Daniel Henninger is Wrong (Mostly)

Today, in the online WSJ Opinion Journal, Daniel Henninger argues that conservatives who oppose the proposed immigration reform legislation are demoting one bedrock conservative principle (free markets) in order to promote another (respect for the rule of law.)

Henninger argues:

Why, then, would Republican politicians and conservative writers want to run the risk of undermining, perhaps for a long time, their core belief in the broad benefits of free-market economic forces in return for a law that hammers these illegal Mexicans?

If I’m a liberal or progressive Democrat, I’m gleeful to see conservative foes who have preached “the market” at me since the days of FDR now arguing that these millions of workers are an artificial, “unskilled” labor force whose presence merely prevents “the market” from replacing them with machines. . .No matter how principled conservatives may think themselves on this issue, the fact remains that at crunch time they sent the market to the back of the southbound bus.

If only it were that simple. Henninger is right about one thing, conservatives who favor some immigration restrictions (as opposed to open, Ya’ll come! borders as is the WSJ’s editorial position) do find themselves conflicted because of the tension he describes.

However this tension simply isn’t in play when it comes to opposing this bill no matter how much Henninger wishes for grounds to threaten a payback for conservatives who oppose it. Here’s why.

There are more than two bedrock conservative values in play where this legislation is concerned. I’ll list those principles and then grade the legislation–Pass or Fail–on whether it is consistent with those principles.

  1. Respect for the Rule of Law: As Henninger admits, rewarding cheats and scofflaws at the expense of those who have played by the rules is at the heart of what conservatism stands for.
  2. Distrust of Centralized, Bureaucratically-Administered Government Solutions: Almost every facet of this complex legislation calls for and presupposes stunning levels of bureacratic competence and efficiency. Few things distinguish liberals from conservatives more sharply than liberal faith in government bureaucracy and conservative distrust of same. (see here)
  3. National Security and Unpologetic Promotion of American National Interest: Numerous credible conservatives have pointed to the national security vulnerabilities the current bill exacerbates. And subordinating American interests or sovereignty to the interests of internationalists isn’t a conservative tradition. It’s the opposite of one. (see here, or here or here)
  4. Confidence in Free Markets: Just what is it about this current legislation that is market-oriented or market-advancing? Henninger doesn’t tell us. Maintaining the status quo in which workers stream across our borders and find jobs, with little or no attempts to enforce the existing laws is much more laizzes fair than this bill.
  5. American Exceptionalism: Liberals gnash their teeth and tear their clothes when conservatives go on about the uniqueness of America and the things that make it special in the world–our History, traditions, language, common value–yes, our Culture. Immigration is good for America to the degree that those who immigrate want to become, and will become,  a part of this exceptional culture. There are reasons to worry that this bill may make that less likely to happen. (See my posts on Assimilation here and here.)

Henninger presents a ledger with only Free Markets on one side and Law & Order on the other. But as I have argued above, there are numerous other conservative principles on the Law & Order side of the ledger, and the very presence of Free Market issues on the other side is suspect at best.

Finally, when it comes to actual legislation, conservatives rarely are afforded the luxury of remaining true to every tenet of classic conservatism when in support or opposition. Pure Libertarians may be able to say, “Hey, if it calls for the government to do something, I’m against it.” But conservatives must always wrestle for the right priorities. And we are.

Update: NRO’s Mark Levin focuses on the “markets” business, here and here.