- The Washington Times - Monday, July 3, 2006

Let’s get off this negative news train. The world is imperfect. So are we, as born or naturalized American idealists. But let’s stop the trash talk here. Let’s get back to our roots, reinforcing hope for all Americans and respect for the Rule of Law. Too much in the media now is about how wrong we are to enforce U.S. laws, like immigration standards, felony drug trafficking bans and tapping terrorists. Or how wrong we are to fight extremists who kill innocents in Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia and, yes, the United States. Or how wrong it is to teach morals and history, civics and decency, truth and justice, rather than tolerance for every Tom-Dick-and-Harry thing that comes along. Enough.

America is not negative. We are a nation founded on hope and law. We are overwhelmingly positive. That is our larger identity When others say “impossible,” we say “let’s try it.” When others say, “give it up” or cave to convenience, we say, “not on our watch.” We are about opportunity for Americans, upward mobility for Americans, and pride in that identity. We are living an inspired example, not lowering expectations.

Whoever is behind the anti-American sentiment that is afoot, we are not they. And they are not we. We, The People of these United States, are no more or less than a fair example of what others can make of themselves, within their own cultural parameters, with hard work. There is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but the halfway point on that rainbow is not El Paso, unless through lawful citizenship.

Lawful Immigration is a wellspring of this nation’s greatness. But illegal immigration is a crime. The word “legal” is not incidental. There is a reason. America did not spring full bloom upon the world stage. We are the product of two dozen generations, 15 billion human hearts and hands, spreadover more than three centuries. We are no accident. Today, our generation carries the torch. Let’s hold it high and faithfully. Whether born or naturalized, Americans honor one another for a common journey, shared values, aspiration, work ethic, love of nation, respect for law, and dearness of citizenship. Such an honor does not begin with an act of lawlessness.

Of course, we welcome visitors. But we do not call our visitors Americans, any more than the French or Mexicans would call Americans either French or Mexican for standing on their soil. We do not give our name to someone we invite to dinner, and even less to those who would break laws to eat our fare. So, just because foreign feet touch American soil, there is no entitlement. Citizenship must be first wanted, then aspired to, and finally earned. More broadly, it involves patience, assimilation and love for country — which all take time.

Who are we Americans? We are about equality for all before the law, with responsibilities, such as speaking the language, earning the honor. Of course, laws can be changed. Laws can bepoorly drafted, wrongly interpreted, incompletely enforced, but this Rule of Law stuff is serious. It cannot be twisted and remain legitimate. Without it, all Americans lose. It should not bow to pedestrian politics, or bendin a gale of withering words from puffed-up pundits. It does not change colors with the seasons. Itis the tap root that nourishes the democracy. Cut it, and you wither.

If the day comes when we lose the hope that built this nation or the respect for law that has sustained it, we have lost touch with America, with ourselves. Worse, we will have un-tethered ourselves from the sacrifice of those who came before us. Dire consequences would follow. So, let’s not lose touch.

Respect for law is taught, so let us teach. Without laws that respect and elevate citizenship, we become Rome before The Fall. Without informed, timely, paced, procedurally sound immigration, there is no such thing as being American. We make ourselves less and gain nothing in the bargain. A nation without enforcement of its laws is neither a nation of laws nor a nation that respectslaw. If enforcement is costly and inconvenient, then it is. But enforcement is the teeth in the law. Without it, there is no law.

So, let’s get back to being positive. As a matter of record, America is the most powerful, generous, visionary, unselfish, hopeful, fruitful and optimistic nation in the history of the world, present and past. No wonder we are envied and emulated, copied and criticized, culturally critiqued and culturelessly attacked. Beacons attract moths, even as they illuminate. Magnets collect shards, even as they magnetize.

Democratic leaders are admired and derided, often at once. When vindicated, their critics become footnotes. Consider Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Churchill, Gandhi, King, Walesa, Thatcher and Reagan. American-versus-American is not our way, nor is dwelling on the negative. We are strongest — at home and abroad — when we unify behind our common history, enduring ideals and positive goals. So, let’s get back to it, shall we?

Robert Charles, former assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement, 2003-2005, is president of the Charles Group. He worked in the Reagan White House, 1981-83, the George H.W. Bush White House 1992-93, and for the Republican Congress, 1995-99.

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