JISHOU, HUNAN — OK, maybe that’s a bit harsh, but his political ideas are trash.
A blog criticizing Paul’s brand of politics has been simmering in my brain ever since he got the GOP Senate nomination in Kentucky last month, but it all gelled today when I read Paul wants to amend the Constitution so that children born on US soil do not automatically become US citizens.
Normally I avoid discussing politics on this blog, because there are so many political blogs that do a much better job, but this Paul guy is a definite nutjob. Don’t vote for him. Please.
So, we have this so-called problem with illegal immigrants. Apparently they are stealing all those cool jobs from all those legal Americans lining up to work 18-hour days for less than $5.25 an hour with no benefits and no paid vacations (or vacations at all). Paul’s solution is to rewrite the Constitution to remove a “loophole” in immigration law.
Because the first thought of pregnant immigrant women is to risk life and limb to sneak into the USA to get low-paying, backbreaking work and coincidentally have their babies.
Because the best way to get rid of annoying mosquitoes is to shoot them with a rocket launcher.
I’m serious. Amending the Constitution is big-time stuff. It’s intended to be a difficult task: we don’t want politicians mucking around with the very foundation of the US political system on a whim. The framers of the Constitution were wise; they knew politicians can seriously fuck things up given half a chance. Take health care reform, for example.
But I digress.
A little bit o’ history, simplified for Mr Paul …
About 150 years ago, there was a war. One side believed slavery should be legal. We’ll call it the “South.” The other side said, no, the federal government wants to make it illegal. (That was the “North” speaking.) The South said, “Over our dead bodies. Fuck you. We’re going to form our own government!” And so they did. The North said, “Uhhh, you can’t really do that. That’s treason.”
So, they went to war. Lots of people died. The North eventually won the war (known variously as the Civil War, the War Between the States, or the War of Northern Aggression, depending on where you’re from). The slaves were freed.
But were they citizens? Big sticky legal problem here.
Before the Civil War, for the purpose of census enumeration, slaves were counted as 3/5 of a person. Otherwise, the South would have had a helluva lot more votes in Congress than the North. Needless to say, slaves had no legal rights as citizens. The Emancipation Proclamation may have freed them (only some of them, in actuality), but that was it.
The Fourteenth Amendment on July 9, 1868, fixed all that. (Well, in theory.) It begins:
Section 1. 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.
Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. ….
Short version: Freed slaves — everyone, actually — are American citizens if they were born in the USA. They are protected by all applicable laws, too. And each one counts as a whole person. Naturalized citizens also get the same protections.
Paul’s argument, and it’s a pretty thin one, is that Congress only intended this amendment to apply to the slaves, not to anyone whose mom just happens to be visiting the USA when her water breaks. He has suggested that the courts consider whether the amendment applies to children of illegal immigrants.
Do politicians ever check case law before they blather such nonsense? The courts have already ruled on the immigrant issue. Even the Supreme Court has. In 1898. Birthright citizenship applies to everyone, not just the slaves. The tip-off is the phrase “all persons.” The amendment doesn’t say, “almost all persons” or “only those people who used to be slaves but aren’t anymore” or “everyone except the people we don’t like right now, like Muslims or Mexicans — just sayin’.” The amendment specifically says, “all persons.” That seems like a no-brainer to me.
In case the courts reject Paul’s peculiar vision of constitutional law, he also suggests we just, well, do away with that pesky amendment. Close the loophole. One wonders how the wording of that new amendment would read. Probably nowhere near as concise as “all persons.”
But there’s more to this Paulian strategy. Among other things, the 14th amendment also restricts the states from doing whatever they fuck they want to do, including ignoring or abrogating federal laws. (Arizona, anyone?) It reiterates the supremacy of federal law over state law, which considering the events leading up to its ratification, is understandable. Congress was trying to prevent a repeat of that whole secession fiasco. (Texas, anyone?)
