Courage was on display last night in the very place named after one of the most courageous presidents in modern American history. On the one subject that matters most to the nation’s 54 million Hispanics, Ronald Reagan would have said to all but nary a few of the candidates, “You are so wrong!”
He would say it with Gipperish vigor to Donald Trump. He would also say it to Senator Ted Cruz and he would have said it early and often to former Senator Rick Santorum! You know whom he would not have said that to? He would not have said it to Lindsey Graham. South Carolina’s senior senator showed true Reaganesque courage last night when he turned to an overtly xenophobic Rick Santorum and said, “Hispanics are Americans!”
Lindsay Graham, who had the courage to break from the pack. He had the courage to tell the truth. His words: “I’m tired of telling people what they want to hear.”
- Rick Sanchez
It wasn’t jingoistic. It wasn’t bravado; it was about speaking truth to power. Ronald Reagan spoke of America’s greatness and openness. He welcomed those who wanted to come and even those already here, no matter how they had arrived. Reagan wasn’t about limits. His only thresholds for American acceptance were those shared by all of us—work ethic, commitment to family, god, country and a hunger for a better life. That’s who the majority of Latinos are, documented or not. Graham said what Reagan believed.
During his presidency, Reagan must have known how easy it would have been for him to pick on the little guys (just as too many GOP candidates now do), but he chose not to. He could have tried to make himself HUGE at the expense of others by singling out Latinos as un-American, foreigners or free loaders. He didn’t, because he knew that making himself HUGE ala Trump would have made America small.
It’s important to note here that Reagan wasn’t the first or only Republican to stand up to demagoguery and xenophobia. There was another guy who came before him. Another president who felt so strongly against the discrimination of immigrants he actually threatened to leave the country if it continued. “I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance,” he said. That Republican president was Abraham Lincoln who in a letter to Joshua Creed stood up for the rights of “negroes, foreigners and Catholics whom the “Know-Nothing Party” wanted to kick out.
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Who will stand up to today’s demagogues, today’s opportunists, today’s “Know-Nothings?” Lindsey Graham will and did. He did it with courage when he interrupted Santorum’s carefully prepared applause line that fell flat with the Reagan Library audience. Then there was maybe the best moment in last night’s debates when Donald Trump explained how he’d kick out “all the illegals.” Trump waited for an applause that never came. Crickets could be heard as the auditorium fell silent.
The reason candidates like Trump and Santorum play the “Know-Nothing” card is because they and their accomplices in the media know nothing about immigrants. If they did, they’d know that according to Pew Research, 72 percent of Americans want undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. if they meet requirements. They’d know that kicking out almost 5 percent of our workforce would be an economic national disaster. They’d know that Trump is wrong when he says, “They cost us $200 billion dollars a year.” And they’d know that picking on the little guy for unabashed political convenience is a form of “despotism.” That’s the word Lincoln used to counter the likes of Trump, Santorum and Cruz.
There may have been no moment last night as ugly and disappointing as Trump saying over and over again that a baby born in America to Mexican parents is nothing but a hindrance to America. The “baby’s born here and we have to take care of it for 80 years,” said the Casino magnate without giving any consideration to the possibility that he or she could successfully contribute to our society.
Ronald Reagan would never have said that a baby born in America was simply something "we had to take care of." He would have instead recognized that that baby could easily take care of us, by joining our military, contributing to our labor force, paying our taxes and who knows —maybe even becoming the next Reagan. That is what leaders with an optimistic view of America say.
Reagan got it. He knew that understanding the potential of every immigrant, Hispanic or otherwise, was about understanding the future of our country. It’s about not being fearful, but rather hopeful. It’s not about being intolerant, but rather inclusive.
It’s about being more like Lincoln and Reagan and yes, like my winner of last night’s debate, Lindsey Graham, who had the courage to break from the pack. He had the courage to tell the truth. His words: “I’m tired of telling people what they want to hear.”