Lindsey Graham and the trouble with the 14th amendment 

Champion of Lost Causes

In the third grade, I participated in my one and only spelling bee. It was a disaster ... and a triumph. In fact, it was one of the singular moments in my evolution from a nice goody-goody into a foul-mouthed miscreant. It is a memory I cherish.

There I was at the front of Miss Littlefield's class at Ebenezer Avenue Elementary in Rock Hell, S.C. I don't know how many rounds I had gone through. I don't even remember whether I gave a damn or not about winning the spelling bee. It doesn't matter. I didn't. And the reason was because I couldn't spell the word "shirt."

That's not to say that I couldn't. I could. I just didn't. Instead, I left out a letter, a very important one, one that if removed transformed the inoffensive word into an expletive.

Everyone laughed when I misspelled shirt. Even Miss Littlefield. But I was clueless. It wasn't until I sat down that I realized what I had spelled. It was awesome.

Something similar happened to Lindsey Graham last week.

On Fox News, South Carolina's senior senator announced that he wanted to change the 14th amendment, which grants citizenship to anyone born in the U.S. The reason? Here's what Lindsey told Fox News:


"I'm a practical guy, but when you go forward I don't want 20 million more (illegal immigrants) 20 years from now," he said. "Let's have a system that doesn't reward people for cheating."

He added:

"We should change our Constitution and say if you come here illegally and you have a child, that child's automatically not a citizen," he said Wednesday. "They come here to drop a child — it's called 'drop and leave.' ... That attracts people here for all the wrong reasons."

A few other Republicans gave Graham's call to reexamine the 14th amendment the thumbs up, including Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Kent.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.)

Now, Graham's intentions may be all well and good. We've got an immigration problem, one that few if anyone in Washington seriously wants to address. Graham tried to address the illegal immigration problem once, and he got a licking from his one-time fan base. Hell, they even came up with a funny little nickname for him: Lindsey Grahmnesty. I approve. It's a good pun.

So, Lindsey knows better than anybody else that there's no point in trying to work up a plan to deal with the illegal immigration problem that doesn't involve building an electric fence and a shark-filled moat along the U.S.-Mexico border. Which is why he's taken the drastic step of calling for a do-over on the 14th amendment.

But here's the thing: Lindsey has perhaps unknowingly become a champion of one of the Neo-Confederate movement's big issues — ditching the 14th amendment.

For Neo-Confederate groups like the League of the South (not to mention a League offshoot like Christian Exodus and surely a fair number of white supremacist organizations), the problem with the 14th amendment has something to do with how it was ratified. In fact, they'd probably proclaim that the ratification process was unconstitutional. That's fine as an intellectual exercise, a subject of belly-up-to-the-bar debate, but it's also a moot point. The 14th amendment has been around for a century. It's not going anywhere.

However, issues of constitutionality aside, what's important to remember about the 14th amendment — and why there's reason to question the motivations of those who oppose it in the Neo-Confederate movement — is what it did: It granted citizenship to the newly freed slaves, by stating that everyone born in the U.S. is a U.S. citizen.

Now, you may say that such a right is no longer necessary. And you've got a point. The 14th amendment was kind of a one-time only fix, a way to quickly and permanently grant citizenship to a whole segment of the American population who had been previously denied such.

But there's something just a little troublesome about dismissing it: Doing so would not only allow the U.S. government to revoke the right of citizenship to an entire class of would-be citizens, but it opens up 14th amendment repealers to charges of racism and the like.

Repealing or revisiting the 14th amendment is sure to become a favorite right-wing talking point over the next few weeks. But given the loaded nature of the 14th amendment, it's probably in the best interest of the GOP to avoid this issue altogether.


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