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February 2015

Commit, or Keep Your Options Open? The Question of Immigration

A recent Catholic Stuff You Should Know podcast (I believe it was this one, but they are all worth listening to!) referenced the importance of the bond of marriage, the ultimate commitment of one's life to another. They beautifully express the benefits of such a commitment, in the face of the obvious "downsides" that many young people focus on. Only when one fully commits to something can he or she realize the fruits of its full development. Not until you walk through a door, by definition eliminating the other doors as options, can you experience the exhilaration, joy, and sometimes scariness of whatever awaits on the other side.

The U.S. immigration issue has been suddenly thrust into the limelight. It is not a new problem, but the manner in which we treat existing immigrants seems poised to fundamentally change. It is a matter of one person, President Obama, committing to a course of action and thereby forcing others to react, rather than keeping his options open. Robert Rubin would be appalled, which brings us to the subject at hand.

Important people, or at least people in positions of power and/or authority, often beget proteges. For better or for worse, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg (an extremely powerful and influential woman in her own right) was heavily influenced by her former boss Larry Summers, who was in turn influenced by former Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin.

Here is what Summers had to say about Rubin in a 1998 New York Times article:

“What so many people have a tendency to do is to lock into a scenario,” Summers says. “What Rubin will say, at times to the frustration of others, is that some questions don’t have answers – which is to say that just because a problem is terrible, we don’t have to act. It may not be the right time.”

Rubin believes that if you wait long enough, a better option will present itself. Perhaps many young men and women who are currently in relationships with the loves of their lives have the same thought in mind. Rubin did wait, in the example in the article, for a third option to the problem he faced, and he then acted on that third option. After which point, the crisis resolved.

To him, and to Summers, and to Sandberg, the lesson was and is, "wait, you don't have to act." But to me, the lesson is, "you must act if the situation is one that will not simply resolve itself; after all, the crisis was not averted until he acted, and there is no way to know that the course he eventually took was any better or worse than the others which were also available to him, while the problem continued to worsen until he acted."

It should be obvious that rushing blindly, headlong, uninformed, into a course of action is never advisable. To the contrary:  make every effort to inform yourself of the causes of the problem and the available options to deal with it.  Then, exert equal or greater effort on improvising possible alternatives. But recognize that waiting indefinitely, month after month, year after year, to resolve a purely political impasse that has real human consequences every day for millions of people is not a reasonable option.

President Obama, for all of his deplorable and despicable abortion support and dishonesty with the American people in regards to getting the Affordable Care Act passed in the manner in which it was, not to mention his co-leading role in the partisan chasm that has opened between the Executive and Legislative branches, has acted to force Congress to deal with the issue of how to treat the millions of illegal immigrants in America. Again, the manner in which he has done so is suspect. In this case, however, it does not appear that "waiting for another option" is viable, at least not when the lives of all of the families of these immigrants are at stake. To his credit, whether one agrees with him or not, he is a President that commits (and as a result, keeps no other options open). Sometimes, that is what is required. I believe this is one of those moments.

100 Years From Now

What will people look back on as obvious, universal truths in one hundred years that are currently divisive debate fodder?  Two things come to mind:  first, that abortion is barbaric; second, that ObamaCare, aka The Affordable Care Act, was necessary, despite the ugly, "un-American" way that it was enacted.

As a compassionate Republican (or conservative Democrat, even though I've only ever voted for Republicans; these party definitions are truly no longer useful for most thinking, reasonable Americans), there is a conflict between what I believe and what my political options are.  The pro-life Catholic that I am has no choice but to support Republicans, while the pro-humanitarian looking out for my fellow people and earth might gravitate to programs championed by Democrats.  The desire for small government, coupled with strong protection of the American way of life requires my weight to be thrown behind the Republicans, while the environmental, anti-big oil and anti-fracking citizen of the world can only, realistically, root for the Democrats.  Where will things stand in the year 2115 though?

Reading my 8th grade son's paper on the "barrier-crossing" topic of the 13th Amendment, I was struck by the simplicity of its one main, glorious sentence, a sentence which changed the course of an enslaved race, a whole nation, and the entire world:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

That is all there is to Section 1 of the 13th Amendment.  There is a Section 2, which simply states, "Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."  That's it.  Those two sentences comprise the entirety of the addition the Constitution of the United States to end the institution of slavery here.

Does that seem at all controversial, barrier-breaking, or otherwise worthy of the United States tearing itself apart over for four years?  Not in the least.  But I was once again moved by my son's words, where he stated all points of view admirably.  The enslaved were now free, with all that freedom entails.  Freedom to live, to move, to work, to get an education, to have and to raise a family as they so choose.  Another perspective was that of the liberators, the people with the power to fight on behalf of the powerless to right a grave wrong.  The third point of view was one that I have never really considered:  the people who came into a world, into a way of life, with laws and rules and customs, who proceeded to do the best they could with their lives under those rules, and who then found themselves facing an alien threat to "steal" or otherwise forcibly remove that which they had worked for.  These were people who did not consider slaves as fully human.  Just as you and I are free to purchase a pet or work animal and sell off the offspring with the expectation that no one is allowed to come and open up the barn or the gate and set all of our belongings free, slave owners operated and existed without regard for human freedom as it pertained to their "property."  They, if not rightfully, then certainly expectedly, fought anyone who tried to steal from them that which they had lawfully and at great economic cost to themselves acquired.

Which brings us to the present day "controversies" of legal abortion and affordable health care being made available to all Americans.  When I told my son that his paper had made me think, and that I could see parallels in the modern debate about ObamaCare, with we Republicans claiming that "they can't make us hard-working, successful people pay for other, poor people's stuff!" I followed it up with this:  when I look at it through another lens, that of one who thinks, "all people in America, the greatest nation in the history of the world, really should have affordable health care, even if it costs the haves more than the havenots, and to think otherwise kind of seems a little stingy, what do you think?"  He did not even take a second to think about it before replying, "well, YEAH.  It DOES sound stingy.  It is, isn't it?"  It is indeed.

I won't go into abortion here (you can see some of my other writings in this blog on that topic; it's no secret where I stand and how I feel).  I can only say, with great hope and near certainty, that one day people will look back on what we do to unborn babies with disgust, shame, and horror, wondering to themselves, "how did half of America in the year 2015 STILL think that was ok?  Are you KIDDING me?!?"  How did half of America in the year 1861 STILL think slavery was ok?  Are you KIDDING me?!?