This is a rush transcript from "The Journal Editorial Report," May 1, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
PAUL GIGOT, FOX HOST: This week on "The Journal Editorial Report," a new law in Arizona reignites the national debate over immigration. Democrats are attacking the measure. But do they want to pass their own reform bill this year?
And President Obama gets personal, calling out his political opponents, often by name. Is that anyway to run a post-partisan presidency?
Plus, the Ft. Hood stonewall. Six months after the massacre, Senators accuse the administration of withholding vital information. Does the Pentagon have something to hide?
Welcome to "The Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.
The debate over illegal immigration has been reignited thanks to a new law passed in Arizona that makes it a state crime to be in the U.S. without proper documents. The bill signed last week by Republican Governor Jan Brewer allows the police to stop anyone on reasonable suspicion that they may be in the country unlawfully and arrest them on the spot if they cannot produce identity papers.
President Obama criticized the new law this week, saying the measure threatens American core values and would inflame the debate, instead of solving the problem. But he acknowledged there may not be an appetite to overhaul the nation's immigration laws this year.
Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; and editorial board members, Dorothy Rabinowitz and Jason Riley.
So, Dorothy, is this Arizona law a good one?
DOROTHY RABINOWITZ, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: It's a responsible one considering circumstances. And it's also a very useful one. It throws into very high relief the condition in which we find ourselves in America now, which is we're in the clutch of the most tremendous vice of political correctness, whereby you have this extraordinary problem in Africa — in Arizona, this border state. And every effort to control illegal immigration is met with charges of discrimination, equations with Nazism and every other form of volatile assault.
One thing this law does not do, Jason, is control borders.
JASON RILEY, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: It didn't. It doesn't. I understand where Dorothy is coming from. Arizona has become the main entry point for illegal immigration in the country. It's obviously affecting quality of life. In Arizona, citizens are upset about it. There is no control or seeming control of the border. Yet, local officials have their hands tied because federal immigration laws are supposed to be enforced by the federal government. So the state and local authorities can only do so much to respond to the problem. And that is what has resulted in this law.
GIGOT: But you have scarce police resources. We know that. And there is not an unlimited supply of law enforcement personnel. They have to deal with crimes, other crimes. This is — means they're going to have to spend a lot more time looking at IDs and tracking down illegals. Is that a best use of police resources?
RABINOWITZ: I have to answer that the way rational forces intend, which is that you can —
GIGOT: You think it's a rational —
RABINOWITZ: — worry about — you can worry about whether this is the perfect law. The best is the enemy is the good. This cry for action stems this long-running sore, both uncontrolled immigration. It's an absolute lightning rod and it may indeed spread.
DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Well, I think we have to understand that Arizona is acting because the failure of the rest of the country to do something about this has meant it's all come down on the head of Arizona, which is the primary portal up from Mexico into the United States, both for immigrants seeking jobs but also for drug gangs. There's been a lot of violence in Arizona. A was an extremely popular farmer who was murdered. This kind of precipitated the vote for this law. They've just been in a kind of hell down there. They acted there out of desperation.
RILEY: The bad news here is that, on the substance, these laws don't seem to work to fix the problem.
GIGOT: That's a good point.
RILEY: They have been tried in other states and localities. They've been tried in Pennsylvania. They've been tried in Kansas, Tennessee, Mississippi. They don't solve the problem. One of the reasons they don't solve the problem is because they don't address the fact that these are economic migrants coming to work.
GIGOT: Who are going to come anyway as long as they feel that they can make a better life for their families.
RILEY: Right. And the best way to handle this is to regulate this. We have illegal immigrants because the supply of visas is lower than the demand for them. If you bring those two things into balance, we'll have less illegal immigration. But again, as Dan said, only the federal government can do that. Only the federal government can expand legal ways to enter the country, which is the best way to reduce illegal immigration.
GIGOT: And on that point, is the federal government prepared this year to do anything about it? President Obama jumped into this debate. It's rare for a president to attack a state law.
RABINOWITZ: Not very far. It was very predictable. This is precisely what the left has always done. They've always had this meat cleaver to use against everything else, which is moral superiority. It was a political act to begin with, to say anything about this. And the judgment that's come down on Arizona reflects — if you look at people who are now protecting this law, and you can see this is not just help for these poor immigrants. It's a denunciation of every effort at —
GIGOT: But, Dorothy, there weren't just — the president isn't the only person who said this is a bad law. You had Connie Mack, the representative in Florida. You have Marco Rubio, the Senate candidate in Florida. You have Rick Perry, who said he doesn't want this in Texas. You have Bob McConnell, the governor of Virginia. They also think is not the best use of the police resources.
