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.
But it is. "Don't ask, don't tell" is as good as it gets when it comes to government strategy -- federal, state and local -- on policing illegal immigrants. By contrast, the prospect of enforcing the law sounds downright revolutionary. That's because the long political silence on immigration -- aside from the legislative efforts of the indomitable Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo. -- hasn't just been deafening. It's been demoralizing. Poll after poll indicates a profound uneasiness in the gut of the American public with the culturally transforming pace of immigration, both legal and illegal. But our politicians, particularly our president, have turned their backs on the issue, hoping the taboo topic goes away, sucked deep into the maw of the cheap labor market.