“A ‘gaffe’ is when a politician tells the truth”  – Michael Kinsley

On Friday of last week, Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker issued a statement indicating his opposition to the newly minted Arizona immigration law. The law, which has set off a firestorm of narrow but dedicated opposition, would allow law enforcement officers to demand proof of American residency for individuals they stop for just cause. Polls show that nearly 70% of Arizona residents support the law, due to the societal costs illegal immigration places on the taxpayers of that state.

Within two days, Walker’s campaign issued a statement changing his position on the law. Walker indicated that he now supports Arizona’s immigration reform efforts after talking it over with Arizona officials, saying “the amended bill provides adequate protections against racial profiling and discrimination.” Walker now says that if he were the Governor of Arizona, he would sign the bill into law.

Now, I personally don’t disapprove of the Arizona law. Clearly, their legislature needed to do something to call more attention to the fact that their courts, prisons, and social services are being strangled by illegal immigration.

But when I heard Walker’s first position, I was actually pretty proud of him for taking an unpopular stand. Finally, after arguing about completely fabricated issues, there was an issue on which the GOP primary candidates could duke it out.

There is actually a small but fairly well-reasoned contingent of conservatives that would support alternative measures to the current Arizona law (Karl Rove among them.)  Despite the Left’s dismissal of George W. Bush as a right wing ideologue, it was actually Bush that proposed the “guest worker” plan in 2004 (accurately recognizing, I think, that we’re not just going to pack up 12 million illegals and ship them home), which was promptly burned to the ground by his own party.

I thought Walker might be following the Jack Kemp “bleeding heart conservative” blueprint, which earned Kemp a great deal of respect in minority circles. Kemp and his Empower America cohort Bill Bennett were outspoken proponents of immigration, calling immigrants “a blessing, not a curse.” In 1994, Kemp and Bennett opposed California ballot Proposition 187, a measure to bar illegal immigrants from obtaining public services.

Given the large Hispanic population in Milwaukee, the Kemp/Bennett model actually makes some sense for Walker. From a conservative perspective, these giants of the movement have shown that you can buck the Republican establishment and maintain your popularity. Plus, counseling against alienating the fastest-growing voting bloc in the nation isn’t necessarily bad advice.

When Walker spoke out against the law, I believe he was saying what he actually thought. It’s not as if the law was passed a day before he issued his initial statement – he had two weeks to think about it. He simply looked at the polling and saw that his position was likely unsustainable in a hotly contested GOP primary.

Opposing the Arizona law is the wrong position, but it’s certainly not an evil position. We should give candidates more credit when they stand on principle and advocate for things that may not be popular. If politicians cease taking hard stands, we end up with the same boring, poll-tested group of elected officials that we now despise.  At some point, our representatives are going to stand up to public opinion on things like Social Security and Medicare reform – and we shouldn’t dissuade them from pushing forward.

UPDATE: As expected, Walker’s challenger, Mark Neumann, has already began slamming him for his position on the Arizona law.  According to this YouTube ad, Neumann believes it was comments on Facebook that caused Walker to switch his position.  Right.