RILEY: There is also some local politics going on here. Jan Brewer is up for election in November, or up for election, I should say. It's her first time. And she is facing a primary against other Republicans. And there is some evidence that this helped her poll numbers, which were lagging.
GIGOT: Except, in the state of Arizona, there's no question about it.
But what about the national politics here? Democrats seem to think they can benefit.
HENNINGER: I think they've got — we know there is not going to be an immigration bill this year, through the Democrats are going to push one. Senators Menendez, Reid and Schumer have just proposed their own. There's a lot of harsh elements in it, including deportation. But interestingly, it allows Homeland Security to start documenting and giving people interim legal status. The Republican Party is never going to sign up for that this year.
Still ahead, President Obama gets personal. He campaigned on the promise of a post-partisan presidency. But it hasn't really turned out that way. When we come back, a closer look at the commander in chief's penchant for attacking his political opponents.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The time has come to move beyond the bitterness and pettiness and anger that's consumed Washington, to end the political strategy that's been all about division.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: Well, he came to office promising a new era of political civility. But even President Obama would have to admit his first 15 months in office haven't always lived up to his campaign promise of transcending partisan division. More than any president in memory, Mr. Obama has a tendency to attack opponents in personal terms, often singling them out in speeches and interviews.
Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: John Boehner called the passage in this bill — (BOOS). No need to — we don't — we don't need to boo. I just want to give the facts — called passage of this the bill Armageddon.
The Senate Republican leader, he paid a visit to Wall Street a week or two ago. He took along the chairman of their campaign committee. He met with some of the movers and shakers up there. I don't know exactly what was discussed. All I can tell you is that when he came back, he promptly announced he would oppose the financial regulatory reform. He would oppose it. Shocking.
With all deference to separation of powers, last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the flood gates for special interests, including foreign corporations to spend without limit in the our elections.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: Wall Street Journal columnist Bill McGurn joins the panel. He served as chief speech writer for President George W. Bush.
Dan, you wrote this week that this kind of presidential rhetoric is not presidential. Why?
HENNINGER: Well, it's — in our time, being president is a tricky proposition. You have to — because politics are so partisan, you have to be both a party leader and the president. But the fact is a president, a national leader here or in Europe is an idealized figure. They always are, whatever they might be doing behind the scenes.
In this country, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan always tried to present themselves in public as more idealized and perfect human beings. They sit on a pedestal. Barack Obama's problem is that he is taking himself off the pedestal. And when you do that, I'm convinced he loses a degree of public support. They say, oh, he's just a politician. His approval rating is under 50 percent. He cannot afford to lose public support at this point.
GIGOT: Bill, you wrote speeches for another president. Where there rules you had to live by in terms — when you consider how you would take on your opposition?
BILL MCGURN, COLUMNIST & FORMER PRESIDENTIAL SPEECH WRITER: Right. I think Dan basically got to the nub of the point. When you'rE president, you're president of all people at least in public. And if you can compare — I'll mention a speech I didn't write so it's not biased.
The State of the Union, when Nancy Pelosi became speaker. And the graciousness of the remarks with attacking people that are kind of hostage, sitting in front of you. We were never allowed to do that. A president kind of has to accentuate the positive. You're just punching down also.
GIGOT: But you are a party leader, as Dan suggested, and you have to mobilize your people. One of the arguments you hear from Democrats is they need to mobilize their base here. They've been a bit dispirited. And Obama is trying to say, look, using Republicans as foils, and saying we've got to get out the vote. Isn't that a proper role for a president?
MCGURN: That is actually a good dynamic because a lot of the base loves this. But generally, in a White House, you leave that kind of very partisan edge to a vice president or to other people, because a president has to sit down with these people later on. And if they view you as just one of them, you've lost your stature. As Dan said, you lose something. You're punching down. For practical reasons, you need to be above that kind of bitter fray. And as I said, most presidents accentuate the positive rather than kind of focus on the negative.
GIGOT: Dorothy, do you think this president is over the line in this respect, different from most other presidents?
RABINOWITZ: Yes. Yes.
GIGOT: Why do you think that is?
