Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Anchors Away!

As we all know from our history books, Republicans, particularly conservative Republicans – as if there were any other kind – have a deep and abiding respect for the Constitution that holds no bounds. And they fervently abhor anything that even remotely tampers with what the Founding Fathers set down on that sacred parchment, lo those thousands of years ago. OK, 230 years ago.

Unless, of course, it suits their political objectives.

Just when you thought the GOP couldn’t get anymore hypocritical or unhinged, it steps on one of its own land mines and blows up one of its core tenants in the process. The notion of a static – rather than a living, breathing – Constitution has long been settled among conservatives for decades, going all the way back to Earl Warren. The litany of cases adjudicated by that Supreme Court helped set the stage for the bitter divide that has been going on between what are commonly referred to as strict constructionists and judicial activists.

But now, undoubtedly seeking to score some quick brownie points within a particularly narrow and myopic element within the base of its party – let’s just get it out of the way and call them what they are: racists! – certain Republicans have decided to revisit the Fourteenth Amendment and explore the possibility of excluding certain groups, notably illegal immigrants from Mexico, from being able to have babies in this country and then endowing them with automatic citizenship.

Such offspring are referred to as anchor babies, and if you listen to Chuck Grassley, Lindsey Graham and John (I used to be a maverick before I sold my soul) McCain, you’d think they were being grown in a secret laboratory by “drop and leave” drug lords bent on destroying our way of life while forcing all of us to do the Macarena. Forget for a moment that these “anchor” babies won’t be able to help their parents until they reach the age of 21. Forget for a moment that there is no proof that illegal aliens are deliberately coming here just to have babies. For the record they’re coming here to find the same opportunity most of us take for granted every day; they want a piece of the American dream. And in the process they have babies just like very other ethnic group on the planet.

Basically, under the citizenship clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, any child born in the United States is granted automatic citizenship, regardless of whether or not his or her parents are here legally. Section 1 of that clause says, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

It is the part of that clause that deals with jurisdiction that certain conservatives are challenging. They contend that since the parents were never subject to American jurisdiction in the first place, how can their offspring be entitled to automatic citizenship? Unfortunately for them that contention, along with their compassion and sense of shame, has no basis for legitimacy. In deed, the only exceptions to the clause are children born to foreign diplomats, children born to enemy forces in hostile occupation of the United States, and children born to Native Americans who are members of tribes not taxed. They were later granted full citizenship by the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924. If the Amendment had any other exemptions they would’ve been stated.

Of course this issue has very little to do with actual Constitutional law. Even the most ardent and rabid challengers of the citizenship clause concede there is little chance of overturning it or adding another exemption to it. No, what all this is about is riling up the base even more than it already is. As if all the shouts of death panels and socialist takeovers haven’t been sufficient to incite this herd to an absolute frothing mass of hysteria, planting paranoid delusions about the coming invasion of the Mexican body snatchers is always good for another point or two in the standings.

Except now the GOP has a real problem on its hands, and one that it didn’t bargain for. It seems not everyone is drinking the koolaid on this one, and the ensuing political boomerang is coming back and smacking the Party upside its proverbial head. Some senior GOP members have questioned whether this is a cause worth fighting for and have labeled it a distraction. Even Lou Dobbs, perhaps the staunchest critic of American immigration policy and hardly a wallflower himself when it comes to showing his own xenophobic tendencies, has questioned the validity of challenging the clause. When Lou Dobbs is the one talking you down from the ledge, you know you’ve got problems.

But problems be damned. Despite the fact that every pollster has stated that this tactic will have dire long-term consequences for Republicans in years to come as the Hispanic population continues to grow, short-term results are all that matter to them. They are so fixated on this year’s mid-terms that they will say or do anything if it means picking up a seat or two in the House or Senate. Like so much of corporate America, the GOP’s fixation with the here and now, at the expense of any hope for future growth, is a classic case of failing to see the forest for the trees. Whether they achieve their objectives this November will be owed in no small part to how effective they are at fanning the flames of racism that are alive and well within the electorate.

It was Hegel who once said, “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.” When it comes to bigotry and ignorance it seems not much has changed in 140 years.

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