Rhetoric Watch: Say What?23 Mar 2011
As we have noted before in the MurthyBlog, there are times when our national conversation on immigration sounds less like a policy debate than a barroom brawl. People hurl insults and accusations like barstools, heedlessly saying things they may not mean, but may come to regret later, in a moment of greater lucidity.
Two recent incidents show how far we still need to go to tone down the extremist rhetoric that has crept into our public discourse. In western New York, a congressional hopeful named Jack Davis stunned local GOP leaders when he suggested his own peculiar “fix” to our immigration problems: deporting Latino migrant farm laborers and busing young African-Americans in from the inner city to take their place. (See Davis’ Comments Shock GOP Leaders, by Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News, 15.Mar.2011.) According to the Buffalo News, Davis had hoped to receive the GOP nod to run in an upcoming special election for the Congressional seat recently vacated by Rep. Chris Lee, who resigned his seat after an Internet scandal. The local GOP chairman, Marshall Wood, told the Buffalo News he was “thunderstruck” by Davis’s comments, and that “Maybe in 1860 that might have been seen by some as an appropriate comment, but not now.” With no hope of a GOP endorsement, The Buffalo News said Davis is now seeking Tea Party support.
The Huffington Post reported another incident last week, when a Kansas State Representative named Virgil Peck “told his state’s House Appropriations Committee, ‘It might be a good idea to control illegal immigration the way the feral hog population has been controlled – with hunters shooting from helicopters.'” (See Peck’s Remarks on Immigrants and Feral Hogs Offensive to Kansas – Offensive to America, by Janet Murguía, Huffington Post, 16.Mar.2011.) This is more than just another political “foot-in-mouth” incident. It is a warning sign that the rhetoric of the immigration debate has strayed – again – into the dangerous territory of scapegoating, hate-mongering and incitement to violence.
Make no mistake: we neither endorse nor condone illegal immigration – but illegal immigrants are human beings who deserve to be treated with dignity. Vigorous public debate is the mark of a healthy democracy, but the conversation needs to remain temperate, rational, responsible, and fact based, if it’s going to contribute anything of value to the problems we face as a nation. Treating immigrants as animals, somehow subhuman – even if only rhetorically – is beyond the pale of civil discourse. It also adds nothing to the debate. A little civility would go a long way here.