140 Years After Its Adoption, the Reactionary Right Turns on the 14th Amendment

If you had asked me in 2008 whether I thought it possible that there would be a sustained, orchestrated effort in the first two years of the first term of the first African-American President to undermine and question the integrity of the 14th Amendment I would have answered "no way."  The 14th Amendment of course being one of the three major Reconstruction Amendments to the Constitution designed to correct the "three-fifths" of a person clause of the original Constitution and the entire racist body of law which grew up after its adoption. 

The recent news of the attacks on "birthright citizenship" promised in the 14th Amendment is not the first orchestrated attack we've seen on this influential Amendment, one which not just helped ended the institutional racism of the pre-Civil War United States, but which was used to dismantle 20th century segregation in the recent Civil Rights era.  Last year NDN led a national effort to push back against an effort by Senators Vitter and Bennett to knock undocumented immigrants out of the reapportionment process, something we and many others believed was a direct assault on this clause of the 14th Amendment

Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State

Like the decision to grant people born here in the US citizenship, this clause was designed to prevent the institutional racism the practice of slavery created in the US from every reoccuring.  In the case of birthright citizenship, our nation made a decision to prevent any future group of American politicians from determing that any one group would be something less than the rest of us, as it had in the era of the "three-fifths" of a person clause.  Given our history, this seems, in hindsight, to have a particularly wise and thoughtful decision.

While in each case the target group of these recent radical assaults on the 14th Amendment were not African-Americans but recent Hispanic immigrants, is it really possible that in the early days of this new age of racial conciliation promised by the election of Barack Obama, that we are seeing a sustained set of attacks on the Constititional Amendment that has done more to promote equailty among the races in the US than other?  It is in some ways shocking, in some ways, perhaps, predictable.  Race has a tortured history in our proud nation, and it shouldn't be suprising that for some the experience of a non-white President might cause a particularly powerful reaction.

It is at moments like these that we need to stop using the word Republican or conservative to describe this type of approach to our politics.  Radical or reactionary is more apt.  And I am proud of Senator Harry Reid last year for standing up to the first sustained assault on the 14th Amendment, and staring it down, defeating it.  The question is - when are other political leaders, including our President, going to show the kind of courage Harry Reid showed last year and mount a sustained defense of the 14th Amendment and the politics that it ushered in the face of these reactionary attacks?

Update - I weigh in on this debate in an article in the the upcoming edition of the The Economist, now online here.

Update, 7pm - In a Washington Post Op-Ed, former Attorney General Gonzales comes out against the efforts to roll back the 14th Amendment.  It includes this powerful graph:

As the nation's former chief law enforcement officer and a citizen who believes in the rule of law, I cannot condone anyone coming into this country illegally. However, as a father who wants the best for my own children, I understand why these parents risk coming to America -- especially when there is little fear of prosecution. If we want to stop this practice, we should pass and enforce comprehensive immigration legislation rather than amend our Constitution.

Taking Meg Whitman Seriously

The highly regarded Field Poll has a new poll out this morning which takes an indepth look at the California Governor's race.  It is a must read for any student of politics, particularly the complicated politics of California.

I have come to believe that this race may be the single most important race in the entire country.  If Whitman wins she would be an instant leader to be the Republican Vice Presidential nominee in 2012, or she may even decide to run for President.  If she is on the ticket in 2012 she could help bring a disgruntled national business community firmly into the GOP camp, and potentially put California into play in 2012, a move that could cost the Democrats tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars. 

This poll makes it clear that Whitman has a very real shot of winning this race, not just because of her appeal, argument and money but in how she is building her coalition, a strategy that could be replicated by the national GOP with the right ticket in 2012.  In this poll she is, amazingly, winning among young people (the largest demographic age group in the poll) and trails with Latinos - 20 percent of the statewide electorate - by only 50-39.  She has at that magic 40 percent mark today with Latinos, a percentage often cited by Republican strategists as the threshold number GOPers must win if they are to win national and California elections. In contrast, Democrats received 70% of the Latino vote in the 2006 midterms, and President Obama received 67 percent in 2008.  They received similar numbers with young people in each of the last two elections.

For Jerry Brown getting his numbers up to the recent Democratic performance with these two huge parts of the CA electorate - 67 percent plus in each of the last 2 national elections - appears to be now, perhaps, the single most important strategic goal of his campaign in the months ahead.

If Whitman wins this race in the way she is attempting to win it she will become a powerful leader of a modern, 21st century GOP.  Her victory would signal  that the national GOP has begun to figure out to pick the lock of the very 21st century Obama electoral majority, built to a great degree on the enthusiastic support of young people and Hispanics. 

As I wrote a few weeks ago Whitman would be a perfect VP candidate for Jeb Bush if he were to run and win the GOP nomination.  This ticket, led by the governor and former governor of California and Florida, two of the largest states in the nation, could credible attack the Obama electoral map, whose firewall today is the heavily Latin parts of the country (CA-SW-FL). With the new found weakness of the President in the rustbelt and with VA and NC likely to be unwinnable in 2012, the President and his team will have to mount a very fierce defense of this Latin belt.  If they hold it they can hold the Presidency.  And for the GOP, it is looking like they could actually field a ticket in 2012 which could - emphasize could - win enough of the midwest and the Latin belt to mount a very credible challenge to the President next time around. 

So, it is time now to take Meg Whitman, and her modern campaign, seriously.

Update Thursday AM - Whitman has gone up with billboards in Spanish announcing her opposition to SB1070.  Further evidence of a smart and modern campaign.  And the always sharp Christina Bellantoni of TPM also takes a look at the innovative Whitman effort in CA this morning.

Syndicate content