Of course, states rights supporters just hate the 14th amendment, because they say it gives the feds too much power. Bigots hate the 14th amendment because it lets blacks (and everyone else who ain’t white) have the same rights and privileges as whites, including public education. (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954 )
Anti-immigration kooks hate the 14th amendment because it gives anyone born in the USA of immigrants (my mom, for instance) automatic citizenship.
And frankly speaking, I get just a little angry when someone suggests that my mom should not have been an American citizen. (My grandparents were legal immigrants, btw.)
So Rand Paul can go stuff himself.
My issues with Paul don’t stop with immigration and states’ rights. If you heard his interview with Rachel Maddow, you would wonder as I do what his exact position is on federal civil rights laws. Paul was not really emphatic when he said, after repeated prodding by Maddow, that he was sorta, kinda for civil rights.
Paul says he is a libertarian, so much of his political philosophy comes from the libertarian ideals of small government, free markets, and “natural order.” Trouble is, I’m not too sure he’s thought through all the ramifications of those ideals.
Take the Civil Rights Act of 1966, for example. (The act that basically finished what the 14th amendment supposedly took care of.) As I understand Paul’s argument, government should have no power to tell private businesses (a diner, for example) or even private citizens (a shop owner) what to do. The government can legislate what should be done by government officials and employees, or regulate what can be done on federal property, but that should be the limit of its powers.
So, Paul says, if a diner posts a sign out front that says, “No guns allowed,” the feds have no right to countermand that policy. Well, I have no problem with that, since there are laws limiting concealed weapons and/or packing heat in public. Where his argument falls apart is with the possibility that the diner’s sign says, “No coloreds allowed,” or “No Mexicans.” (Or “Irish need not apply,” if you want to go back further in time.) It seems he is not really comfortable with the idea that the government has the right to say, no, you can’t do that.
Rather, Paul suggests, the free market (customers) will take care of the problem. People who don’t like such discrimination won’t frequent the diner, the diner’s owner loses money, and then he realizes his policy is causing the problem. And voila! No discrimination!
Like that would work. Having failed Case Law 101, Paul may have flunked Seminar on US History (1865-1966), too. For a century after the civil war ended, there was institutionalized, government-backed racial discrimination throughout the South. Does the name “Jim Crow” ring a bell? Maybe Paul, in his rose-colored libertarian bubble, hasn’t heard of Mr Crow. The whole reason there had to be a Civil Rights Act was the “free market” of customs and ideas wasn’t really changing things in the South at anything faster than a glacial pace. I suspect that we lived in a Paulian alternate reality, we’d still have whites-only restrooms in 2010 in some parts of the deep South.
For that matter, imagine, Kentuckians, if we had a libertarian-inspired system of federal mining regulations, as in none. Given the long history of shoddy mine safety in eastern Kentucky, and almost non-existent company-sponsored environmental protection prior to the EPA, just imagine what the hills of Kentucky would look like now, if they were still there. And if a libertarian suggests that the state government would step in and enact such controls, he doesn’t understand Kentucky politics very well at all.
I’m not sure Paul understands politics, or human nature, in general. In a perfect world, libertarianism might just work. But the world is unpredictable, and people even more so. Worse yet, people are corruptible. Money talks, and it’s usually the little guy who gets shafted. Without some kind of so-called “intrusive” government, the USA would be in a worse fix than it is now. Much of the problems we’ve had with the banking, mortgage, financial, and oil-drilling sectors have happened because of limited or non-existent federal regulations.
Finally, another reason I just don’t trust this guy is some possibilities that, despite his avowed libertarianism, Paul seems to have ties to the Dominionists in the religious right, the kind of people who want to scrap the Constitution and replace it with Biblical Law. The last thing we need in the Senate is another religious extremist. The upper chamber seems to be filled with them lately.
I don’t live in Kentucky anymore — my official voting residence is Indiana — but I lived in Kentucky for almost 30 years. I have a lot of family and friends there. I plead with you, don’t vote for Rand Paul. It would be a big mistake.