Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 27, 2011

DISTRACTING THE BASE WITH SHINY AMENDMENTS.... Congressional Republicans have invested a fair amount of energy this week pushing a constitutional amendment to mandate balanced budgets. It's a spectacularly bad idea, but far-right lawmakers find it easier to talk about budget gimmicks than actually work on real budgeting.

Today, yet another constitutional amendment was unveiled, this time by Sens. David Vitter (R-La.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and the target is birthright citizenship. Under their proposal, the Constitution would declare "a person born in the United States to illegal aliens does not automatically gain citizenship unless at least one parent is a legal citizen, legal immigrant, active member of the Armed Forces or a naturalized legal citizen."*

The amendment can't pass, and it's still more evidence that Republicans don't even want to talk about job creation, but the party's far-right base is supposed to be impressed by GOP officials taking their concerns seriously.

The question, though, is whether the Republicans' Tea Party base is easily distracted by shiny objects. Jonathan Bernstein yesterday characterized this as "the constitutional amendment con."

One of the big themes, it seems to me, of the current Congress is whether Speaker John Boehner and incumbent Republicans in general can keep conservative activists happy with feel-good symbolic votes, given that Republicans can't actually do most of the things that those activists say they want. [...]

The best form of purely symbolic vote is usually the constitutional amendment. After all, it's almost always impossible to pass one of those, so Republicans don't have to worry about the negative consequences if it goes through. In addition, the level of abstraction is high, so Republicans don't have to worry about getting called out for supporting unpopular specifics. [...]

The real question, however, is whether activists -- and whether those voices in the partisan conservative media who serve as opinion leaders for those activists -- are going to settle for symbolism. If so, Boehner's a smart guy, and he can roll these out forever: there's still the (purely fraudulent) line-item veto, and Tea Partyer activists and other populists are bound to love congressional term limits.

And really, that's just the start. Jonathan didn't mention the birthright citizenship measure, which only reinforces the fact that Republicans aren't afraid to get creative when rolling out new constitutional amendments they don't expect to be approved.

How long the base will actually put up with this is unclear, but I'd bet money their frustration will come well before a credible Republican plan to create jobs.

* Update: Reader S.S. emails to note that the Vitter/Paul measure may not, in fact, be a constitutional amendment, but rather, legislation seeking to define how the 14th Amendment should be interpreted. [Update on the update: Vitter and Paul are pursuing this through a joint resolution amending the Constitution.]

Either way, the larger point about amendments and the GOP base stands.

Steve Benen 3:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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Comments

With thanks to one of your bloggers bigtuna, I read an article in Rolling Stone - The cryin shame of John Boehner, everyone here should read it.
It kind of makes me understand that Obama (when he does something we liberals do not always understand) he has to beat these crooks in any way he can, and we have to mind his back.

Posted by: j on January 27, 2011 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

I think the plan is to put on these shows and then in 2012 say "Give us the Senate and the White House and then we'll be able to get this crap done. We have been able to because the evil Kenyan and the socialist Dem congress people are blocking us." I'll bet it works.

Posted by: cal.seff@gmail.com on January 27, 2011 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

I THINK it IS A GREAT idea. America NEEDS an underclass to do all the dirty work REAL Americans do now want to do. This new underclass can be worked long hours at low wages because they will have no rights, they won't CLOG UP the courts because no matter what happens they will not report crimes to the police for fear of getting caught. They won't need schooling because the only jobs they will be able get are MANUAL LABOR and other menial work. This is what America is about, creating a class of serfs undetectable, unemployable, and undeserving.

Posted by: KurtRex1453 on January 27, 2011 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

Flag-burning amendment?

How about an amendment requiring force-feeding Apple Pie to immigrants, until they can speak English?

Posted by: flubber on January 27, 2011 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

Rand Paul and David Vitter?

There has to be a man-on-dog joke in there somewhere. Just thinking of those two legislative geniuses working together was a LOL moment.

Posted by: Rochester on January 27, 2011 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

No, wait... Vitter isn't the closet homophobe, that was Santorum. Vitter is the proud prostitute hound.

My bad.

Posted by: Rochester on January 27, 2011 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

I THINK IT IS A GREAT idea, restricting citizenship can be of great benefit to society. America NEEDS an underclass to do all the dirty work REAL Americans do not want to do.  This new underclass can be worked long hours at low wages because they will have no rights, they won't CLOG UP the courts because no matter what happens they will not report crimes to the police for fear of getting caught. They won't need schooling because the only jobs they will be able get are MANUAL LABOR and other menial work.  This is what America is about, creating a class of serfs undetectable, unemployable, and undeserving.

Posted by: KurtRex1453 on January 27, 2011 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

Vitter.... birthright citizenship... anchor babies....

There's a joke about diapers in here that just writes itself.

Posted by: Eeyore on January 27, 2011 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

To be fair, they're not just distracting the base: they're also distracting the media.

Well, okay. Their base, then.

