EVIL BAD MEN. Thinking a bit more about the conservative conflation of border security and terrorism, I've become fairly convinced that we have a semantic problem. Liberals have often complained that the "War on Terror" is too broad a term -- it's like, as Jon Stewart put it, a war on ennui. What should have been a fight against al Qaeda, and maybe the Taliban, rapidly ballooned into a war against Iraq, an Axis of Evil, and a profoundly interventionist stance towards the Middle East. But, if I can be permitted a few moments of off-the-cuff psychologizin', there were simply two reactions to 9-11. One held that there was this group, al Qaeda, and they wanted to hurt us. The other was that the world contained evil bad men, and they wanted to hurt us. The War on Terror, basically, was an expression of the second perspective, though largely confined to evil bad men who were Arab (or Persian, or occasionally French). It wasn't a war against a discrete enemy, it was a search to discover and neutralize those who could potentially do us harm.
Under that rubric, concerns about Mexico make perfect sense. They're not worried about terrorism in the sense that Zawahiri will cross the border, but in the sense that lawless, aggressive brown men will rush forth, forming gangs, smuggling drugs, and generally causing havoc. In that way, Mexicans, along with terrorists, are to this decade what blacks were to the last -- a blank canvas on which to paint our fears of The Other. Terrorists, lawless immigrants -- it's all the same. When Rep. Patrick McHenry says "the simple truth is that is that if you break the law to come to this country, you will not respect it once you're here," he's not concerned about visa issues, but violent crime. They�re evil bad men who would do us harm, and who've proven it by subverting our desire for order and control at our own state lines. That the linkage doesn't make sense doesn't much matter, just as sucking up massive quantities of data won't make us safer. It's about feeling safer, believing we're in control. Port security isn't ostentatious enough for the psychic benefits, so we don't bother with it. Building a fence, tapping a phone line -- now that's satisfying. After all, there are evil bad men out there, and we have to do something about it.