RABINOWITZ: If I may excuse myself from worrying about whether he's doing himself any good —
— allow me to say that he's different because he does see himself not as a president of all the people. He sees himself as the president of our sides and they are the enemy. And a couple of decades ago, I would have expected him to talk about the capitalist hyenas out there, all these other abstractions. So he's moved it down to this circle of the banks, Wall Street this and that. But the real point is that this is the community organizer.
GIGOT: This is what he really believes?
GIGOT: That the other side is they enemy. That's what you're saying?
RABINOWITZ: Yes. And that is — I think of Sigourney Weaver in the "Aliens" very often. She's sitting there and suddenly her chest open and out comes this very polite figure.
And suddenly out comes —
GIGOT: But the Democrats would say, look, the president attacked Mitch McConnell, the Republicans complicated financial reform. The president attacked WellPoint, an insurance company by name, he got health care reform. How is this not working for him? They would say it is working.
HENNINGER: Yes. That's exactly right. Their argument would be this is the primary political strategy of your time. It's a community organizer strategy, which is to define your opposition as being against the good.
GIGOT: So is it working for him? Is it working in the short term? But you're saying the costs will be longer term?
HENNINGER: That is exactly what I'm saying. I think the — they've managed to make some progress here, but he is losing the broader public support. I think that could roll towards November. His support, remember, was from independent voters. Independent voters have already moved away from Barack Obama to a great extent. If it costs his party seats in November, I think he'll regret what he's been doing.
MCGURN: He's just on his first year. And you can do this when you're at the top. But you create a lot of resentment that comes back to haunt you later on when you're not as popular.
GIGOT: OK, Bill, thank you.
When we come back, the Ft. Hood stonewall. Six months after the massacre, Senate investigators still can't get access to key documents and witnesses. Is the Pentagon trying to hide something?
GIGOT: It's been almost six months since 13 soldiers were gunned down at a U.S. Army base in Ft. Hood, Texas. And last week, the two top Senators on the Homeland Security Committee, Joseph Lieberman, of Connecticut, and Susan Collins, of Maine, took the unusual step of subpoenaing Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Attorney General Eric Holder after accusing the Pentagon and Justice Department of stonewalling their requests for information about the shootings.
Lieberman and Collins are seeking access to witnesses and documents relating to what the government previously knew about the alleged gunman, Army Psychiatrist Nidal Hasan, and whether it had adequately investigated his relationship with radical Yemeni cleric and suspected terrorist, Anwar Al Awlaki.
So, Dorothy, is this something Congress should be investigating? What should — what are they looking for?
RABINOWITZ: Yes. They're looking essentially for the larger answers to the question, how did this happen? Because nobody can forget that with all of the evidence that we had of the — this is a man well out of control and in an immense danger, the Army chose to suppress and ignore it, with the result that 13 members of the military and others were killed. And there was a January report which completely whitewashed the issue, which never mentioned —
GIGOT: This was released publicly, this report?
RABINOWITZ: That was, Togo West. And this absence of any citation of the major's connection with terrorist activities and his Muslim connection —
GIGOT: So you think — you think the Defense Department here was covering up?
And, Dan, good idea?
HENNINGER: Yes. I do think it's a good idea. I think there is a broader problem and the Senators made that point. They want to find out. Again, they're investigating what happened before the incident and what kind of information did the government have, and why did it act on it? To me, that is a legitimate question. I'll tell you why. We just had an incident this past week where a doctor at Yale gunned down another doctor. The killer was obviously an extremely angry man, but none of his colleagues wanted to do anything about it. People are afraid of getting involved. And I think for legal reasons. And we have to clarify when one should act upon these signs.
GIGOT: The Defense Department says they do not want to go after — they don't want to release these witnesses or documents because — the investigators or documents, because they might interfere with the trial of Hasan.
RILEY: Right. But as Dan said, though, the congressional investigation here that Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins are pushing for is for events happening before this took place. So it's what led up to the attack, what could have been done to avert it. This could put the administration in a very embarrassing position. But I agree. People are afraid today. It's not just legal action. It's also political correctness. This is about the same political correctness that has us patting down grandma at the airport.
GIGOT: But what is the evidence? What is the evidence? What is the evidence there was political correctness at the Pentagon in this episode?
RABINOWITZ: What was there? We had this major giving an hour lecture at Walter Reid Hospital on the entire Muslim extremist view, which he barely concealed this information, and we had people looking at each, saying what is he talking about? What he was issuing was a war call. And no one said a word. People were so disturbed after that lecture. No one reported this officially.
