy. Ultimately, voters must grasp that the GOP is the greatest single obstacle to every vital reform. That day cannot come too soon.
Joe Conason is a nationally syndicated columnist.