Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Gerson on McCain

On the whole, I like Michael Gerson, which I know makes me one of the few people who call themselves conservatives who do. Some might call me delusional--either for my affection for Gerson or for thinking myself a conservative.

But I have a pet peeve or two about Gerson. I find him most annoying when his moralism overcomes his humility, making him seem less intelligent than he is. Today’s column, about the triumph of John McCain, is a good example. Gerson reads McCain’s improbable victory over a flawed field as a vindication of the Bush Admministration’s approach to immigration and its "moral internationalism."

Now, aside from the fact that such an argument isn’t going to help McCain woo the conservative base, the simplifications about immigration in which Gerson engages are unworthy. Here’s Gerson:

First, tough immigration restrictions were supposed to be a unifying rallying cry -- the defining domestic commitment of the post-Bush Republican coalition. Illegal immigration was framed as a simple political issue: Since illegal immigrants are just another type of criminal, targeting them is merely a defense of the rule of law.

But a young woman who dies in the desert during a perilous crossing for the dream of living in America is not the moral equivalent of a drug dealer. Millions of hardworking, religious, family-oriented neighbors make unlikely "criminals." And treating them as such alienates an even larger group of Hispanic citizens.

Immigration is not a simple political issue like crime....

No, it’s not a simple political issue like crime, but it does have both law enforcement and national security elements, elements that Gerson’s moralistic humanitarianism apparently leads him to overlook completely. McCain’s adjustment of his position is not mere "trimming," as Gerson would have it, but recognition that the President’s job includes responsibility for enforcing laws and protecting the nation’s security. His humanitarianism has to be contained within and conditioned on those constitutional responsibilities. Compassion for people who want a better life should lead us to creating a rigorous and generous immigration program, not to turning a blind eye to a porous border and overlooking the base criminality of some in order to celebrate the decency and hard work of others. It is a complicated picture, but Gerson simplifies it in order to bash those with whom he disagrees from what he takes to be the moral high ground.

In so doing, he does his cause and, apparently, his candidate, no favors.

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