- The Washington Times - Monday, July 12, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Politicians are not often burdened with convictions. They can always borrow some when survival is at stake. Each party has an archive of convictions that have worked in the past, and a governor or a senator in trouble can always get a little help from temps.

Temporary convictions are available online, and a governor, senator, mayor or even an alderman need only to dial in to party headquarters to download a useful dump, pretested by the pollsters.

Panic in election years is an occupational hazard for politicians. The Obama administration, for example, is suing Arizona for its sheer effrontery of trying to do what the federal government has a responsibility to do but won’t. The Arizona law makes it a crime to be an illegal alien in the state, enabling police officers to ask someone they stop for speeding or running a stop sign for proof of his immigration status if there’s a “reasonable suspicion” of violation of federal immigration law.

This sounds like common sense, but Arizona terrifies Democrats. Some Democratic governors want the president to put a leash on Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who appears to be determined to inflict as much damage as he can while he’s still standing upright. If the Democrats take a drubbing in the November congressional elections, as now appears likely, he’ll be No. 1 on the president’s little list for inevitable Cabinet beheadings. Mr. Holder even talks of filing a second lawsuit to prevent “profiling,” though it’s the illegal aliens themselves who are responsible for their profiles.

The nation’s governors met in Boston last week, and nearly all of the Democrats spent the hours crying in their Samuel Adams lager, and Phil Bredesen of Tennessee sounds as if he downloaded a temporary conviction or two. The November elections will be tight in Tennessee, he told the New York Times, and frightened Democratic candidates are “disavowing” the president’s litigation against Arizona. But the governor wants only to briefly borrow the convictions, to be returned later when taxpayer tantrums subside. “Maybe you [“disavow”] when you’re strong,” he says, “and not when there’s an election looming out there.”

Bill Ritter, the Democratic governor of Colorado, feels the hot breath of the Tea Party dragon. He wants Mr. Holder to hold off suing until Arizona starts trying to enforce the law, because maybe it can’t. “I just think that law enforcement officers are going to have a terribly difficult time applying this law in a constitutional way.” A policeman’s lot is not a happy one, as Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Sullivan reminded us.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana, another Democrat, yearns for Congress to do something to turn down the heat so the governors can get back to issuing proclamations for Prostate Health Month, posing with beauty queens and dealing with other gubernatorial responsibilities. “There are 535 members of Congress,” he says, “and certainly somebody back there can chew gum and hold a basketball at the same time.” This was unkind to President Obama, a dedicated hoops shooter.

Several of the other governors, including Republicans, are pouting that they wouldn’t have to talk about immigration if their constituents would just shut up. The Tennessee governor says the governors prefer to talk about jobs — everybody likes jobs — “but all of a sudden, we have immigration going on.” All of a sudden? Have all the newspapers disappeared in Tennessee? Doesn’t anybody ever tell a governor anything?

Solving the immigration dilemma won’t be easy because both Democrats and Republicans have compelling reasons to leave illegal immigration chaos alone. Democrats relish the idea that most Hispanic immigrants will vote Democratic when they can get them “legalized,” and Republicans understand that employers of illegal aliens want a steady supply of easily abused cheap labor. Why should anybody change anything?

This attitude makes sense in Washington, but it drives a lot of people in the flyover states to rage, recriminations and strong drink, as in, orange pekoe, Earl Grey or even wild berry zinger herbal. The rage in turn can make a Christian of a politician who has never before needed heartfelt convictions about immigration. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, once given to lecturing on the romance of the flexible border and now a defender of the Arizona faith, is exhibit No. 1.

Democrats will defend 19 governorships in November, and if Republicans pick up a considerable number of them, it will be bad news for Barack Obama and the Democrats looking toward 2012. Political convictions, borrowed or not, are like biscuits. You should take two and butter ‘em while they’re hot.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.