Radical Conservatism

Note: I submit an occassional editorial to the online magazine The Americano and they are nice enough to post my thoughts on their website. However, they did not want to publish the article below. I thought I should post it somewhere anyways.

Radical Conservativism
By Stephen A. Nuño

David Frum was a fixture in conservative circles over the last ten years. He worked as a speech writer for George Bush and worked for the venerable American Enterprise Institute (AEI) over the last seven years where he wrote several books and several thousand essays supporting conservative candidates all across the United States. However, Frum became a proponent of “big tent” Republicanism where most of his calls have fallen on deaf ears. He was critical of the GOP strategy during the health care debate and when the health care bill was passed he was among the move vociferous among the Right to place the blame on the GOP’s all or nothing strategy. Frum was fired by AEI later that week.

Conservatives keep saying they are for intellectual diversity, apparently only when they are not. Perhaps it was naïve to think Frum’s criticisms wouldn’t go unattended by an organization that relies heavily on private donors for their survival. But the American Enterprise Institute claims to be an independent think tank, not an arm of the GOP’s mobilization efforts. One can be true to their philosophical underpinnings while maintaining intellectual objectivity for which you should be willing to accept results that contradict your assumptions. The only way to do this is to question yourself, but AEI will apparently only go so far in their pursuit of the truth.

Did Frum get sacked for his criticism of the GOP? He thinks so and AEI is not likely to admit they are towing GOP press releases as a matter of policy. You make the call.

It seems as though this could be a shot across the bow at Conservatives straying from the company line. So it was without surprise to see another waning Conservative, George Will, double down on some tried and true nativism to prop up his Conservative bona fides. Will has been criticized for speaking rationally on immigration reform and the war in Iraq. In 2006, Will wrote, “And conservatives should favor reducing illegality by putting illegal immigrants on a path out of society’s crevices and into citizenship by paying fines and learning English.” He went on to say that “faux conservatives absurdly call this price tag on legal status ‘amnesty’”

But the other day George Will did a reversal on his rationality, calling for a radical reinterpretation of the Constitution’s citizenship clause and ending the practice of “birthright” citizenship. He continued by saying that we should correct the misinterpretation of the 14th Amendment, which he cites, “All person’s 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.” How do you misinterpret “born or naturalized in the United States” to mean anything other than, well, being born or naturalized in the United States?

The citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment is a reflection of English common law dating back more than four hundred years. The 14th Amendment itself is over one hundred years old, based on federal legislation that dates back further, and has always been interpreted to mean what we know it to mean today. Will relies on the academic work of a law professor in Texas, Lino Graglia, who has a long history of animosity towards civil rights issues, an issue that prompted President Reagan to withdraw Graglia from consideration for a seat on the Court of Appeals and whose work George Will relied on for his commentary on Brown v. Board of Education in a Washington Post article in 1994.

Graglia’s argument has been long addressed by scholars such as Harvard’s Gerald Neuman, who has studied and written about citizenship for decades. Assistant Attorney General Walter Dellinger testified in front of Congress in 1995 to address this issue when Republicans presented several bills to deny citizenship to children born to illegal immigrants. Following their sweeping victory in 1994, the GOP went right to work attacking the Latino community.

In his statement to Congress, Dellinger said, “My office grapples with many difficult and close issues of constitutional law. The lawfulness of this bill is not among them. This legislation is unquestionably unconstitutional”.

George Will purports to defend the “common sense” solution to our immigration problems by supporting what can only be changed through the process of amending the Constitution of the United States and overturning centuries of established tradition.

No doubt the Conservatives will be boasting about Will’s newfound appeal to radicalism. How bizarre that a Conservative who relishes the stability of our Constitution and its founding principles to all of a sudden decide we should reinterpret a clause which can only be interpreted one way at the same time claiming that the original interpretation was a misinterpretation only because his interpretation makes more sense to him now.

Is this what Conservatism is about; the rule of law must persevere, until like we don’t really want it to? Conservatives’ incessant whining about rigid interpretations of immigration law is fine when they want to deport twelve million Latinos, but when the Constitution is inconvenient we should just reinterpret it and pretend that the current interpretation was bullpucky all along?

The real common sense solution to the immigration problem is what Will promoted before there was a renewed premium on nativist populism, which is to integrate these folks into society so that we don’t create a permanent underclass of disaffected shadow-citizens whose only purpose is to work and pay federal taxes towards George Will’s social security and Medicare benefits all the while having to cower on their way to their job working without any of the common protections or safety nets we afford ordinary workers.

In his support of immigration reform, Will wrote, “Of the nation’s illegal immigrants — estimated to be at least 11 million, a cohort larger than the combined populations of 12 states — 60 percent have been here at least five years. Most have roots in their communities. Their children born here are U.S. citizens… Facts, a conservative (John Adams) said, are stubborn things, and regarding immigration, true conservatives take their bearings from facts such as [these]…” Unless they don’t feel like it anymore I suppose.

Stephen A. Nuño, PhD is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Northern Arizona University. He can be reached at Stephen.Nuno@nau.edu


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