MEDIA

Fourteenth Amendment Reform Prompts Strange Bedfellows In Opposition

08/04/2010 05:39 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Last week, riders on the political crazy train stopped off in Iowa to create a whole new insane plank in the Iowa GOP's official platform -- the restoration of a never-ratified version of the 13th amendment that would, in a complicated interpretation, strip President Barack Obama of his citizenship for accepting the Nobel Peace Prize and essentially undo every act of the federal government dating back to 1819.

But that was last week! This week, everyone's moved on the the 14th amendment, which among other things, guarantees birthright citizenship.

See, the big scary issue now is "anchor babies." Infants born in the United States have the right to claim U.S. citizenship. Opponents of comprehensive immigration reform see "anchor babies" as one means by which Mexico reconquers the United States. An even more fringey take on the matter imagines that al Qaeda death cultists might come to the United States, give birth, and create the ultimate weapon: an infant sleeper agent that might one day grow up, go to school, suffer the indignities of dating, feel alienated from their high school peers, attend an expensive college that offers very little in the way of securing decent employment, and eventually decide the whole thing isn't worth it and the only recourse is to set one's crotch on fire for Osama bin Laden.

Seems like only yesterday this very minute that you could go to GOP.com, and see the enactment of the 14th amendment listed as one of the Republican party's proud achievements. But now, too many Republican lawmakers have become convinced that the aforementioned scenarios are cunning plots guaranteed to lead to straight-up tyranny, so they are calling for the amendment to be reformed.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) says birthright citizenship is "a mistake". Senator John Kyl supports the repeal of the amendment. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) wants the little train that takes senators between the Senate and the Russell Senate Office Building to leave before he has to answer any questions about it.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal says...well, he hasn't said anything yet, I think. But I have to imagine that he'd probably say, "Hey, I received citizenship through birthright, so could we maybe chill with this 14th amendment talk?"

This bizarre debate is making for some strange bedfellows. For instance, when's the last time you heard Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reading a Michael Gerson column aloud to America?

Reid (D-NV) quoted extensively from a column written by Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson on Friday. Reid read this portion from the podium of his press conference:

The authors of the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed citizenship to all people "born or naturalized in the United States" for a reason. They wished to directly repudiate the Dred Scott decision, which said that citizenship could be granted or denied by political caprice.

They purposely chose an objective standard of citizenship -- birth -- that was not subject to politics. Reconstruction leaders established a firm, sound principle: To be an American citizen, you don't have to please a majority, you just have to be born here.

But the most remarkable news on this whole matter comes from Alex Seitz-Wald, who points out that somehow proponents of 14th amendment reform have managed to move to the right of Alan Keyes:

KEYES: The 14th Amendment is not something that one should play with lightly. I noticed, finally, that Linsey Graham, used the term -- as people have carelessly done over the years -- referring to the 14th Amendment as something that has to do with birthright citizenship, and that we should get rid of birthright citizenship. Now let me see, if birthright citizenship is not a birthright, then it must be a grant of the government. And if it is a grant of the government, then it could be curtailed in all the ways that fascists and totalitarians always want to.

I think we ought to be real careful before we adopt a view we want to say that citizenship is not a reflection of our unalienable rights. It is not a grant of government, but arises from a set of actual conditions, starting with the rule of God, that constrain government to respect the rights of the people, and therefore the rights that involve the claim of citizenship. Those are really deep, serious issues, and when the amendment was written, and when it was first referred to in the Slaughterhouse cases, the Supreme Court declared that they knew they were touching on something that was absolutely fundamental. And I think before we play games with it in any way, we need to remember that ourselves.

I think that anytime you find yourself saying, "Alan Keyes is making sense," you have truly landed in some undiscovered country.

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