What’s the aphorism? When you’re in a hole, stop digging?
Jeb! Bush was in McAllen, Texas today, at the border with Mexico, raising funds and speaking Spanish. He was also deflecting persistent questions about his use of the expression “anchor babies,” which has had the mainstream media hounding him since he spoke it on Bill Bennett’s radio show last Wednesday (19 August). As Politico primly puts it:
“Anchor babies” is a derogatory term used to describe children who are born in the United States to undocumented parents.
Now, first of all, the MSM seem to have suffered CLIF — complete loss of intellectual function — in the weeks since Donald Trump suddenly made it cool to speak in non-euphemistic terms about illegals flooding the country. “Anchor babies” isn’t used merely to describe “children who are born in the United States to undocumented parents.” It’s used mainly to describe the practice of women darting across the southern border at the last minute, solely in order to give birth on the U.S. side, so as to secure birthright citizenship and monetary benefits for their children and themselves.
(Although efforts are made to discredit reporting on this phenomenon, it’s actually pretty common in several parts of the world; e.g., here, here, and here. There is nothing unbelievable about it being widespread on the U.S. border — as even left-leaning media have acknowledged.)
But Jeb! hasn’t helped matters by being unable himself to articulate properly what he meant by “anchor babies.” Or — if he does articulate his thoughts accurately here — he’s too far off the beaten path for what promises to be an all-issues-on-deck political campaign.
When pressed on his use of the expression “anchor babies,” in McAllen on Monday, Bush came out with this gem:
What I was talking about was the specific case of fraud being committed, organized efforts — and frankly, it’s more related to Asian people having children in that organized efforts [sic], taking advantage of a noble concept with this birthright citizenship…
Umm, OK. If it’s the Asians he’s worried about, roaming America undocumented and reproducing, he’s in a very small minority. I don’t actually know of anyone who associates the expression “anchor babies” with Asians.
I also don’t know of anyone who associates “anchor babies” with the sort of mealy-mouthed reality of long-term residence by illegals in the U.S., as if having babies while being resident here is what’s at issue.
It’s almost funny: now that people are willing to talk about “anchor babies,” suddenly no one can remember what “anchor baby” really means. The term isn’t about stable, intact families happening to procreate while living whole lives “in the shadows” in the United States. It’s about doing whatever it takes to give birth on American soil, even if your life and family ties are on the other side of the border. It’s about wanting to secure the benefits of citizenship without putting in the work of committing to and contributing to the United States. (Which is what critics are getting at when they point out that the authors of the Fourteenth Amendment clearly didn’t have the modern anchor baby in mind when they were writing in the 1860s. This is one of those occasions when the old axiom that “the Constitution is not a suicide pact” applies.)
In either case, Jeb!’s weird excuse that he was talking about Asians — so please get off his case — is more than merely illogical. It looks like grasping at straws. It shows an inability to prepare for rhetorical combat, either by prepping the battle space — owning the features and terms of the debate — or by having a well-thought-out plan. In the tough arenas ahead, there isn’t anyone Bush will be able to best with such a weak performance: not fellow Republicans, not Democrats, not Chinese, Russians, Iranians, or other Islamist radicals.
(Also worth noting: Gabe Ortiz at America’s Voice pointed out today that Jeb! worked closely with the Hispanic Leadership Network — even chairing its Miami Conference a couple of times — and was no doubt aware of the group’s “Messaging Do’s and Don’ts,” specifically including this point: “Don’t use the term ‘anchor baby.'”)
Oddly, I heard some of the panelists on Fox’s The Five this afternoon referring to Bush’s speeches and comments in Texas as “elegant” — with Dana Perino doubling down and insisting that he is eloquent as well. But maybe it’s not so odd. As the days go by, it becomes clearer and clearer that people hear with different ears, depending on what their intellectual landscape is. Apparently, Jeb! sounds polished and reassuring to those, like the “Five,” whose intellectual territory is bounded by the “halls of power” in Washington and New York. The rest of America has a much different and far more varied — and today more exacting — perspective. 2016 may just be the year when the “establishment” GOP candidate can’t get it done.