Jonah Goldberg

That's why I hope the GOP will succeed at heading off the slide into demagoguery. The political incentive is clearly there. Already, most congressional Republicans are running essentially on the motto coined by David Frum: "Stop the Bush amnesty plan - vote Republican." And just this week, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., an immigration hard-liner who co-authored the 700-mile border fence bill, announced that he's running for president. If immigration weren't such a huge issue, it's inconceivable that the idea would have even occurred to him.

Hunter is dismissed by liberal critics, but a responsible political class would recognize the danger that the kindling of immigration could become a bonfire if ignored.

That's one reason why I reluctantly came out in favor of a fence on the border. Sure, the symbolism to the world is bad. But it would send Americans the message that elites are serious about an issue millions of Americans care about, and justifiably so.

The conservative argument against illegal immigration is grounded mostly in civics: What kind of nation should we be? Who gets to be a citizen, and how do we decide such things? The liberal argument is enmeshed largely in statist and egalitarian economics. As with Dobbs' rants, it's of a piece with protectionism and economic populism. If the GOP takes the issue off the table, conservative economics is less likely to be poisoned by such thinking. If the Democrats seize the issue, populist economic policies will be the price Americans pay for border security.

For example, my own views on illegal immigration don't at all conflict with my desire for continued robust legal immigration. Left-leaning economic populists can't make this case because their argument hinges on immigration's alleged negative effects on wages. Air America liberals and Democrats are jealous of right-wing populism. They'd be politically smart to steal conservative thunder by tackling illegal immigration, but if they succeeded the result would be a Dobbsian nightmare.

Jonah Goldberg

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