Former executive editor Joseph Lelyveld writes the New York Times Magazine cover story this Sunday on the battle over illegal immigration in the border state of Arizona. The headline: "The Keep-'Em-Out Campaign - Is this the year for anti-immigrant politicians?" (Surely what the headline writer meant was anti-illegal immigrant politicians.) The subhead is also politically loaded: "The leading edge of a new American nativism?"
To hear it from Leylveld, the forces of rationality are clearly on the Democratic side, as he pits the "far right" against the rational, bemused Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano.
From the start, he paints concern over illegal immigration as just cynical GOP politics: "When House Republicans calculated that their best bet for saving their majority was to run this fall as if illegal immigration and border security were the most urgent issues facing the country - bigger by far than that great unmentionable, Iraq - they were finally speaking the language of a Republican state legislator from Mesa, Ariz., named Russell Pearce. The Arizonan was there before Tom Tancredo, the Colorado congressman who talks of making a run for the White House on the issue; there before even Lou Dobbs and Rush Limbaugh if not Pat Buchanan."
Here's Lelyveld on the Arizona gubernatorial primary to decide who will take on Napolitano in November: "That left the little-known Goldwater facing off in the Republican primary against Len Munsil, a 'movement conservative for 20 years,' by his own description, whose dogged campaigning on pro-life, pro-abstinence, anti-pornography, anti-same-sex-marriage issues had won him a solid base among evangelicals. For Munsil - an able candidate but far to the right by Arizona standards - illegal immigration seemed at first to be an afterthought."
Lelyveld drapes Napolitano in centrist clothing, taking the governor's lead by denying any ideologyon the part ofthe Democratic governor, as opposed to her ardent right-wing opponents: "Janet Napolitano watched the escalating arms race between the two far-right Republican gubernatorial candidates with wry humor and maybe a hint of disdain, from her office on top of a stubby tower that is built into the Arizona Capitol....Napolitano presents herself as a problem-solver, not an ideologue. ('I think that's just so anachronistic,' she remarked when I noted the absence of liberal rhetoric in her pronouncements.)"
He engages briefly and dismissively with the arguments of illegal immigration opponents: "When Pearce puts the tax burden on Arizona citizens resulting from unauthorized immigrations at well over $2 billion, he's rolling together the citizen and noncitizen Spanish speakers in public schools. What's often missed in the public debate is the fact that individual immigrant families often are neither strictly 'legal' or 'illegal' but an ambiguous blend."
Although Lelyveld uses the term "far right," he disapproves when conservatives do the same kind of labeling, like Republican House candidate Randy Graf: "Having battled his way to the nomination on the issue, Randy Graf's best shot now is to portray Gabrielle Giffords as a coddler of illegals, 'an extreme liberal' (as she is described in a negative TV ad put up by the Minutemen) who yearns to hand out Social Security benefits to illegal aliens."