There are two things every American should know about Virginia’s governor’s race: 1) It’s the first sizable political contest to turn, largely, on the issue of illegal immigration. 2) As such, it spotlights the pathetic state of political discourse on the subject.
Just to be clear, there’s nothing pathetic about the position of Republican nominee Jerry W. Kilgore. He’s the guy I like. I like him simply because he says he wants to enforce the law—for example, the law prohibiting illegal aliens and other non-citizens from voting. He would even like to see the law tightened to become more easily enforceable. I also like him because he says he doesn’t want to break the law—such as laws prohibiting welfare and other benefits from being distributed to illegal aliens.
But this is precisely where the debate becomes pathetic: In the United States, in the year 2005, just trying to help carry out immigration laws already on the books, and just trying not to break them, marks one as a veritable subversive with a program, as The Washington Post hysterically put it, “tinged with nativism and opportunism.” In such a climate, Kilgore’s support for new legislation to make existing laws more enforceable—for example, legislation that would enable police to detain illegal immigrants arrested for violent offenses and turn them over to federal immigration officials—is regarded as rock-the-boat radical. This is not only pathetic, but also depressing: A commitment to keep the government functioning according to the laws that make it sovereign should not be political TNT.
Sounds as if Kilgore is on to something. Really vital concerns are always “wedge” issues in that they divide the electorate into clear-cut camps from which leaders emerge to govern. That said, this is one weird wedge. Whoever would have imagined that a campaign to enforce the nation’s laws would be considered “mean-spirited” “demagoguery” and “populist nonsense”?