Drawing Lines in the Sand

Steve Benen comments on the right’s campaign against birthright citizenship – and how it seems to be intensifying. Yes, Republican Senator Russell Pearce of Arizona – a state senator and the man who shepherded SB 1070 through the Arizona legislature – is leading an effort to gut the portion of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, ratified in 1868, that grants citizenship to persons born in the United States. If you’re born here, no matter who you parents are, you’re a citizen.

But that idea was a fix-it thing, a byproduct of the Civil War. It made former slaves full citizens, and unless you’re from the South, or writing the new Texas schoolbooks, that was the whole point of that war – and if you end slavery, and claim those who were slaves are now free people just like the rest of us, then they have to be something. They cannot be stateless, and after so many generations they could not be returned to sender, so to speak. Where would you send them, and to whom? A bunch of people did invent Liberia for that very reason – there is a reason that the capital is Monrovia, after James Monroe – and empty and unpromising area of West Africa colonized by freed American slaves with the help of a private organization called the American Colonization Society in 1821-1822, on the premise that former slaves would be happy there – but that didn’t work out. It was wholly artificial. The freed slaves were, by that time, no longer African in any sense. So we had the Civil War and then this amendment that made former slaves actual citizens. The amendment fixed a specific problem. But now it is the general law. And some don’t like it.

Benen gives the general state of play:

By now, the argument is likely pretty familiar – the 14th Amendment says, in effect, that if you’re born in the United States, you’re a natural-born American. There’s very little wiggle room in the language, and Supreme Court precedents are clear. Conservatives don’t care for this, in large part because of immigration – if a couple is in the US illegally and have a baby, that couple’s child is an American citizen. Many on the right have even called for a constitutional amendment to address this.

One of those is Russell Pearce, and he is a bit of a character:

Senator Pearce has come under fire for forwarding an email to supporters from a neo Nazi group. He later apologized, saying he hadn’t read the entire article before forwarding. The email forwarding incident cost him political support during his bid for congressional office in 2006. The senator has ties to reported neo Nazi J. T. Ready.

Senator Pearce has advocated mass deportation of undocumented workers while referencing a program from the 1950s called Operation Wetback.

Pearce is who he is, but others have taken this up – Duncan Hunter out here in San Diego cosponsored the Birthright Citizenship Act of 2007, to overturn the damned amendment, ending the practice of granting anyone born here citizenship status, and he had co-sponsored five other of these bills over the past thirteen years – and he says Arizona’s take on immigration law is “a fantastic starting point.” He’s retired now and his son has his seat, and has the same ideas. And legislation to fix the problem with citizenship was again introduced at the federal level in 2009 by Nathan Deal, a Republican congressman from Georgia. Deal also sent his letter to the White House saying it is clear Obama wasn’t born here – so perhaps Obama should vacate the premises immediately – but that’s another matter. Deal’s deal – let’s find a way to get around the Fourteenth Amendment – has ninety-one cosponsors. This is a nationwide movement now. The support of skinheads and White Supremacist militias and the American Nazi Party – that so misses Hitler – are a bit of an embarrassment – but when they’re right about something what can you do? It happens.

But then there is Louie Gohmert, a congressman from Texas, who wants to move beyond that racist stuff. You see, the Fourteenth Amendment issue isn’t just related to immigration – he says it’s really a national security issue. Walid Zafar reports here that Gohmert appeared on the House floor and presented his case:

I talked to a retired FBI agent who said that one of the things they were looking at were terrorist cells overseas who had figured out how to game our system. And it appeared they would have young women, who became pregnant, would get them into the United States to have a baby. They wouldn’t even have to pay anything for the baby. And then they would turn back where they could be raised and coddled as future terrorists. And then one day, 20, 30 years down the road, they can be sent in to help destroy our way of life. ‘Cause they figured out how stupid we are being in this country to allow our enemies to game our system, hurt our economy, and get setup in a position to destroy our way of life.

The video is here and Benen comments:

Let’s pause to appreciate the irony of Louie Gohmert lecturing us about “how stupid we are being.”

