Steve King's slur, and why it matters
Did you hear the shocking statistic about young illegal immigrants from Mexico? That, for every smart kid who crosses the border, "there's another 100 out there" who work as drug mules?
Here's the full finding: "For (every kid) who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there that - they weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert."
Wow, I did not know that! The next time a swarthy restaurant dishwasher bikes past my front stoop, I'm going to assess the size of his calves.
Either that, or I'll simply remind myself that the cantaloupe stat came not from an empirical study, but merely from the mouth of six-term Republican congressman Steve King. Yet again - as in the past, when he compared border-crossing Hispanics to "livestock" - this guy seems not have received the GOP memo about the political pitfalls of slurring the fastest growing cohort of the American electorate.
Granted, he's just one conservative congressman; few of his House brethren talk the way he does. And all this week, in the aftermath of his ugly remarks to the conservative Newsmax website, many Republicans have been laboring to distance themselves. California congressman Jeff Denham tweeted, "King's comments are hurtul and disrepectful." Majority Leader Eric Cantor said King's remarks were "inexcusable." Speaker John Boehner has rebuked King at least twice - most recently yesterday, when he accurately denounced King's slur as "hateful and ignorant."
Their ire at King is understandable. In 2012, Hispanic voters helped swing five formerly red states to President Obama (Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, Florida, New Mexico). And in a recent nonpartisan Pew poll, when Hispanics were asked which party is more empathetic, the Democrats were favored by a whopping 50 percentage points. Four months ago, when the Republican National Committee wrote a report urging its members to talk more respectfully about Hispanics, that Pew poll was cited as Exhibit A.
It's tough for the party to build a bridge when somebody in the ranks is blasting the pylons. Hence Boehner's attempt yesterday to isolate the saboteur: "What (King) said does not reflect the values of the American people or the Republican party."
Boehner got it half wrong. King was actually articulating, in his own inimitable way, the values of the House Republican party.
Just six weeks ago, King assailed President Obama for signing a 2012 executive order that goes easy on children who have been brought to this country illegally. Obama decreed that deportation efforts should be focused on illegal adults who have been convicted of crimes. King said the kids should be targeted as well, so he floated a measure to defund Obama's executive order. It passed. Only six House Republicans defied King.
And that vote was no surprise, given how King and his colleagues have acted in tandem. Back in December 2010, when the House took up the DREAM Act (which offered a path to citizenship for undocumented kids who attended college or served in the military), King and virtually the entire Republican caucus voted no. They share the same values; King is just cruder in his articulation of the party id.
Republican leaders would prefer that he shut up, but alas, he won't take the hint. All week long, he dug himself deeper. On Wednesday he said, "When people start calling you names, that's what confirms you've won the debate." On a conservative radio show this morning, he said that his statistic about a 100:1 ratio of cantalouped-calved drug mules to valedictorians comes from "personal experience...watching the shadows come across the border."
But yesterday, King doubled down in spectacular fashion on the House floor, insisting at one point that, with respect to immigration reform, "the most logical rational policy" would be "a fence, a wall, and another fence," plus "sensory devices on top of there." (He forgot Herman Cain's proposal for a moat filled with alligators.)
He also embarked on a long ramble through western civilization. For instance: "As you remember, Mr. Speaker, the high priest said to Jesus, 'did you really say those things? Did you really preach those things?' And Jesus said to the high priest, as the Jews were watching, 'Ask them. They were there, they can tell you.' That was, Mr. Speaker, the assertion by Jesus that he had a right to face his accusers. That principle remains today in our law that we have a right to face our accusers. And when he said 'ask them, they were there, they can tell you,' he's facing his accusers and demanding they testify against him rather than make allegations behind his back..."
Actually, King's critics are talking straight to his face. And wait a second...was he really comparing himself to Jesus?
You almost have to feel sorry for Boehner. From toting his colleague's verbal baggage, he must have biceps the size of watermelons.
It wasn't exactly the first shot at Fort Sumter, but Chris Christie's salvo yesterday at Rand Paul marked a new phase of the Republican civil war in the prelude to 2016. Libertarians are weak on national security, said Christie: "These esoteric, intellectual debates - I want them to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans and have that conversation."
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