The Corner

George Will vs. Fred Thompson

Will’s latest Newsweek column is an attack on Sen. Thompson that, I think, largely misses the target.

In a recent speech, Thompson expressed a truly distinctive idea about immigration. Referring to the 1986 amnesty measure that Reagan signed into law, he said: “Twelve million illegal immigrants later, we are now living in a nation that is beset by people who are suicidal maniacs and want to kill countless innocent men, women and children around the world.”

Kids, do not try to deconstruct that thought at home; this is a task for professionals. Thompson seemed to be saying that the suicidal maniacs besetting us are among us—are among the 12 million. And that although the maniacs are here, they want to kill innocents elsewhere (“around the world”), too. . . . [T]hat opaque thought he voiced about immigration looks suspiciously symptomatic of a mind undisciplined by steady engagement with complexities.

I haven’t read the transcript, but Thompson’s meaning here doesn’t seem especially obscure or nutty. I take him to be saying that the loose immigration policies we have had for decades are especially problematic given modern Islamist terrorism. He isn’t saying, I take it, that the 1986 bill is responsible for the fact that we are “beset by suicidal maniacs”; he is concerned about the effects of that bill and related policies given that we are so beset. You can agree or disagree, but I don’t see anything that justifies Will’s hauteur.

Will goes on to comment on Thompson’s “reputation for a less-than-strenuous approach to public life.” At this point, repeating that Thompson is lazy, without going into the charge, is symptomatic of journalistic laziness. People who expect Thompson’s “bubble” to “pop” because of his laziness are, I’d wager, going to be disappointed.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.