Monday, June 25 , 2018, 7:26 am | Overcast 62º

 
 
 
 

Joe Conason: Unacceptable in Today’s GOP? Realism and Compassion

Presidential debate reveals that any Republican who shows such traits risks alienating the party base

Tasteless and questionable as it was for CNN to “co-sponsor” a Republican presidential debate with a pair of right-wing Washington think-tanks, at least the branding was accurate.

There among the honored interlocutors were the authors of dismal failure and national disgrace in the Bush era, such as Paul Wolfowitz and David Addington, whose presence helpfully reminds us that to elect a Republican risks a presidency that will make the same gross moral and strategic errors, or worse. Listening to them talk about Iran, a nation that unlike Iraq or the Taliban is a real military power, it was clear that we will certainly edge closer to another war with almost any Republican in power.

What the debate also revealed again is that a Republican who dares to utter a few words of compassion or realism is likely to prove unacceptable to the base of that party.

Coming off his proposal to repeal child labor laws, so that schools can force 9-year-olds to do the work of “unionized janitors,” it was surprising to hear Newt Gingrich appeal to human decency in resolving the immigration issue. But so he did, sensibly noting that deporting 11 million or more undocumented residents of the United States would be not only impractical but viciously cruel. It would mean ripping apart families that have lived here peacefully for generations.

“I’m prepared to take the heat,” the former speaker said, rather courageously, for insisting that the law should be enforced “with humanity” — and his opponents, notably Mitt Romney, brought that heat to a boil, attacking Gingrich for supposedly supporting “amnesty,” perennial buzzword of the anti-immigrant movement.

Actually, Gingrich doesn’t back amnesty per se, which usually indicates a “path to citizenship,” but his position is close enough to mean trouble from the GOP’s large nativist constituency. He prefers a selective service system for immigration, which would bring individual cases before boards of local citizens to decide whether any particular illegal immigrant should be deported or permitted to remain permanently, in a legal status that would be less than citizenship. As far as the immigrant-bashers are concerned, that’s amnesty, and the hell with it.

What was dishonest in Romney’s response, however (especially coming from a man who hired illegal landscapers himself, presumably because they were cheap) is that he never said how he would deal with the estimated 11 million or 12 million undocumented workers who are here today. The former Massachusetts governor, who helped drive thousands of jobs overseas in search of cheap labor as a financier and consultant, spoke enthusiastically of all the brainy immigrants he’d like to bring in legally — and of the necessity of “securing the border,” another tiresome platitude that is heard far more often than how it will be achieved. (The unspoken truth is that illegal immigration has dropped precipitously, deportations are up and the American economy would benefit from more, not less, immigration of all kinds.)

Yet for all his promises to “enforce the law,” Romney never bothered to explain how he would deport 11 million or more, as a practical and humane policy. Nobody who knows much about the issue believes that it can be done. But what we know about Romney — and the rest of the Republicans, who rarely pass up a chance to denounce organized labor — is that they prefer a low-wage workforce unable to assert any rights. If the undocumented were suddenly able to speak out and act without fear, they would also be able to join unions, demand higher wages and health benefits, and refuse to be used against native-born workers.

If Gingrich takes the heat for his few words in defense of immigrant families, he was not the only Republican on stage to say something wise that will be used against him. Ron Paul sagely warned, as he has done many times before, that the “war on terror” and the “war on drugs” are flawed concepts that endanger constitutional liberty.

Yet he also showed why libertarian ideologues like him are unfit to represent American ideals, when he claimed that all the money spent on foreign aid is wasted — in response to a question from Wolfowitz that specifically referred to the highly successful Bush administration program of HIV/AIDS assistance to poor nations. That discussion offered Rick Santorum a chance to shine, by denouncing the notion that Congress should “zero out” such foreign assistance programs, and to proclaim proudly that he had promoted the Bush AIDS programs in the Senate. No doubt he, too, will will have to take the heat — for acknowledging that American leadership cannot be based on military or economic power alone, and that as Jon Huntsman dared to say, America needs friends and allies in a changing world.

In the era of Tea Party jingoism, there is precious little space for that traditional Republican outlook — and plenty of room for smooth panderers like Romney.

Joe Conason writes for Creators Syndicate. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level
×

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >