Borderline Dumb

By Fineman, Howard | Newsweek, August 30, 2010 | Go to article overview
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Borderline Dumb


Fineman, Howard, Newsweek


Byline: Howard Fineman

The GOP's shortsighted immigration play.

If we had any sense, the fall elections would be about just one thing: the economy. But we do not have any sense. We are facing what Wall Street would call the "triple witching hour." Republicans have their finger on three social-demographic hot buttons. The first is illegal immigration (in proposing a review of the 14th Amendment), and the second is Islam in America (in objecting to the mosque at ground zero). They won't be able to avoid pushing the third, race, even if they wanted to, given that the two leading congressional Democrats facing ethics charges are African-American. The Democrats, in response, label the GOP xenophobic and intolerant--and those are the nice words. If Barack Obama's inauguration--could it have been only 19 months ago?--was a moment of proud, blessed calm, we are now looking at a nasty, community-shredding season of fear.

Given where Republicans--and come November, maybe the country--are headed, I wanted to interview a well-known Republican of color. Rep. John Boehner was out of town, so I called former representative J. C. Watts of Oklahoma. He'd risen from rural poverty to the starring role on the Sooners football team and served in Congress from 1995 to 2003. He supported Sen. John McCain, but he was a proud witness at Obama's swearing in. Unlike me, he had no illusions about what it meant. "I'd lived too much history, and had seen too much discrimination, to see that day as a new world," he says. Events have validated his skepticism. "We have a political and media culture, based in Washington, in which no one wants to study things--peel the onion--before they speak. Instead, they just play to the base to get them worked up. That's what's happening on all these issues."

The foremost example is immigration. No longer content merely to advocate for the arrest and deportation of "illegals" (see: Arizona), conservative cooks in the constitutional meth lab have concocted a much stronger intoxicant: rewriting the 14th Amendment to get rid of "birthright" citizenship (never mind that enacting the 14th Amendment during Reconstruction is something the GOP brags about on its Web site). The plan feeds straight into the cortex of Tea Party constituents: amending the amendment would end a supposed wave of "anchor babies" born to mothers who fly to the U.S. like malevolent storks to inject aliens into our bloodstream.

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