Monday, September 07, 2015

A Constitutional Inconvenience?

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

Right-wingers love to talk about how much they love the Constitution. But while they may love it, sometimes it seems like they don’t like it very much.
Bring up the protections of the Fourth through Eighth Amendments, and they’ll tell you that “we give too many rights to criminals.” They’re not all that crazy about the 16th Amendment, which establishes the government’s right to levy income taxes.
In fact, the only Amendment they seem to like is the Second, and they treat the first half of that (about the “well-regulated militia”) as if it were an embarrassing relative whom they don’t like to talk about very much.
The latest thing the wingnuts don’t like about the Constitution is the 14th Amendment, which provides that “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.”
That “all persons” provision means that if you’re born here, you’re an American. Period. This Constitutional principle, commonly known as “birthright citizenship,” has become problematic for people who spend most of their waking hours terrified of the tide of Scary Brown People Who’ve Come to Take Our Stuff.
Donald Trump, as the current de facto leader of the Republican Party, brought the issue to the forefront. Following up on his famous “they’re rapists” comment, he laid out his plan for dealing with the estimated 11 million people already here illegally: “They have to go.”
Asked about what happens to those whose children were born here, Trump, a good family man if ever there was one, claimed we’d keep families together, but “they have to go.” When Bill O’Reilly pressed him on the question of deporting actual U.S. citizens, Trump blithely hand-waved away 147 years of 14th Amendment precedent, telling O’Reilly that “very good lawyers” had told him calling them citizens is “not going to hold up in court.”
Yes, folks, you heard right. The 14th Amendment, which clearly states that if you’re born here you’re a citizen won’t survive constitutional scrutiny, according to unidentified “very good lawyers.” In other words, Donald Trump apparently thinks the Constitution itself is unconstitutional.
This is, of course, utter claptrap, and deserving of nothing but scorn and derision. But since the majority of the Republican field are like rudderless sailboats that blow hither and yon in the wind that emanates from Donald Trump’s wherever, they began rushing to assure us that they, too, either didn’t believe in birthright citizenship at all or that they thought it needed to be done away with.
“We need to end birthright citizenship for illegal immigrants,” Gov. Bobby Jindal’s campaign declared on Twitter. Dr. Ben Carson told that “it doesn’t make any sense to me that people could come in here, have a baby and that baby becomes an American citizen.” Sen. Lindsey Graham took a moment off from gibbering about Islamic terrorists under everyone’s bed to say, “I think it’s a bad practice to give citizenship based on birth.”
Former Sen. Rick Santorum insists that we don’t have to amend the Constitution to do away with birthright citizenship. We “merely have to pass a law.” I guess this is true if by passing a statute we can change the literal meaning of the words “all persons born” to “all white persons born.”
For his part, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker seemed to be vying for the coveted Mitt Romney Ribbon for Campaign Weaselry. Walker told NBC reporter Kasie Hunt in response to a direct question that we should “absolutely” abolish birthright citizenship. Later, however, he said to CNBC he is “not taking a position on it one way or the other.” Still later, he took a third stance with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, answering “no” when asked if we should “repeal or modify” the 14th Amendment—but only after Stephanopoulos had asked him three times.
But remember folks: Only Democrats flip-flop. Republicans “evolve.” Walker’s “evolving” before our eyes like something that came out of an egg in a bad horror film.
I well remember the screaming tantrum the Republicans threw when it was revealed that Barack Obama once called the Constitution as originally written “an imperfect document … that reflects some deep flaws in American culture, the Colonial culture nascent at that time.”
He was, of course, talking about the way the original document embraced slavery as an institution, but from the way Rush Limbaugh and others reacted, you’d have thought the president had proposed using the sacred text to line the White House birdcage before setting it on fire.
Amazing, though, how disposable the beloved Constitution becomes when it comes to getting at the Scary Brown People — and their children. Principles you discard when inconvenient to your prejudices are not principles at all.