Jonah Goldberg
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President Bush hoped to tone down and sober up the immigration fight Monday night. But it amounted to a soft "shush" at WrestleMania.

The most interesting part of this political and ideological cage match is that few of the usual labels have much utility. President Bush and Senator Kennedy agree on a lot. Howard Dean and Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, can sound like conservative Republicans in their demands to close the border. Weekly Standard editor and Fox News sage Bill Kristol declares himself a "liberal" on immigration and "soft" on illegal immigration. Both the Weekly Standard and the editors of the Wall Street Journal consider National Review to be part of the mob of "yahoos" trying, in Kristol's words, to drive the GOP "off a cliff."

So this seems like a propitious time to ask: What if illegal immigrants were crack?

It's not such a crazy comparison, by the way. There's a reason why the drug war and illegal immigration have similar scripts, even though the actors reading the lines change.

The overwhelming majority of drugs entering this country cross the U.S.-Mexican border. Indeed, in the 1990s, to the extent that the debate over building a wall along the border got any traction, it stemmed from the war on drugs, not a war on illegal immigration. The steel fence constructed between San Diego and Tijuana - which works quite well, by the way - was built to stop drug traffickers, not gardeners.

Meanwhile, labels like "left" and "right," "liberal" and "conservative" don't get you very far when debating the drug war either. For example, National Review is foursquare against the drug war (though I dissent from my colleagues on this front). Meanwhile, the Weekly Standard has been a staunch supporter of the drug war, even taking hawkish positions on medical marijuana.

In 1996, NR's editors wrote: "... it is our judgment that the war on drugs has failed, that it is diverting intelligent energy away from how to deal with the problem of addiction, that it is wasting our resources, and that it is encouraging civil, judicial, and penal procedures associated with police states."

Similar arguments - from La Raza to Jack Kemp, Ted Kennedy to Ben Stein - fill the air today, with charges that immigration officials are a new "Gestapo."

"How many border guards would it take to make the U.S.-Mexican border impenetrable?" asked the Washington Post this week. "The answer ... is: It depends. It depends on how much money people are willing to spend and how many trappings of a police state they're willing to accept."

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Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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