Rick Perry and the 'Corruption of the Blood'

You have to almost feel sorry for Rick Perry these days. The brash Texan had to spend much of last week up in New Hampshire trying to apologize without actually making an apology for saying something that was true — and something that was one of the most admirable and straight-forward things he has uttered since he first stepped onto the national stage.

In Hampton and Derry and Manchester and Atkinson, Perry was hammered again and again for stating his support of a Texas law that gives in-state college tuition to the children of undocumented workers. The law requires that the children, typically brought here by their parents, have to have lived in Texas for three years or more, have to have graduated from a Texas high school, and have to seek U.S. citizenship. Perry and the overwhelming majority of the members of the Texas legislature decided not to punish kids for the misdoings of their parents.

It is worth noting here that Article III, Section 3, of the U.S. Constitution forbids the use of “corruption of the blood” in cases of treason. In other words, the Founding Fathers declared that America does not punish the children of someone who has committed the high crime of treason.

But in the eyes of the anti-immigrant’s-kids crowd, Perry did something even worse than supporting that Texas law. He had the nerve to suggest: “If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart.”

Amidst all the looney statements Perry has made, about there not being a scientific consensus on climate change, or that Social Security may be unconstitutional, or that evolution is just “a theory that is out there”, it is this single, true, and rather noble sentence that he has put forward that now threatens to derail his presidential ambitions. This is the power of the Tea Party today in the Republican party, even though a recent poll showed that the Tea Party now has a lower approval rating than Atheists.

For Mitt Romney, the kerfuffle has been good news. Hoping to kneecap his chief rival, Romney’s camp has put out an anti-Perry, anti-education-for-those-children-of-immigrants ad that curiously ends with the slogan: “Believe in America.” Yes, indeed, Mitt. I suppose that is why those desperate souls came here. They must have “believed in America.” They must have believed that whole “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses” thing. Pretty silly of them.

What makes all of this even more curious is how far down on the list of national priorities the immigration issue is for the vast majority of Americans. A CNN /ORC poll back in August asked adults nationwide: “What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?” Sixty percent understandably said that the economy was the most important problem. In second place with 16 percent was the budget deficit. And lagging behind after healthcare and the two wars — with just 4 percent of the vote — was immigration.

Perhaps, because of talk radio, immigration issues seem more important to politicians and activists than they really are. Tune in any day of the week to a talk radio station, and you’re likely to get a big dose of either Mexican or Muslim bashing. It does play very well to their base. But once again, as loud and angry and active as those people may sound, apparently, there just aren’t that many of them. Recent ratings for Boston’s two right-wing talk radio stations show that WRKO, where Howie Carr often tries to make Mexican-mocking seem like a civic duty, and WTKK, where Michael Graham reigns, both languish in the ratings. They both get just a 1.8. Compare that with the ratings for WXKS-FM, which features the genial peccadilloes of Matty in the Morning and his crew. The funsters at KISS consistently tower above the all-hate, all-the-time crowd with a rating of 10.8.

Ultimately, I suppose the bad news here is that the anti-immigrant’s-children crowd is angry, active, and loud. But the good news is that there just really aren’t that many of them. It will be interesting to see just how Perry plays it at the next televised debate on October 11, in Hanover, New Hampshire. Will Perry have the guts to stand and deliver his one good true line? Or will he cave and turn his back on that iconic lady in New York Harbor who nobly declares on our behalf: “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”?