I HAPPEN TO HAVE MR. GOLDWATER RIGHT HERE
Via Steve Benen, I see that Linda Greenhouse of The New York Times is boycotting Arizona and calling it "a police state," while invoking its most revered 20th-century conservative in reference to the state's new immigration law:
What would Arizona's revered libertarian icon, Barry Goldwater, say about a law that requires the police to demand proof of legal residency from any person with whom they have made "any lawful contact" and about whom they have "reasonable suspicion" that "the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States?"
I wouldn't look for too much comfort there. We actually know some of Goldwater's thoughts on immigration, from a 1978 statement that appeared decades later in a book entitled Pure Goldwater. A 2008 newspaper article sums up Goldwater's thinking:
Don't offer amnesty to those already here illegally. Sanctions against employers who hire illegal immigrants are unfair; it is the government's responsibility to determine who is here legally.
Start a guest worker program to "channel the flow" of illegal immigrants through a legal mechanism.
And establish a clear immigration policy that is actually enforced.
If Goldwater were on the floor of the U.S. Senate today, he'd feel right at home with the immigration debate -- but conservatives would brand him a "traitor" for supporting a guest worker program....
Goldwater then offered a litany of suggestions: better inspection, detection, surveillance and manpower capabilities for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Border Patrol and Customs Service. "Our personnel do an admirable job under often trying circumstances, but they need more funds, improved equipment and more manpower," the senator wrote. "We need a clearer U.S. immigration policy that is actually enforced. We need increased cooperation with the countries that are sending illegal aliens."
(You can go here for the full text of Goldwater's statement.)
So I wouldn't jump to the conclusion that Goldwater would regard this as a matter of "freedom" and "small government."
Our side still doesn't understand how these issues appear to angry rightists, or to the centrists the righties find persuadable. Greenhouse, for instance, goes on to write:
Indeed, federal pre-emption would appear to be the most promising route for attacking the Arizona law. Supreme Court precedents make clear that immigration is a federal matter and that the Constitution does not authorize the states to conduct their own foreign policies.
Yeah -- but that's also the most promising route for firing up the angry white base. What angry whites think, rightly or wrongly, when it's argued that the federal courts should nullify this law is: (a) activist judges are defying the will of the people and (b) that the feds are demanding preeminence when it's the federal government that's failing to deal with the immigration issue in the first place.
Let me be clear: I'M NOT DEFENDING THESE ARGUMENTS. I'm just pointing out that they're arguments that really resonate with just the kinds of voters the Republican Party hopes to turn out in November, as well as with a lot of swing voters. And I don't see that our counterarguments resonate at all. I agree with Nate Silver:
It wouldn't shock me if the law indeed proved to be popular, especially in Arizona.... (Liberals, who uniformly seem to think that the law will be unpopular with certain key demographic groups, are a bit too sanguine about this).
And speaking of wedge issues, I see (again via Steve Benen) that Tim James, a longshot candidate for Alabama's GOP gubernatorial nomination, is running an ad complaining about the state's multilingual driver's license test:
In this advertisement, Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim James speaks on the apparently incredible waste of government resources it takes to give driver's license examinations in twelve languages.
"This is Alabama," he says. "We speak English. If you want to live here, learn it. ... Maybe it's the business man in me, but we'll save money. And it make sense." THREE SECOND PAUSE. "Does it to you?"
And here, apparently, is our side's best counterargument:
... there's a reason why Alabama has its exams in many different languages ... if the governor changes the rules, the state could lose billions of dollars in federal transportation funding.
The feds insist? That's the best we've got?
If we can't do better than that, on this and other wedge issues, and if we can't show real benefits from non-right-wing governance (when exactly are all those wonderful benefits from the health care bill actually going to kick in?), and if we aren't going to respond to the economic downturn with some full-throated scapegoating (please Mr. President, stop asking Wall Street to "join us"), then the right is going to scapegoat in its time-tested fashion, and is going to be able to argue that pointy-headed liberals are out of touch with simple common sense. And far too many middle-of-the-roaders are going to agree with the righties.