Posted by: terraformer on January 27, 2011 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, now that I think about it, we could have used a balanced budget amendment when W took office. Would have prevented the Iraq war...

Although they just made up the accounting to take it off the 'budget' as I recall.

Posted by: Tom on January 27, 2011 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

How long the base will actually put up with this is unclear, but I'd bet money their frustration will come well before a credible Republican plan to create jobs.

"Sooner than never" is hardly a challenge, though I suppose it says something that the TPers may not even clear that bar. The question is not whether they'll get frustrated, but whether it will do anything for their lockstep support for Republicans. After all, I'm sure the Religious Right were frustrated with the endless "we pledge to outlaw abortion, but we can't do it now", but they kept working to get GOP candidates elected right up until their importance started to fade.

Posted by: Redshift on January 27, 2011 at 4:19 PM | PERMALINK

the Vitter/Paul measure may not, in fact, be a constitutional amendment, but rather, legislation seeking to define how the 14th Amendment should be interpreted

Oh good. Let's pass a law saying that the second amendment should be interpreted to mean that all citizens can go sleeveless. Also, let's pass a law that says the 13th amendment doesn't apply to states that start with a vowel.

Morons.

Posted by: Gridlock on January 27, 2011 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans view governing as performance art.

Posted by: Les Ismore on January 27, 2011 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, can I have an amendment, too? Because this damn calendar is driving me crazy! 12 months? Hey, let's go decimal. 10 months. And 28/30/31 days? Pick one, and stick with it. Plus, the 24 hour day makes no sense. I say go metric; 100 minutes per hour, one hundred hours per day. Oh, wait a sec- that's metric, and metric is European. Fuggetaboutit.

Posted by: DAY on January 27, 2011 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK

How many generations of birth certificates are you going to be expected to produce in order to prove that you are a citizen? Will your parents' voter registration suffice?

Maybe if you explain to them that since your birth certificate is no longer authoritative proof of the matter, the only way to enforce no-birthright citizenship is to do what they do in Europe -- issue national identity cards designating citizenship -- then their heads will explode because they won't be able to cognitively process such mutually conflicting impulses.

Posted by: Barbara on January 27, 2011 at 4:39 PM | PERMALINK

wouldn't that mean the founding fathers
were not citizens?

Posted by: jpd on January 27, 2011 at 4:39 PM | PERMALINK

Don't discount too heavily the possibility of a conservative Supreme Court finding in favor of this kind of stupidity.

Posted by: karen marie on January 27, 2011 at 4:42 PM | PERMALINK

It could be that the strategy that worked or the 2010 election is being applied to the 2012 election.
Lots of sound and fury with no action may very well be expected to get them the White House and the Congress.
Depressing Democratic turnout is always part of the strategy. It worked very well in 2010.

Posted by: thebewilderness on January 27, 2011 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

"Depressing Democratic turnout"
Hey, thebewilderness; is "depressing" a verb or an adjective?

Posted by: DAY on January 27, 2011 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK

How many generations of birth certificates are you going to be expected to produce in order to prove that you are a citizen? -- Barbara, @16:39

Five, I expect. Like Hitler and the Jews, don't you know.

And where are the Dems in all that? They ought to be snarling "show us the jobs plan!", not curling into fetal positions, protecting their "crown jewels".

Posted by: exlibra on January 27, 2011 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

"Republicans view governing as performance art."

All they need is a coherent script and a ringmaster.

Posted by: Jack H. on January 28, 2011 at 3:03 AM | PERMALINK

"How long the base will actually put up with this is unclear, but I'd bet money their frustration will come well before a credible Republican plan to create jobs."

It could be that if they fart around with meaningless amendments long enough, the economy will start to create acceptable numbers of jobs on its own, and Republicans will then try to take credit.

Posted by: bob h on January 28, 2011 at 6:08 AM | PERMALINK


GOP 2011:

Nothing Says You Love The Constitution Like Offering Legislation That Changes It !

Posted by: mr. irony on January 28, 2011 at 7:09 AM | PERMALINK

Whatever else you can say, like about motives or need, the argument that just being born in US territory should not make for automatic citizenship, seems technically correct to me. The A14 was designed to protect slaves, it shouldn't mean that tourist babies become US citizens, etc.

Posted by: neil b. on January 28, 2011 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

Distracting the base with the shiny things has always been the GOP strategy. They usually got away with it (and may still yet).

Unfortunately, now some of the base is actually in DC and may prove harder to distract (with the exception of Rubio and a few other GOP-tea party backed Senators who showed their colors by not joining the Tea Party caucus)

Posted by: ET on January 28, 2011 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

LOL... put in a Balanced Budget amendment, and we'll all be amazed at how much spending happens off-budget.

It just amazes me the masses that were delighted when daddy paid for gas, tires, and oil while they were driving at breakneck speed, but are suddenly irate that daddy still has to make car payments after they wrecked the dang thing.

Posted by: h4x354x0r on January 28, 2011 at 11:39 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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