In the Arena


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One of the more strenuous tasks I perform each week is to lend my vote to the Matthews Meter for Chris Matthews’ Sunday show. This past week we were asked whether the Republicans would stick to the economic message in the fall campaign. The vote was 11-1 that they would. I was the one. Let me explain:

I spent the weekend out in Kentucky at the Fancy Farm picnic–which will be the subject of my print column this week–sampling the barbecue and public opinion. The barbecue was better. The public opinion was dyspeptic, in the extreme. The Democrats were worried (though happy that fate had given them Rand Paul as the GOP Senate candidate, a man who lacks the courage of his father’s convictions). The Republicans were angry about immigrants–among other things, but immigration seems a red hot button.

In an act that completes their transition from the party of freedom–in the civil war era–to the party of white people, leading Republicans are now calling for hearings to study the repeal of the 14th Amendment, which grants automatic citizenship to anyone born within our borders. John McCain has completed his own transition from man of (occasional) principle to unprincipled hack by backing such hearings; the usually sane Lindsey Graham has joined him, as has the tan-enough-to-be-a-Latino John Boehner. I try to avoid accusing the wingers of being un-American–since America is place where anybody can say anything (but must stop short of attempting to overthrow the government, which is why Glenn Beck sometimes wanders close to sedition, but never crosses the line by organizing violent activities). In this case, though, they’re acting in a manner the runs counter to the America that I know and love–a country of immigrants; an even better country because of our multiplicity of new immigrants of different hues and religions.

Make no mistake, my 11 colleagues who said the Republicans would stick to economic issues had a point–if the Republicans were smart, that’s exactly what they would do. But, in the manner of Brokeback Mountain, there is a segment of the Republican Party that just can’t quit bigotry and race-baiting. So I expect this 14th Amendment “issue ” to be part of the GOP menu this fall–and also the so-called Ground Zero mosque.

I find this enormously depressing. I love immigrants, legal and il-. This is an issue that is pretty emotional for me, though I’m not sure why…except that I love the utter cosmopolitanism and creativity–and great food and great services–that the tide of immigrants have brought to my home city, New York. Yes, I know that the ils- are breaking the law and we should certainly continue to beef up security at the border (although I don’t understand why the Obama Administration hasn’t publicized the fact that it has deported far more illegals than its predecessor). But the illegals tend to be spectacular Americans, hard-working, entrepreneurial, taxpaying (sales tax, which helped keep New York City afloat during the dark days of the 1970s).

There are those who say America is a Christian nation. That is doctrinally untrue. It is, indisputably, a nation of immigrants (with several notable exceptions). My great-grandparents didn’t come here because it was Christian; they came here because it was free–even to Jews. The people coming here now, regardless of ethnicity and religion, are coming for the same reasons. And, in a global economy, they are bringing a significant commercial advantage: the ability to create businesses that will sell to new markets in their home countries. They also bringing with them a fresh breeze of appreciation for what this country is really all about. George W. Bush understood that. The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal understands it. It’s too bad that a significant part of the Republican Party, and more than a few frightened Democrats, have forgotten it.

Unfortunately, we’re going to get a belly full of it this year. Hence my 11-1 vote.