The weblog Democratic Strategist has posted a document entitled “A Letter to a ‘Middle of the Road Moderate’ non-Latino Friend about the Moral Difference Between Democrats and Republicans.” The letter, written by James Vega, is a response to a comment from a friend that “I don’t believe the people who dominate the Republican Party are really any less emphatic toward minorities, the poor, and the disadvantaged than are the people who dominate the Democratic Party.”
To say that Vega disagrees would be an understatement. His letter is an explosion of rage against the Republican Party’s embrace of policies that, he argues, are explicitly aimed at “making the lives of illegal immigrants so miserable that they leave” (or, as Governor Romney has put it, that they “self-deport”). Vega notes that the impact of these policies has been felt by Latino immigrants here legally as well as Latinos who have lived in the U.S. all their lives.
This Republican-created strategy of consciously and intentionally “making their lives so miserable they leave”—of deliberately inflicting suffering as a social policy against men, women and children whose only crime is having migrated to America to seek work—is not simply “wrong” or “bad.” It is in every profound sense of the word—evil. It is evil in the same way that racial prejudice is evil. It is evil in the same way that anti-Semitism is evil. It presents the starkest possible moral choice between right and wrong.
As a result I believe your facile equation of Republicans and Democrats is not simply wrong. I believe it is deeply and profoundly immoral and I believe that it is ultimately an act of cowardice. You have clear moral issue of right and wrong staring you directly in the face and, because it is ideologically inconvenient for your “reasonable, middle of the road” self-image, you are acting like a frightened child and covering your eyes to make it go away.
You remember as well as I do the countless times we stood together and watched our two sons play together as they grew up—as toddlers, as kids, as teen-agers and young men. On the walls of our homes and in our photo albums we have dozens of pictures of the two of them side by side. When the time comes to choose who to vote for, ask yourself how you can possibly support a political party that has made it their explicit goal to “make the lives miserable” of children whose only crime is that they look exactly like your own son’s childhood best friend.
The letter, perhaps unavoidably, made me think of how the Catholic bishops have employed this kind of rhetoric. I’ve certainly read my share of episcopal columns in diocesan newspaper calling for reform of the nation’s immigration policies. In most cases, their tone is measured and moderate, acknowledging the difficult dilemmas and granting goodwill on both sides. When it comes to issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and this year’s favored issue of “religious liberty,”however, the rhetoric becomes more pointed, more likely to speak of “good” versus “evil” and “death” versus “life.” The tone sounds very much like Vega’s does here.
I wonder if the tone struck by the bishops would change if more of them had the kind of direct, personal experience with this kind of bigotry that Vega clearly has had. More than partisan or ideological preferences, I think the bishops’ public voice reflects their roots in a predominantly white Catholic culture. In that culture, the plight of Latinos subject to racial animus can be acknowledged as a concern, but it’s easier to discount it when compared to issues like abortion. Latino Catholics may not have that luxury.
I think this has implications for how the bishops engage both the public square and their own flock. I suspect that many of them are going to be disappointed that so many Catholics–particularly Latino Catholics–will have voted to re-elect a man they have painted as the enemy of life, marriage and religious liberty. Reading Vega’s letter may help them understand why.