RILEY: And by the way, Paul, the idea that Joe Lieberman, of all people, would be doing anything to jeopardize this case, is laughable.
GIGOT: Alright. Well, Lieberman is an independent. Collin is a Republican. It's interesting that these two are the two driving this. Are they going to find this administration in contempt?
HENNINGER: Well, I think they may — you know, Lieberman is a maverick and I think he may drive it to that point. And my guess is they're probably going to have to come across with this documentation.
GIGOT: One of the interesting things here is the connection between Hasan and Awlaki, this former imam from Virginia, of all places, who is now in Yemen, and whether or not — and they don't even want to release these e-mails. That is very troubling if you ask me because, I mean, why shouldn't we be able to have access to see what they were doing. Why won't they release these e-mails?
RABINOWITZ: The real thing is that what is at stake is what happened. The history of this event is so damaging to the Defense Department, to the Army. You remember the chief of staff saying that this would be an attack on our diversity. It would be a greater tragedy.
GIGOT: Chief of staff of the Army?
RABINOWITZ: Yes. And all of that stuff has still not been digested acceptably. And of course they want it narrow and protect against anything that sounds like a show trial on the part of Lieberman. And they have a lot to worry about.
GIGOT: Alright, thank you all very much.
We have to take one more break. When we come back, "Hits and Misses" of the week.
GIGOT: Time now for our "Hits and Misses" of the week.
Bill, first to you.
MCGURN: I never thought I'd be saying this, but I have to give the Cub Scouts a miss this week for introducing a new award for video games. The video award is in the academics category, which includes more traditional Scouting pursuits, such as wildlife conservation and geology and math and compass. My guess is, if you're the mom or dad of a Bear or Wolf of Webelo, you want them in Cub Scouts to get them off the computer. That said, it might not be as easy as you think to get this —
MCGURN: — for an award because one of the suggestions is that you teach an adult how to play.
RILEY: This is a miss for a gentleman named Bill Perkins, a state Senator from Harlem, New York. At the urging of teachers unions, Perkins is trying to prevent the expansion of charter schools in the neighborhood, Harlem. And he's claiming — he's playing the race card. He's claiming they're somehow bad for black kids.
This is absurd. These schools do vastly better than the surrounding neighborhood schools that these kids would otherwise have to attend. Charter schools are not bad for black kids. Bill Perkins is bad for black kids if he's successful in preventing this expansion of school choice.
HENNINGER: A big hit to Governor Charlie Crist for saying he's going to run as an independent in Florida.
GIGOT: A big hit?
HENNINGER: A big hit, because, A, for entertainment value alone, it doesn't get better than this. More seriously though, I think we're going try to — we're going to find out, once and for all here, whether the third wave, the idea there is so much partisanship in politics that the American people really want someone running down the middle. We're going find out down in Florida whether there's any truth to that.
GIGOT: Why, Jason, has Crist fallen so far, so fast?
He had an unbelievable lead. And he's very popular in Florida. Yet, he ends up kind of reversing in the polls with Marco Rubio, his conservative opponent in the Republican primary. So now, he's going to bug out of the Republican primary.
RILEY: Well, it's hard to know what the original sin was for Crist. It might have been his embrace of the Obama administration. And particularly —
GIGOT: Literal, literal embrace.
RILEY: Particularly, the spending proposals. And I think that left an opening for a conservative newcomer like Rubio. And he's just run with it.
GIGOT: Alright. Does Crist have a shot here, Bill, as an independent in a three-way race?
MCGURN: I think what he has to do is — his shot is persuading people that Marco Rubio shouldn't win. He has to persuade the Democrats that their man can't win, but with their votes and some of the Republican support he has, they could beat—
GIGOT: Kendrick Meek, the Democratic candidate, is not well-known statewide, but doesn't he—all he has to do is say, "Look these two are going to split the conservative-independent vote," keep the Democratic base, and he has a chance to win this and keep the seat—win the seat for the Democrats.
HENNINGER: They're bunched very close. There was a Quinnipiac poll this week, which had the three of them, and it said that Crist had 32 percent, Rubio percent, and I think Meek had about 25 percent. So it's going to be a fascinating, entertaining race. But Charlie Crist is going to have to come up with some real issues to run on.
GIGOT: Yes, OK. His mistake was being a normal politician when this is a year Republicans are looking for principled politicians.
Alright, that's it for this week's edition of "The Journal Editorial Report." Thanks to my panel and to all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. We hope to see you all right here next week.
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