A New York Times editorial addresses the flap over the fourteenth amendment. “Leading Republicans have gotten chilly toward the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizenship to people born in the United States. Senators Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Jeff Sessions and Jon Kyl have been suggesting that the country should take a look at it, re-examine it, think it over, hold hearings.”
Here’s the heart of the editorial:
As statements of core values go, the 14th Amendment is a keeper. It decreed, belatedly, that citizenship is not a question of race, color, beliefs, wealth, political status or bloodline. It cannot fall prey to political whims or debates over who is worthy to be an American. “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” it says, “are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”
People like Mr. Sessions, who pride themselves on getting the Constitution just right (on, say, guns), are finding this language too confusing. “I’m not sure exactly what the drafters of the amendment had in mind,” said Mr. Sessions, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, “but I doubt it was that somebody could fly in from Brazil and have a child and fly back home with that child, and that child is forever an American citizen.”
It’s true that air travel was not a big focus in 1868, but this is not about a horde of pregnant jet-setting Brazilians, if, indeed, such a thing even exists. The targets are Mexicans, and the other mostly Spanish-speaking people who are the subjects of a spurious campaign against “anchor babies” — children of illegal immigrants supposedly brought forth to invade and occupy.
Are these folks wanting to scale back the force of the 14th amendment?
Perhaps, but my gut tells me all this chatter about anchor babies is a pre-election publicity stunt. If every conservative talking head in the nation is chattering about “anchor babies” (or “little terrorists”), the base is energized and more substantive matters are pushed to the sidelines. We are witnessing the latest iteration of the Republican Party’s Southern Strategy.
The assumption is that racial demagoguery translates into votes as sure as the sun rises in the morning. Only this time the target isn’t undercaste black people. Sessions, McConnell et al have their guns aimed squarely at Mexico and a string of border states. Call it the Southwestern strategy.
Unfortunately, racist rhetoric ginned up in advance of an election eventually translates into public policy. Richard Nixon talked about “crime in the streets”, the need for law and order, and topped it off by declaring a war on drugs. According to Nixon adviser H.R. Haldeman, the president “emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”
For the most part, Nixon was just talking. But when Ronald Reagan re-declared a war on drugs in 1982 he put vast sums of money where he mouth was. Even the ostensibly progressive Bill Clinton used tough on crime rhetoric (and billions in drug war funding) to shore up his reputation with the electorate.
For now, the Republican’s Southwestern Strategy is just pre-election blather. But if this vile species of hate speech attracts votes it will be followed by public policy initiatives; maybe even a serious attempt to dial back the 14th amendment.