Over the past few days, I’ve been looking at “Tea Party” organizations across America and finding (link | link | link | link) two components of the movement sitting so oddly side by side. On the one hand, Tea Party leaders cry loudly about their commitment to the Constitution. On the other hand, Tea Party organizations endorse and contribute overwhelmingly to Republicans — Republicans who have acted nationally in the U.S. Congress to gut the 1st Amendment, the 4th Amendment, the 6th Amendment, the 8th Amendment and the 14th Amendment.
Republicans have been pursuing a particular anti-constitutional agenda for some time: turning America into a society in which people are subject to identification and tracking at the whim of the government. In 2005, without any hearings, 96.5% of Republicans in the House and all Republicans in the Senate passed the REAL ID Act into law, allowing the Secretary of Homeland Security to nullify any law in border regions of the United States and requiring Americans to hold national identification cards. In 2008, we learned that anyone forgetting their ID and entering an airport was having their name added to the Terrorist Watch List as some kind of twisted door prize, thanks to the policies of the Bush administration.
And then in 2006, Republican leaders of the Ohio state legislature introduced a bill that would have created an entire state agency dedicated to coordinating police as they arrested people solely for being illegal immigrants. Considering our 4th Amendment constitutional protections against search and seizure of personal papers without probable cause, I wondered at the time how police could possibly go about arresting people just for being illegal immigrants:
How exactly does an officer arrest a person solely for being an illegal immigrant, given that people don’t tend to walk around with signs that say “Illegal Immigrant Here!” or t-shirts that say “I Walked 500 miles, Illegally Crossed the Border, and All I Got was this Lousy T-Shirt”??? Also peskily missing are the illegal immigrant tattoos on the forehead. What will qualify for suspicion meriting further investigation? Brown skin? Overheard snippets of conversation in Spanish?
I was joking about the special Illegal Immigrant T-Shirts, but Representative Brian Bilbray wasn’t joking when he appeared on cable news just the other day and suggested that yes, you could accurately pick out illegal immigrants and not just because of the brown color of their skin. No, no, not just skin color! It’s also, explained Rep. Bilbray, because they wear Illegal Immigrant Clothes:
Chris Matthews: Like what, like what? Give me a non-ethnic aspect that would tell you to pick up somebody.
Brian Bilbray: They will look at the kind of dress you wear, there’s different type of attire, there’s different type of, right down to the shoes, right down to the clothes.
My point in bringing all this up is that these aren’t isolated policies. We’ve got ourselves a trend when it comes to this Republican Party obsession with using police to track people and demanding people’s identity papers not on the basis of probable cause (too constitutionish) but rather on the basis of some characteristic that’s a synonym for SKIN TONE and rhymes with GLACIAL SNOWPILING. It’s a long-term Republican policy trend.
So when we saw that the Arizona State Legislature passed a bill last week requiring police officers to stop people on the basis of rhymes-with-GLACIAL-SNOWPILING, demand their papers, and detain them if they don’t have papers, should we have been surprised? No. Should we be surprised when we find out that every single Arizona State Senator and Representative who voted for this bill (SB 1070) is a Republican? No. Should we be surprised to find out that only 1 out of the approximately 100 Republican Arizona state legislators voted against the measure? No. Should we be surprised when we find out that the current Republican Governor of Arizona, channeling Evan Mecham and J. Fife Symington III, signed the bill into law? No.
No, we shouldn’t be surprised, because time and again we have seen that this is what Republican politicians do. We shouldn’t be surprised by these events, but we should note them and remember them. We should also remember what these practices were called back during the Cold War when our teachers told us about the evil countries that practiced them. “Papiere, Bitte!” cried the East German Stasi agents in the spy films we were shown as they chased Good Germans citizens racing for a train to Free Berlin. “Police State” was a phrase my teacher used in civics class fairly often to describe the evil Communist way of life, the way of life that our own great country rejected in the noble cause of Freedom.
Any self-respecting and serious Tea Party member who cries “Constitution” or who holds a sign with a picture of Obama with a “Hitler” mustache or who sports a bumper sticker declaring Nancy Pelosi to be a “Communist” or who explains to the nice journalist with the mike that we have to protect our “Freedoms” against the power of “Big Government” should be speaking out right about now against SB 1070 and should have nothing to do with the Republican politicians who voted for it.
Watch Tea Party members over the next few days to see if they live up to that “self-respecting and serious” part. And while you’re at it, watch yourself too. The next time you consider voting for a Republican, remember that THIS is their agenda for America.