GOP to Party Like It’s 1868! Says Let’s Debate 14th Amendment

As usual, Republicans are ready and willing to debate core values.

By Kai Wright Aug 03, 2010

There should be no doubt about how firmly drawn the immigration battle lines will be this November. HuffPo’s Sam Stein has this bleak news from the GOP’s Senate leadership:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) officially supports a review of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which grants children of undocumented immigrants status as U.S. citizens, his office confirmed to the Huffington Post on Monday.

A spokesman said that the Kentucky Republican believes that "we should hold hearings" on the matter. McConnell had not previously commented on the issue before, the spokesman confirmed.

In offering his support, McConnell becomes the highest-ranking Republican figure to call for examining the reach of the 14th amendment. On Sunday, his chief deputy, Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) told CBS’ Face the Nation that he too would back hearings into revising citizenship laws. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — a one-time proponent of comprehensive immigration reform — has explicitly called for the 14th Amendment’s repeal.

So the Republicans plan to make a clear, if troubling statement about their values on immigration and dare the Democrats to do the same. Why fuss over how many National Guard troops are enough to secure a border that’s more heavily guarded than ever, when you can cut to the heart of the matter? Why tinker with policing powers, when you can crack open the Constitution to redefine the very idea of American citizenship?

The Democrats ought to draw McConnell and Co. out as the radicals they are. But the president is too busy trying to prove he’s got as many immigration enforcement cojones as any border-state governor. That may poll well, but it misses the point entirely. Our increasing tumult over immigration isn’t about borders or work permits or public safety or even jobs. All of those things are proxies for the debate that dare not speak its name: the one over national identity.

Being a nation of immigrants is either a point of pride or a source of fear. By reaching for the 14th Amendment, Republicans are making plain that they intend to stoke and exploit the latter emotion. They know Democrats aren’t at all prepared to articulate how and why we should feel proud, instead. As is often the case, while the GOP is more than willing to debate core values, the Democrats are eager to hide them in technocratic squabbling. Which is why conservatives so often set the boundaries of what’s reasonable public policy. And it’s how we’ve ended up debating the 14th Amendment while would-be Americans die in the desert.