What we fight for
Destination: Amnesty Nation
by Niranjan Ramakrishnan
by Niranjan Ramakrishnan
On a recent episode of the TV show, Boston Legal, a character spoke words which could scarcely be improved upon:
"When the weapons of mass destruction thing turned out not to be true, I expected the American people to rise up. They didn't. Then, when the Abu Ghraib torture thing surfaced and it was revealed that our government participated in rendition, a practice where we kidnap people and turn them over to regimes who specialize in torture, I was sure then the American people would be heard from. We stood mute.Then came the news that we jailed thousands of so-called terrorist suspects, locked them up without the right to a trial or even the right to confront their accusers. Certainly, we would never stand for that. We did.And now, it's been discovered the executive branch has been conducting massive, illegal, domestic surveillance on its own citizens. You and me. And I at least consoled myself that finally, finally the American people will have had enough. Evidentially, we haven't.In fact, if the people of this country have spoken, the message is we're okay with it all. Torture, warrant-less search and seizure, illegal wiretappings, prison without a fair trial or any trial, war on false pretenses. We, as a citizenry, are apparently not offended.There are no demonstrations on college campuses. In fact, there's no clear indication that young people even seem to notice. . . .The Secret Service can now declare free speech zones to contain, control and, in effect, criminalize protest. Stop for a second and try to fathom that. At a presidential rally, parade or appearance, if you have on a supportive t-shirt, you can be there. If you're wearing or carrying something in protest, you can be removed.This! In the United States of America."
The character is fictional but the words, unfortunately, are not.
No protests greeted the discovery that the WMD clamor was nonsense, and none when it was revealed that there were serious internal doubts about the administration's pre-war public certitude. We reelected the administration after Abu Ghraib was known, forever linking America with torture, something even its worst critics had never directly associated with it earlier. The attorney general appeared before the Senate and defended warrantless wiretapping with a supreme insouciance, defending the president's action and asserting that the president had this right and much more, for this was post 9-11 America. As Boston Legal said, no protests, no demonstrations, no gatherings. After five years of in-your-face criminality, on the third anniversary of the Iraq War, many newspapers noted, the protests were smaller than before.
So what issue would raise enough outrage to bring people into the streets in huge numbers? Today's New York Times has a headline that provides an answer: Groundswell of Protests Back Illegal Immigrants. According to the report, the response to the proposed bill to restrict illegal immigration has been overwhelming, across several cities including LA, Phoenix, Denver and Chicago.
Just so we understand our priorities. Five hundred thousand people turned out in LA to protest proposed attempts to deal with illegal immigration, a far larger number than demonstrations against anything the Bush administration has done in its five years.
The pro-immigration demonstrators may have a perverse point, even if they did not say so themselves. After all, when a president himself can break the law -- and publicly boast about it when caught -- with no fear of prosecution, why should a hapless illegal entrant be made to pay a price for his offense? Presidents, after all, are sworn to uphold the law; illegal immigrants, by definition, are not.
When you wink at lawbreaking, whether by president or by commoner, it impacts the entire nation. A felon administration and a conniving Congress can hardly proclaim with any ring of conviction that the law is supreme. The same impulse which causes senators to vamoose at the first mention of the word, 'Censure' (then to go on TV and offer meretricious pontifications on the need suspend judgement until we "get all the facts"), also makes them tread on eggshells when it comes to illegal immigration.
Recall that we live an era of amnesty (and of amnesia). An administration lies us into war, opens our mail, spies on us without warrant, and then resorts to calling critics of its actions traitors. Congress responds to this garrotting of the statute in letter and spirit by proposing to change the law -- we are ever-so-user-friendly -- retrospectively!
Is it not also logical, then, to extend the same formula to illegal immigration, and grant amnesty to those who broke into the country? A political class that is simultaneously effete and venal cares little about the long term effects of such compromises. It answers to a higher power than the Constitution -- to paraphrase Michael Chertoff's words on the Port Deal, business must go on, and the state has no greater duty than to protect the free flow of commerce.
The writing on the wall (no pun intended) is clear: When a state is so obviously paralyzed by political calculation as to abdicate its very purpose, it is but one more piece of evidence that the we have slipped into classic third world mode, with the line between private and state interest disappearing at one end, and that between the country and the next one vanishing at the other.
The Great Senate Immigration Debate by Dana Milbank
Niranjan Ramakrishnan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His blog is at http://njn-blogogram.blogspot.com.