Arizona’s Jon Kyl, perhaps the single most effective and principled conservative in the United States Senate, is the model of what every senator should be –smart, hard working, humble about his occupying the office, and aware of the obligations of that office. He is also a gentleman and a scholar –a genuine authority on Constitutional law, and a man of genuine character. Kyl’s also a fighter for conservative causes, especially the fortunes of President Bush’s judicial nominees.
Jon Kyl is also the workhorse for the GOP caucus on the immigration bill, doing his best to make the bill as workable as possible from the position as point man of the minority party.
This unenviable task has earned Senator Kyl an enormous amount of enmity from very vocal opponents of the bill, especially those for whom the issue is the single most important piece of legislation. Suddenly Jon Kyl’s impeccable record on the war, cutting taxes, the life of the unborn, spending restraint, and of course judges matters not at all, and the airwaves are full of spleen. The attacks on Kyl haven’t just been harsh, they have been full of the sort of venom usually seen in the fever swamps of the left directed at George Bush for waging the war against the Islamist jihadists.
If I was a member of the United States Senate I would not vote for cloture on the immigration bill, even though this version is bound to be much better than the version that failed to gain enough votes on the last go around. I wouldn’t vote for it because the border fence “trigger” is only 375 miles instead of the 700 authorized by last year’s border security bill. There may be other reasons to oppose the bill, but in an on-air conversation yesterday with Senator Kyl –the transcript is here —the senator indicated that many of the other major problems in the bill are being worked on. Whether those fixes are sufficient to remove some of those concerns --such as the treatment of illegal immigrants from countries with deep jihadist networks in the same fashion as illegal immigrants from Mexico—remains to be seen. Senator Kyl is clearly working to improve the bill as much as is possible.
For this effort he deserves thanks. This will evoke many comments denouncing Kyl as a turncoat and a traitor, but the obvious utility of making the best of a bad situation needs to be mentioned here, and more than merely mentioned, praised.
If the bill is going to pass the Senate, I want it to be the least bad bill possible.
If the bill is going to pass the Senate, I want as many of the drafting errors corrected and loopholes closed as possible.
If a GOP senator has to lead the effort to put lipstick on the pig, I want that senator to be the smartest, most principled senator available.
I am grateful to Senators DeMint and Sessions and Thune and others for blasting away at the bill and forcing the debate to be serious and sustained. But I am also grateful that Jon Kyl has the spine necessary to stay in there and take the heat so as to keep the improvements coming. It would have been far easier for him to side with the conservative critics of the bill and leave the negotiations and drafting to, say, Lindsey Graham. Instead he is doing the conservatives and border security advocates a great, great --if completely unappreciated-- service, and doing so without any of the outbursts that have marked other proponents of the bill.
Kyl isn’t complaining in the least. He isn’t whining. He isn’t attempting to deflect or dodge, and –and for this I am greatly appreciative—he isn’t ducking or dissembling. He answers the questions candidly and repeatedly, and when told that he hasn’t persuaded, he acknowledges his regret but doesn’t get angry or testy or even combative.
Kyl has not branded opponents of the bill as racists or nativists. He hasn’t condemned talk radio. He hasn’t refused interviews with critics. Kyl is taking the pounding like a senator should be willing to do when he’s opposite many of the folks who sent him to Washington.
I don’t expect many among the bill’s opponents to accept this perspective, but it makes it no less true. Jon Kyl is doing the hardest thing in politics –standing against his base for reasons of personal conviction and perhaps against his every political instinct in order to do his job as best he sees fit. I appreciate him for the manner in which he has done so, even if I can’t agree that the end result deserves to become the law of the United States.
I really, really wish I and others had persuaded Senator Kyl and through him the majority of the Senate of the absolute necessity of building all 700 miles asap, regardless of expense. When the I-10 Freeway collapsed in the aftermath of an earthquake in California, then Governor Pete Wilson didn’t worry about bidding rules and costs, he let a contract with a huge premium for early completion. And the job got done early.
A broken border is much more important than a broken freeway, but there is none of the urgency that should attend the construction effort. Senator Kyl, Secretary Chertoff, President Bush and other supporters of the bill just don’t see the great upside that I and others do in getting that fencing erected and the Border patrol expanded in record time.
But when the debate is over and the bill either passes or is defeated, Jon Kyl is the same guy who stood rock solid since the war began in defense of the prosecution of that war and in support of the troops, in defense of Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Alito and scores of other judicial nominees, and on the side of countless other conservative causes over a dozen years in the Senate and eight years in the House. He deserves much better than he is getting. When he writes that “If I were the only one writing this bill, it would be very different,” he has earned our trust in his good faith.
We don’t owe Senator Kyl our agreement or our silence, of course, but we do owe him a hearing and a respectful though vigorous and full-throated dissent, one that is coupled with a recognition of his past, present and future service. If you have trouble giving him both, then you have lost track of the central proposition that distinguishes conservatives from the far and sometimes not-so-far reaches of the left: Justice.