Thursday, December 21, 2006

Virgil Goode's letter about Keith Ellison

Congressman Virgil Goode (R-Virginia) has become the latest in a long list of Republicans and conservatives who are objecting to Representative-elect Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota)'s intention to take his oath of office on the Koran instead of the Bible.

But Congressman Goode went beyond that in his letter to constituents, which was released to CNN after it enquired about the letter. He wrote,

The Muslim representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Quran.

"We need to stop illegal immigration totally and reduce legal immigration and end the diversity visas policy pushed hard by President Clinton and allowing many persons from the Middle East to come to this country.

Let's first address the whole issue of Representative Ellison and his desire to use the Koran (which according to his Muslim faith is a Holy Scripture, while he believes the Bible is not). It presents us with a very basic question:

Why is the Bible used to take an oath on?

Why don't lawmakers and other elected and appointed officials who take oaths of office simply swear an oath agreeing that they understand that if they fail to uphold the Consitution or the duties or responsibilities of their office then they may be subject to criminal prosecution, recall, censure, expulsion, impeachment, being fired, bad press resulting in not being re-elected or any of the other various punishments and penalties that the legal system, the legislative body, the executive or the voters can subject them to? Why is the Bible used at all?

The answer is that it is a matter of faith. By taking an oath on a book that is considered Holy Scripture (and often ending this oath with the words, 'so help me God') the public servant (whether elected or appointed) is not only agreeing to serve faithfully and to the best of his or her ability, but is in effect agreeing that if (s)he fails to carry out the duties of the office in an honest and ethical manner then (s)he may be subject to having to answer to God about having violated an oath taken in the name of God. This is supposed to strengthen a public servant, who even if (s)he might be tempted to misuse his or her position to get rich through influence peddling, make inappropriate sexual advances to teenage pages or otherwise abuse the system, is aware that the penalties for this type of behavior may not end at the grave.

Now it is true that swearing on the Bible has not always prevented people like Duke Cunningham, Mark Foley and Bob Ney from abusing their oath of office. What the effect will be beyond this life is between them and that God who they named in an oath with their hand upon Holy Scripture. What it does mean though is that Rep. Ellison absolutely should swear upon the Koran. If he swore on a scripture that he doesn't believe carries the weight of deity, then why would we expect that oath to be given any more credence by the fact that a Bible was there? On the other hand, if he as a Muslim swears on the Koran, then since he believes it is imbued with the power of God, isn't he more likely (for the same reasons mentioned above) to behave honestly and ethically in office, believeing that if he does not he will also have a debt to settle with Allah someday?

It seems to be that those who insist that Rep. Ellison should have to use the Bible exhibit the most profound lack of faith and lack of understanding of why the Bible is used at all.

The other issue that Representative Goode brings up is his continued hard line against immigration that resonates throughout his letter. And it, as well as his support for using the Bible only will probably help him in his conservative, edge-of-the-Bible-belt rural Virginia district.

It is sure to give Republicans headaches though. Not that party loyalty has ever meant much to Virgil Goode, of course-- he was elected as a Democrat in 1994 and then switched parties after the GOP took over the house for reasons of pure political opportunism.

The reason it will give Republicans headaches is this: This year the GOP felt that if they just turned out their base they could win the elections. True, they fell short of this goal in some places, but in others they did turn out the conservative base and still lost the election.

One reason was their hard-line stance on immigration. This year the GOP lost 14% of the Hispanic vote nationally, falling from President Bush's share of Hispanics at 44% nationwide down to 30%. Without the GOP leaning votes of Cuban-Americans, it would be down into the 20% range, as it was in many Hispanic communities in the southwest. The reason is no mystery-- many Hispanics here have extended and immediate family that run across the spectrum-- some U.S. citizens, some living happily in Mexico or some other Latin American country, legal residents, illegal residents and some planning to come. An example is my cousin who is an American and married to a man from Latin America (he is a legal resident). Their kids are U.S. citizens (the oldest will probably be registering to vote in 2008) and they go down to visit his family every other year. I know they have other family here in America, and I haven't had a reason to ask about their legal status (plus I don't care whether they are legal or not-- they are still part of my family by marriage). And La Familia is very important among these people. So when Republicans threatened to build a wall this year, make some of their family members felons or carry out mass deportations, well you mess with a person's family and it's safe to say you've lost that person's vote. This loss of 14% among a group of voters who number into the tens of millions directly cost the GOP at least one congressional seat in Texas and probably two congressional seats here in Arizona (in both contests here, the GOP candidate was a conservative hardliner on immigration and got the conservative base out, but it was beaten by the direct loss of moderates and Hispanics that switched to the Democrats since 2004.) The irony of course is that immigrants from Mexico are 98% Christian, so if the concern is about the erosion of Christianity in America, they are shooting themselves in the foot by railing against undocumented immigrants, since the large majority of them are from Mexico or other Latin American countries.

Rep. Goode then goes on to cite 'diversity' in immigration and immigration from the Middle East. In fact, I agree with most conservatives as well as most liberals that we need to get a handle on who is coming into the country (which is one reason a guest-worker program makes sense) so that we can figure out ways to keep terrorists and criminals from entering the country, and track immigrants when they do come in as a backup if we don't catch some of the criminals or terrorists at the border. What is disturbing about Rep. Goode's letter though is that he speaks about Muslims and people from the 'middle east' (incidentally, the most populous Muslim countries are in Asia, not the middle east). He appears to use that as an argument to clamp down on immigration, as if there is something intrinsically bad about people from that part of the world coming to America. Now there are certainly some bad apples from the middle east, which is one reason I just mentioned that we need to get a handle on who is entering the U.S. But most people there are not bad apples, nor are most Muslims. What it will do is cause those who become U.S. citizens to gravitate toward's Congressman Ellison's party, not Congressman Goode's.

But maybe Congressman Goode doesn't care about that either. As I said before, party loyalty has never been his strong suit.

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