HH: E.J., welcome from the Washington Post, always a pleasure talking to you.
EJD: Good to be with you. How are you?
HH: I’m great. Now I want to start obviously with the headline of the day. In Arizona, they have this new law. There was some violence and demonstrations associated with it, not on the Tea Party side, but on the left wing opponents of this law. What do you make of the violence? What do you make of the demonstrations? What do you make of the demagoguery? And what do you make of the law?
EJD: Well, I think, first of all, I am very curious. Where are you on this law? I mean obviously, I’ve written against it, and I think it’s a bad idea. Can I ask you what you make of this law? I can’t believe as a good law professor you would think of this as good law.
HH: Well, I would not have promised, I would not have pushed it. I would not have made it part of my agenda. I don’t think it helps the Republicans out. But I understand Arizona in the throes of the violence in Phoenix needs to do something. Whether or not it turns out to be irresponsible/responsible depends upon how it is enforced, which I hope will be rarely, and only against hardened criminals.
EJD: Right, but it’s very hard to see, given the way this law is written, how it cannot be enforced unfairly. I mean, the biggest danger, I think you’ll agree with this, is under this law, it would appear that if there are any grounds to believe someone is here illegally, you may even face kind of sanctions if you are a policeman and don’t sort of pick someone up. There are measures in the bill that can really force enforcement, which means if a law-abiding Latino is driving a car or walking down the street, they can be asked for papers. And it just strikes me that especially conservatives who are uneasy with big government, this strikes me as a very, very big government sort of thing to do. So I find it, in terms of violence, I’m against violence. I think that the best to approach this bill is with quiet witness. I have been struck with the Catholic bishops just put out a statement a couple of hours ago about why this is a bad idea. I mean, just think of the example. Under this law, if you are driving a group of kids to Sunday School, and one of them happens to be an illegal immigrant, you can get in trouble. Now there’s something just wrong with that, but I’m against violence, and I think violence doesn’t work politically, and it’s wrong morally.
HH: Would you agree that there’s been more violence in opposition to this law than there has been at all of the Tea Parties, which have not been violent at all?
EJD: Well, I don’t know. I mean, I have not seen a Tea Party riot, if that’s what you mean. I have not, I think the Tea Party is more the threat of violence…well, not the Tea Party. Let’s put them aside and just say folks who carry weapons to a president’s event, I think, are using weapons and the threat of intimidation.
HH: But that’s a fringe group.
EJD: But look, you’re not going to catch me endorsing, I’m not going to endorse violence, because I think it’s wrong, and I think it’s politically foolish. I think quiet witness is the way to oppose this law, and I hope it is opposed.
HH: Well, I thought President Clinton’s op-ed in the New York Times was despicable, because it slandered peaceful protestors about the expansion of government. But I…and now I see silence on the left about the violence that’s accompanied this law. But I want to go back to the law, E.J.
EJD: I haven’t continued to be in silence. I am against the violence. I don’t know what else some should say.
HH: I’m glad to hear that, you say that. I wish other liberal commentators would step up and say this is outrageous. It didn’t happen on the Tea Parties. Our side should be at least as well behaved as the Tea Parties are. Do you think that’s ever going to get written anywhere?
EJD: I’m not sure I would ever put it that way, but I am very happy to condemn violence.
HH: (laughing) E.J., now going back to the immigration issue, do you think it is cynical of Harry Reid to bring up immigration right now, and do so simply because the President’s numbers are so awful, and Democrats are getting blitzed in polls across the country? That’s what they’re doing.
EJD: Well, I think there are two things going on. One is political, and one is substantive. Of course, politically, the President made some strong promises to Latinos in the 2008 election. And immigration reform hasn’t been acted upon. And I think Democrats, including Harry Reid, and especially Democrats who are on the ballot this fall, including Harry Reid, feel that having made those promises, they need to take some action that says we’re going to try to do something. So I understand that, and I think that if you wanted to argue this is a combination of a substantive view combined with political interests, I wouldn’t argue with you about that.
HH: But what about Lindsey Graham’s charge that it is just deeply cynical and could tear the country apart, because the groundwork hasn’t been done? It can’t be done. There aren’t even 42 votes. I mean, there aren’t even 58, 57, 56 votes to move this forward, and everybody knows that on the Hill, so it’s just grandstanding.
EJD: Well, there aren’t 42 votes partly because no other Republicans yet have gone along. Senator McCain, who worked very hard the last time, facing a tough primary, seems to have gone the other way for the moment. But Lindsey Graham and Chuck Schumer have done a lot of work on this over a very long period of time. They think, what Schumer thinks, that they, the two of them, have a proposal that ought to be able to draw broad support. I mean, Schumer has been trying to write a bill that would get Republican votes beginning with Lindsey Graham.
HH: But he can. And so when Lindsey Graham comes out and says no, this is cynical, this is craven, what do you think of Democrats who push it anyway, knowing that it’s a lost cause, because they lost their bridge to the center?
EJD: I don’t think bringing up bills on your agenda, and this was on their agenda, as was energy legislation, is craven, even if it does have political interests attached to it. I’m surprised at Lindsey Graham for kind of backing out. I respect him. He’s been under a lot of pressure, because he’s almost alone in being willing to work with Democrats on some of these difficult issues. He’s really playing the role that John McCain used to play back before he ran for president. So I understand Lindsey Graham is under a whole lot of pressure. Actually, I got a call a little while back from a reporter in South Carolina, where Lindsey Graham is being attacked as a liberal. And I said look, I’m the worst kind of liberal. I’m a Massachusetts liberal, and I can assure you Lindsey Graham is no liberal.
HH: Now let me ask you about this Arizona law in a different context. You followed the violence in Phoenix, I’m sure. You know about the cross-border kidnappings, about the murder of the rancher. You know the fence isn’t finished. Has the federal government failed Arizona in failing to secure that border?
EJD: The federal government has failed Arizona and Mexico by caving to the National Rifle Association, where we are helping, guns from our country are helping to arm the drug dealers and their folks below the border. So if there is a failure here, it’s a failure to pass decent gun laws. If these guns were coming the other way across the Mexican border into our country, we would be furious. In terms of border enforcement as such, the evidence is that the border is tighter now than it was before, and for reasons having nothing to do with border security, but everything to do with the economy. Immigration has seemed to go the other way. There were more people returning to Mexico that coming across the border our way. Or that at least has been the case for the while in the recession.
HH: And E.J., do you think the violence in Mexico is because of American weaponry being shipped down there? We’ve got a minute.
EJD: No, I think the violence in Mexico is because you have drug cartels. But I think the drug cartels are finding it much easier to arm themselves because of our gun laws.
HH: Now I’m curious about that. We’ve got 30 seconds. On what do you base that, because I think that’s…
EJD: Oh, I could, I wish I had it in front of me. I’ve read some studies on this, and the Mexican government and folks down, law-abiding people down in Mexico have complained about the ease with which these guns can be purchased in the United States. It’s a real problem.
HH: You think…
EJD: I would go back and look at it, Hugh.
HH: I think that’s a significant reach, but E.J., always a pleasure. E.J. Dionne from the Washington Post, America.
End of interview.