Politics Mondays: Crisis Of The Common Good by Alan Keyes
The crisis we face with respect to illegal immigration offers new proof of the old nostrum that feckless laws can be worse than no law at all. Feeble, self-contradictory enforcement not only allows problems to fester, it engenders contempt for the laws, which in turn weakens public attachment to the form of government producing them. This is especially true in the present illegal immigration crisis. Bad enforcement contributes to the presence of large enclaves of people who seek economic advantage in our country, but may feel no particular allegiance to our form of government.
This highlights the need for action to defend the integrity of the concept of citizenship so vital to the survival of the American constitutional republic. But the government ineptitude that allowed the situation necessarily raises doubts about a system of decision making (electoral politics) that can be corrupted and manipulated into neglecting such an obvious general interest as the security of our borders and our identity as a free people. At the very moment when people need to be roused to participate in the decision making process, these doubts may lead them to ask, "What's the point?" since the people we elect are so busy catering to factional interests that they don't care about and won't defend the common good.
The onus of blame for this failure lies most heavily on our leaders and representatives in the national government. As a conservative, I am outspoken against unwarranted expansions of the powers and activities of the federal government. Sadly, though, as I and others like me have often predicted, the willingness to allow federal action in areas best left to the state and local governments has led to neglect of the national government's true, constitutional responsibilities. The integrity and security of our borders, and the policies that govern admission to our territory and our body politic, are without doubt among its prime responsibilities. To meet them effectively requires national policies, implemented through national legislation and enforced on a uniform basis throughout the land. This implies that, where necessary, state and local governments and their officials will be compelled to comply with the national laws, and to refrain from behavior that contradicts or undermines their proper enforcement.
We all know that this has not been the case in dealing with illegal immigration. State and local authorities have shrugged off the immigration laws, implemented welfare and education policies that explicitly disregard illegal status, and sometimes adopted language and other policies that purposefully facilitate illegal immigrants' access to public services properly reserved to citizens and legal residents of the United States. Exigent circumstances sometimes offer plausible excuses for this nonchalance -- "If illegal immigrants won't come forward how can we inoculate them? How can we get them to testify in court? How can we make sure they're tested for TB, AIDS, etc.?" -- but it is often ideologically driven either by conscious opposition to "archaic" notions of nationalism or a short-sighted partisan desire to curry favor with an influential ethnic voting group.
Whatever the motive, this Balkanization of our immigration policy makes no more sense than it would to allow every state and local government to pursue its own foreign policy, which in a sense is exactly what they are doing in these matters. Immigration policy is about how we shall deal with foreigners who want to come into our sovereign territory. Not only is it an element of foreign policy, it is the context in which we define the terms that distinguish what is foreign from what is not, including the meaning of our borders (where our land ends and foreign land begins) and citizenship (who is part of the American body politic and who is not.) Without clarity in such matters, we lose sight of the community we constitute. This makes immigration policy the sine qua non of our common good.
Unfortunately, most of our political leaders in both parties operate on a paradigm of politics that has no place for the common good. They have accepted an understanding of political life that is all about the competition for power, the deal making that divides up the public pie so that more voters slop up the goodies at your trough than at the other guy's. Though skilled at building coalitions, they have become utterly incompetent at the work of building, serving and preserving a community. That involves remembering what goes into making us a nation, and assuring that we are all willing to work together to provide for and strengthen it.
I don't think it's a coincidence that America now confronts a general crisis of the common good. In dealing with national security policy, immigration policy, education policy, tax policy, moral policy and the judiciary's general assault on the sovereignty of the people, the key issues cannot be understood in terms of interest-group politics, ethnic chauvinism or factional maneuvering.
The skillful manipulation that now brings too many of our representatives and officials to power, actually makes them utterly unfit to deal with this crisis. The divisions created and aggravated by their manipulation may in fact be its proximate cause. We desperately need leaders who understand and practice the politics of principle, the politics that challenge us to remember our paramount goal as a free people, which is not to get what we want now, but to preserve the knowledge and practice of liberty for those who will come after us.
I hear the objection that so readily springs to your lips. "But they can't get elected." I am in no position to contradict it. But the people of this country can contradict it. Indeed, they are the only ones who can. We will successfully meet the crisis of the common good when the common people of America remember and act on this self-evident truth: Self-government can survive only if the people it empowers accept and act on their citizen vocation. Our leaders will serve the common good with better laws and better actions only when we serve it first, by casting better votes.
Alan Keyes is the author of several books including, Masters of the Dream: The Strength and Betrayal of Black America. He was President Ronald Reagan's ambassador to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (1983 to 1985) and Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations (1985 to 1988). Alan Keyes was a 2000 Republican Presidential Candidate. This article appears on Renew America.
Monday, April 10, 2006