How To Demagogue An Issue
Last Wednesday, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) announced that he was considering offering a Constitutional Amendment to end birthright citizenship. Since then Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and John McCain (R-AZ) have said that they believe hearings should be held on the subject. Well, fine. If you believe that birthright citizenship is a problem worthy of your attention, a Constitutional Amendment is the proper way to address it.
But, that’s not the way prominent liberals are portraying Graham’s proposal or the agreement of others that hearings are appropriate. Yesterday on his cable show, Keith Olbermann accused Graham of trying to repeal the Fourteenth Amendment. Watch the whole segment here.
Before going further, here is what the Fourteenth Amendment says,
“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. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”.
And, here is what Senator Graham said,
“I may introduce a constitutional amendment that changes the rules if you have a child here. Birthright citizenship I think is a mistake … We should change our Constitution and say if you come here illegally and you have a child, that child is automatically not a citizen.”
Graham has never, to my knowledge, proposed repealing the Fourteenth Amendment or doing away with its primary foci of preserving citizens’ privileges and immunities or the equal protection of laws. The kind of amendment Graham is proposing could be as simple as something like this,
“The definition of citizen as being a person born in the United States, found elsewhere in the Constitution or the Amendments thereto, shall not include those born in the United States neither of whose natural parents are lawful residents of the United States at the time of birth.”
Such an amendment would not constitute a repeal of the Fourteenth Amendment, but would serve a definitional purpose. The liberal rant goes on to accuse Minority Leader McConnell of endorsing the idea of hearings on “repealing the Fourteenth Amendment,” and accuses all who are willing to hold hearings on the birthright citizenship issue of wanting to repeal the Fourteenth.
This is not easy to write for one who believes, as I do, that the United States should retain birthright citizenship. More than 90% of the nations of the world do not recognize “born-on-soil” citizenship. That we do is one of the distinguishing features of our republic and a thoughtful recognition of our status as an immigrant nation. God only knows how many reading this might not be citizens today if their ancestors were held to the standard that Senator Graham proposes. But, that does not excuse demagoguery on the part of those in opposition to his proposal.
That someone takes a position with which another disagrees does not justify denying voice to that opinion. Serious issues deserve serious thought and the consideration of serious proposals. Senator Kyl, when responding to a question on the subject of birthright citizenship, called for hearings for the purpose of learning from constitutional scholars and experts about the subject. That is a serious response. He did not endorse Graham’s proposal, nor did he ever call for repeal of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Yes, we live in an era of political hyperbole. Yes, proposals to amend the Constitution have themselves been used in the past for purposes of demagoguery; a flag burning amendment comes to mind. But, when serious people offer serious proposals, and suggest serious investigation into the issue, as is the case here, the citizenry should demand more of opposition political leaders and opinion makers than misleading demagoguery. Rational inquiry should not depend on whether one agrees or disagrees with a potential outcome, but should be part of the natural course of our democratic institutions.
[Author’s Note: the seemingly incongruous image of a birthday cake at the top of this article is in recognition of today being the President’s birthday.
Cross posted at Elijah’s Sweete Spot.