Birtherism is alive and well. I’m not referring to doubts about President Obama’s birthplace. I’m talking, instead, about mounting attacks on prominent Republicans whose parents were born abroad.
Consider Mitt Romney, whose father, George, was born to American citizens living in a Mormon colony in Chihuahua, Mexico. The elder Romney moved with his family to the United States when he was 5 and automatically received U.S. citizenship because his parents were American citizens.
Mr. Romney’s Mexican roots are shallow, to put it mildly, and he rarely mentions them on the campaign trail. But that hasn’t stopped liberal pundits from confronting and criticizing him for the perceived incongruence of his heritage and immigration stance.
At a Florida Republican presidential debate in January, moderator Juan Williams raised Mr. Romney’s family background, wondering out loud how Mr. Romney could oppose key parts of the Dream Act, which, he noted, most Latino-Americans support. Then he asked, “Are you alienating Latino voters that Republicans will need to win the general election?”
Mr. Romney’s immigration platform includes what he calls “self-deportation” of illegal immigrants and a promise to veto the Dream Act, which most conservatives equate with amnesty for illegal immigrants.
To many liberals, these positions amount to “hypocrisy.” That was the charge leveled by FoxNews’ Geraldo Rivera, who, with characteristic nuance, called Mr. Romney “the most virulent anti-illegal-immigration person ever.”
Referring to Mr. Romney’s “bizarre hypocrisy,” a HuffingtonPostauthor wrote, “Romney, although proudly proclaiming that his father was born in Mexico, is in fact a bold-faced panderer and cheerleader for nativist anti-Mexican sentiment.”
Shirl Mora James, co-president of the National Tequila Party Movement, wrote, “Mitt, where is your gratitude and compassionate [sic] for undocumented Mexicans, whose ancestors welcome [sic] your family with open arms despite of [sic] your ancestors’ religious views?”
A writer at the LAWeekly blog wrote, “Romney appears to hate Mexicans (and that would technically include himself, que no?) … One might think that El Romneyo might have a little sympathy for his familia down south.”
Then there was Andrea Mitchell, who told Chris Matthews, incorrectly, that Mr. Romney might have trouble winning over Hispanic voters because his parents “crossed the border illegally” to come back to the United States.
Mr. Romney’s not the only leading Republican who’s been attacked because of where his parents were born. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is a child of Cuban immigrants who associates strongly with his heritage.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid recently blasted Mr. Rubio for initially opposing Carmen Aponte, President Obama’s nominee for ambassador to El Salvador. “I just think it’s a mistake for someone who is supposedly representing Hispanic issues to do what [Mr. Rubio] has done,” Mr. Reid said.
A Reid spokesman later enumerated the accusations against Mr. Rubio in an email to a reporter:
“From supporting Arizona’s law legalizing the racial profiling of Latinos, to opposing the Dream Act, to attacking Justice Sonia Sotomayor and voting against Ambassador Aponte twice, Sen. Rubio’s record speaks for itself.”
Sen. Reid has a history of attacking Hispanic-American politicians who refuse to conform to the left’s prejudices. “I don’t know how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican, OK?” he once said in reference to Hispanic Republican Brian Sandoval, who defeated Mr. Reid’s son, Rory Reid, in the 2010 election for governor of Nevada.
Mr. Rubio is by no measure an immigration hard-liner. He opposes the Dream Act but supports temporary-worker programs and speeding up the process by which immigrants can obtain visas. And he has spoken against the harsh rhetoric of those with more conservative views. But those positions have inspired a campaign, called No Somos Rubios, dedicated to opposing Mr. Rubio on immigration.
Then there is Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose parents were born in India. Mr. Jindal has been disparaged for his conservative stance on immigration and his support for a law that would require candidates to show proof of their U.S. birth before being allowed on the ballot in Louisiana.
The latter stance, The WashingtonPost’s Dana Milbank wrote, “was, as many pointed out, a sad gesture for a man born Piyush Jindal.”
Finally, there’s South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. Mrs. Haley has been criticized for supporting voter identification laws, a position that, because she is Indian-American, has provoked howls of indignation from the left.
“She couldn’t vote before 1965, just as I couldn’t,” scolded Jesse Jackson, referring to the Voting Rights Act, which removed obstacles for minorities to vote in the South.
Identity politics, a favorite liberal pastime, is at the heart of these attacks. It is an article of faith on the left that politicians of a particular social group must always vote and act in accordance with its idea of the shared experiences of injustice of other members of that group.
Which is why the left becomes particularly scornful of politicians who they believe don’t empathize with those like them. Black conservatives who don’t support affirmative action or an expansive welfare state are labeled “Uncle Toms.” Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann are called anti-woman by leading feminists because they don’t support the right of mothers to kill their unborn children.
Mind you, Mrs. Palin and Mrs. Bachmann embrace the pro-life position because of, not despite, their feminism. Similarly, Mr. Rubio’s ethnicity informs his nuanced position on immigration because, as he has said, “for people in our community, the issue of immigration is not a theoretical one, it’s not an issue of statistics, it’s not always even an issue of law and order. It’s an issue of their lives and of the people that they love.”
As the number of ethnic minorities running for office as Republicans grows, so will the ethnicity-based attacks that have become the left’s sad, desperate response.
Daniel Allott is senior writer at American Values.