Commentary Magazine


Conservatives Should Stay Smart

Some conservatives have latched onto the news that Tony West, the assistant attorney general for the Civil Division, is the lead lawyer on the Justice Department’s case regarding Arizona’s immigration law. West previously represented al-Qaeda terrorists and, as I have written about at length, thereby raised a thicket of ethical issues insofar as he now is in charge of Gitmo litigation. But the criticism of his role in the Arizona litigation is misplaced.

No conservative administration would have hired West, but the reason why Obama was wrong to do so is that it introduced a potentially crippling ethical issue with regard to terror cases and raised real concerns about how vigorously the administration would litigate on key national-security issues in which West’s sympathies clearly were with the detainees.

None of this has anything to do with the Arizona case. And as I previously argued, conservatives who are delighted by a 50-state onslaught against illegal aliens should rejoice that they can now test their position. So what  is their beef?

On this issue, some conservatives risk appearing unhinged as they rail against the latest scrap of news. When I explained to an otherwise sensible conservative that the Obama administration had a plausible and indeed potentially winning argument on preemption grounds, he snapped back, “The Constitution is not an suicide pact among the states.” This is simply nonsense. It’s bad for a system of immigration enforcement to be this wildly flouted, and we certainly need to secure the borders. But there is no national suicide remotely at issue, and opposing the Arizona law doesn’t mean you want America to drop dead.

It is this sort of hysteria and overheated blather that conservatives should be wary of. Political winds are blowing at the right’s back, but the quickest way to be knocked off course is to propound ill-conceived arguments and give voters the idea that conservatives are unsober and unserious. Let’s get focused, guys.