Is there any credible evidence that terrorists are using birthright-citizenship as part of attack plots scheduled for the year 2040? Not even a little. Gohmert appears to be making this up, in the hopes that he can use a ridiculous scenario to scare people into doing what he wants to do anyway.

Look, there’s a genuine terrorist threat in this country, and one might even be able to make a plausible case that there’s a credible link between border security and counter-terrorism. But the last serious terrorist plot involved some schmuck with exploding underwear. We should be afraid of a plot involving infants? Because Louie Gohmert says so?


But Gohmert appears to be serious. Maybe in 2040 we’ll all feel bad for ignoring him, or not.

And then there’s Joe Gandelman:

Illegal immigration is a serious issue that has bedeviled the United States for years (one of my reporting jobs while working on the San Diego Union during the Presidency of Ronald Reagan was to write on immigration and Reagan’s immigration reform/amnesty program, and I also wrote a series on the issue while a reporter on the Wichita Eagle-Beacon several years earlier). It’s an issue crammed with passions on both sides – warring statistics, and seemingly irreconcilable perspectives. But there are many good – and passionate – people on both sides of the debate who try to tackle the issue seriously.

And then there is Arizona’s up-for-re-election Republican Governor Jan Brewer.

And he refers to this news item from the New York Times:

Gov. Jan Brewer said Friday that most illegal immigrants entering Arizona are being used to transport drugs across the border, an assertion that critics slammed as exaggerated and racist. Ms. Brewer said the motivation of “a lot” of the illegal immigrants is to look for work, but that drug rings press them into duty as drug mules. Her office later issued a statement in response to media reports of her comments, saying most human smuggling into Arizona is under the direction of drug cartels which “are by definition smuggling drugs.” Oscar Martinez, a University of Arizona history professor who focuses on border issues, responded: “Unless Gov. Brewer can provide hard data to substantiate her claim that most undocumented people crossing into Arizona are drug mules, she must retract such an outrageous statement.”

Not a chance – and Gandelman comments:

This fits in with the entire national trend on how politics is now “discussed” right down the line. It’s sheer demonization – stemming from a growing belief that if you say something angrily enough and discredit those on the other side of an argument you win the argument. Proof, schmoof.

Outrageous is an understatement – but the way politics is trending these days Brewer will likely be rewarded with re-election.

Question: are GOPers looking at the demographics on the county’s Hispanic population and the likely impact on future elections?

It now seems a galaxy away from the days when Jeb Bush, George Bush, and Karl Rove tried to woo Hispanic voters.

This does seem rather odd. And see Suzy Khimm with Why Demography Is Destiny.

Khimm reads FiveThirtyEight – the site for all things statistical – and there Tom Schaller posts this discussion of a new study by Ruy Teixeira explaining how the Republican Party will be doomed in the long run unless it can accommodate emerging constituencies, specifically those that are less white and more educated. And Khimm notes that while the Republican Party might gain some benefit in 2010 from “embracing ideological purism and reactionary views” and all that, impending demographic shifts “make this approach unsustainable long-term.” So there are Teixeira’s recommendations for these folks:

Move to the center on social issues. The culture wars may have worked for a while, but shifting demographics make them a loser for the party today and going forward. A more moderate approach would help with Millennials, where the party must close a yawning gap, and with white college graduates, who still lean Republican but just barely. The party also needs to make a breakthrough with Hispanics, and that won’t happen unless it shifts its image toward social tolerance, especially on immigration.

Pay attention to whites with some college education and to young white working-class voters in general. The GOP’s hold on the white working class is not secure, and if that slips, the party doesn’t have much to build on to form a successful new coalition. That probably also means offering these voters something more than culture war nostrums and anti-tax jeremiads.

Another demographic target should be white college graduates, especially those with a four-year degree only. The party has to stop the bleeding in America’s large metropolitan areas, especially in dynamic, growing suburbs. Keeping and extending GOP support among this demographic is key to taking back the suburbs. White college graduates increasingly see the party as too extreme and out of touch.

