Over the past three days, an extremist Republican wedge appears to have been driven into the heart and soul of the Old North State. In response to the (gasp) horror of allowing children of illegal immigrants to attend community colleges in North Carolina, we have witnessed a stunning level of political expediency among five of the six people who consider themselves worthy of holding our state's highest elected office - plus the one already holding it.
The debacle started predictably enough with the two richest Republican candidates, Fred Smith and Bill Graham. Smith has made his fortunes on the backs of working class people who have shoveled his dirt and poured his concrete with no need for education whatsoever. Graham's future is even more tightly tied to sustaining ignorance among a permanent underclass that will buy his never-ending stream of anti-government rhetoric. There's no surprise with these two, none at all.
Then Bob Orr joined the party, quickly followed by Richard Moore, and this morning by Beverly Perdue. Along the way, Governor Mike Easley himself joined the debate, sort of, saying he wouldn't comment on the policy.
Each of these visionary leaders likes to preface his or her public comments with some credentialing, just in case we're wondering why we should listen to what they say. For Smith, it's always "as a business man (not a politician, mind you)." For Perdue, it's often "as a former educator." And this time Moore trotted out "as a former prosecutor" to make sure we know he's a law-n-order kind of guy.
In response to a comment I made Under the Dome about Orr's jumping on the anti-immigrant bandwagon, the former Supreme Court Justice sent me a note explaining his position. It was more of what he had already said. Here's what I wrote back:
I'm certainly not going to go toe-to-toe with you on legal issues, but you're trying to make something appear to be all-or-nothing when that's clearly not the case.
Granting access to some services is not equivalent to granting access to all services, and responsible leaders should be in the business of drawing such distinctions. To my knowledge, judges make those kinds of distinctions every day. As do colleges, police officers, prosecutors, and everybody else responsible for being a steward of the public good. It's an easy and pat answer to respond to this (immigration) issue the way Graham, Smith and Moore did. And I won't be surprised to see Perdue pile on as well. But that doesn't mean it's the right answer.
If anyone could have threaded the needle on this, you could have. So I have to conclude that you really believe that a 17-year-old child of an illegal parent should be denied the right to pay out-of-state tuition to attend community college. Which is why I've adjusted my views. It would be impossible for me to consider a person who holds that opinion to be a "nice guy."
I understand this is a hot-button issue. I understand that the anti-government extremists out-maneuvered everyone else in rushing to drive the wedge. I understand that once Moore said "screw the illegals" that Perdue had virtually no room to take a more thoughtful position. In today's sound-bite environment, you're either for the rule of law, or you're against it.
For the two Democrats, this campaign has already shifted into risk-management mode. Assuming the polls haven't changed much, Perdue has a small lead and can ill-afford a political misstep. The same with Moore. Either of them taking a thoughtful, nuanced position on this issue would be like throwing red meat to the rabid right-wing.
Ironically, the only person with any sense on this issue is Mike Munger, who had this to say here at BlueNC yesterday.
I have a metal sign on my wall. It hung on a wall inside a barn in eastern NC for more than 80 years (it's from the 1920s, in other words). I bought it at an auction, and had it framed, because it captures the libertarian solution to a whole lot of problems, including the very real one raised in the post above.
The little metal sign says, Help the President with Law Enforcement. Repeal the 18th Amendment. For Prosperity.
The coalition that kept Prohibition in place is referred to, in Poli Sci circles, as the "Baptists and Bootleggers" coalition. The Baptists for moral reasons, and Bootleggers for economic reasons, wanted the state to crack down on legal liquor sales. Baptists got their morality, and the bootleggers got a protected monopoly.
I agree with Graig, completely. But the solution is not, or is not ONLY, a policy that welcomes illegals to schools. Sure, that's the right thing to do. The real solution would be new little metal signs:
Help the President with Law Enforcement. Make Immigration Legal, for Law-Abiding Hard-Working Foreigners. For Prosperity.
Because here's the thing: The Baptist and Bootlegger coalition has come back. Lou Dobbs and xenophobic nativist elements of our population want to pull the ladder up. "I've got mine! Screw you!" So they play the moralistic public loudmouth role.
And the Bootleggers? Well, those are the giant ag corporations, and the meat-packers, and all the other companies that depend on KEEPING immigration illegal so they can underpay, abuse, and nearly enslave immigrants. That's the economic part.
So, my point is that allowing illegals in schools is a baby step. Let's make them legal, and we'll solve all sorts of problems that DERIVE from the underlying irrationality of our immigration policy.
Would it have been impossible for one of the Democrats say this?
As a human being, I understand that this is a hard issue. But simple-minded answers do a disservice to our colleges, our citizens, and people who are trapped in the cycle of poverty that leads to illegal immigration in the first place.
I trust our community colleges and their leaders to know how to manage this situation. They're in the business of reviewing prospective students all the time. I think they should have the discretion to judge all applicants on a case by case basis. Just because someone is a citizen doesn't automatically qualify them for acceptance. And just because someone happens to be the teenaged child of parents who are in the US illegally shouldn't automatically disqualify them either.