Essentially, the Republican Party must “move toward the center to compete for these constituencies” – Obama did it in 2008 and that worked out well. And Khimm notes that “even in the current election cycle, there are signs that Republicans could pay the price for extremism – particularly in parts of the country where these big demographic changes are taking hold.”

Is there proof of that? Khimm notes that in Texas, for example, recent poll numbers suggest that Rick Perry could end up suffering from his party’s rightward shift on immigration. There’s the new Public Policy Polling showing something odd – Perry, who is the current governor and likes to talk about secession, because the rest of America is not the Real America, is now tied with his Democratic challenger, former Houston Mayor Bill White. And White had been trailing in earlier polls. Public Policy Polling looks at the internals and notes that Perry’s dropping numbers are entirely because of Hispanic voters who’ve defected to White:

When we polled the race in February Rick Perry led Bill White by 6 points. The race is tied now, and the movement since the previous poll has come completely with Hispanic voters. With white voters Perry led 54-35 then and leads 55-35 now. With black voters White led 81-12 then and leads 70-7 now. But with Hispanics Perry has gone from leading 53-41 in February to now trailing 55-21. And it’s not that the sample of Hispanic voters we interviewed for this poll was somehow fundamentally different from the previous one – Barack Obama’s approval with them on this poll was 49% compared to 47% on the previous Texas poll.

Public Policy Polling suggests that the shift seems to be tied to fallout from the Arizona immigration law – Hispanic voters had also defected to Democrats in Arizona and Colorado. As the Washington Independent notes that the Texas Republican Party has made it clear where they stand – they passed a party platform that barred illegal immigrants from “intentionally or knowingly” living in Texas. You wouldn’t know if you were living in Texas? Or you wouldn’t know you were an illegal immigrant? Whatever – but the party platform also has an Arizona kind of proposal, one that requires local police to verify citizenship when making arrests.


Perry, to his credit, opposed these measures – and has been openly critical of the Arizona law. But Perry will have tough time distancing himself from the state and national party given the GOP’s increasingly hardline views.

That’s not to say that Democrats can simply sit back and reap the rewards of these demographic shifts, even in places like Texas. These newly emerging groups of voters – young people, Hispanics, etc. – also tend to have lower turnout at the polls. But compared to where the GOP is right now, the Democrats definitely have a head start.

One wonders whether it matters. See this roundup of reaction to the World Cup – soccer, a gay game for sissies, being played in Africa, or something.

For example there is Dave Zirin in The Nation – the sound of soccer is driving the “right wing noise machine utterly insane” – because, Zirin argues, that the “far right” – specifically, conservative pundits Glenn Beck and G. Gordon Liddy – dislike soccer not because they find it boring, but because it doesn’t fit with their “monochromatic” view of what it is to be American – white and middle class. Zirin suggests soccer provokes conservative “racism and imperial arrogance” – and it all seems a bit over the top, until you watch this clip of Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly arguing about it. And on his radio show, the Glenn Beck Program:

I don’t get the baseball thing, but the soccer thing, I hate it so much – probably because the rest of the world likes it so much, and they riot over it, and they continually try to jam it down our throat… It doesn’t matter how you sell it to us. It doesn’t matter how many celebrities you get. It doesn’t matter how many bars open early. It doesn’t matter how many beer commercials they run. We don’t want the World Cup. We don’t like the World Cup. We don’t like soccer. We want nothing to do with it. You can package it any way – you can spend all kinds of money. You can force it on our television sets. We will not enjoy the World Cup.

We? And G. Gordon Liddy said this on his radio program:

Whatever happened to American exceptionalism? This game … originated with the South American Indians and instead of a ball, they used to use the head, the decapitated head, of an enemy warrior.

They’re savages, I tell you – SAVAGES! Or they’re not white men, or something. You can see what Zirin was getting at, but even he says this may not be white supremacist nonsense from Beck and Liddy at all, just that we never win the thing – “Maybe the real reason they lose their collective minds is simply because the USA tends to get their asses handed to them each and every World Cup.” If we ever made it past the second round they’d change their tune.

But maybe soccer is somehow an attack on American values. Patrick Slevin at The Aquarian proposes that in this item – hatred of soccer is part of the far right’s “ongoing narrative about ‘taking back America'” – because soccer players occupy the same space as illegal immigrants in the minds of conservatives – you know, they’re differently-colored foreigners who want to rob America of its values. Liddy did suggest soccer was being “sold as part of the ‘browning of America.'” So can they really deny this is about racism?

Or do they want to deny that? They win big with their base if they say there’s no room for you in America if you’re not white, or at least defer to the whites, and you shut the hell up and work on being unobtrusive. It’s curious – the winning strategy is to have a stump speech where you say yes, they call us narrow-minded and stupid, and poorly educated, and say we know nothing of the larger world, and that we want to know nothing, and that we’re rednecks and hillbillies and high-school dropouts and hate blacks and Hispanics and Asians (and the French) and all the rest – but we’re proud of that, and it’s all true – we’re mean and ignorant and vengeful – and we demand respect. The crowd roars. You win the primary.

And soccer is a minor thing, but think of it as a last straw. You know, they made us accept the blacks, then the Catholics, in spite of the Klan (the second one around 1920) saying the Pope was as evil as evil could be, and then Jack Kennedy, a Catholic, got elected president. Damn – but we got used to the Catholics long before that, sometime after the Civil War. But after that war came the waves of scummy immigrants – the poor Irish after that Potato Famine, then the Jews fleeing the pogroms and all, then the Asians, who after they built the transcontinental railroad for us really should have gone home, and now the Hispanics. And then someone says be nice to your Muslim neighbors, as they’re not all terrorists – and let Lars and Sparky, the two gay guys down the street, get married to each other, as that would make them happy and what they do is none of you business. And all these odd people helped elect Obama president – and he’s an actual black man. You can see the frustration. Hating soccer is a bit of a last stand in a long, losing battle.

And now it’s dumping the Fourteenth Amendment – a first step in changing the rules on just who is a Real American, and who is not.

But it’s too late for that now. Those they imply are not Real Americans are American enough – they vote. Do what you will to make that difficult for them – expensive photo ID cards or trick ballots or flaky electronic voting machines – enough of them will still vote, and they consider themselves real Americans, lower case, even if they not Real Americans, upper case. Orthography isn’t the issue. And you can say what you will about soccer – some find it painfully dull while others find it quite exciting – and draw your line in the sand. But be prepared if no one notices that line and just walks on, going about their business.

Yes, people say the only battles worth fighting are losing battles. But while that is noble and inspiring – like in the song – it’s also stupid.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in American Exceptionalism, American Xenophobia, Illegal Immigration, Immigration Policy, Real Americans, World Cup Soccer and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Drawing Lines in the Sand

  1. Rick says:

    I don’t quite understand the argument about soccer being a game of “non-whites”. After all, look at the all-American games of basketball and baseball, and to a certain extent football. In fact, many of our baseball players seem to come from outside the country.

    And I’ve heard soccer was invented, not by South American Indians kicking heads around, but by Scotsmen, possibly kicking heads around; would that change Liddy’s mind?

    Also, about changing the 14th Amendment: The most obvious problem to me is, if you did that, would I, born near Los Angeles, no longer be an American citizen? In fact, would the people pushing for the change no longer be citizens? How do they plan to deal with this little complication?


  2. The border is NOT more secure and resourced than it has ever been. Clearly Alan Bersin knows nothing of the Punitive Expedition or the Mexican Border Campaign which occurred 94 years ago and involved more than 100,000 National Guard and Regular Army troops. Unfortunately, most American citizens are also ignorant of this key moment in our history.

    Here is a link to letters written by a National Guardsman on the Border exactly 94 years ago. Too bad our politicians are more interested in being politically correct than robustly defending the sovereignty of the United States.


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