Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sorry, just saying “It’s the law” isn’t presidential

Yesterday, Rick Santorum practiced sounding presidential by laying down his catch-22 on the upcoming referendum on statehood for Puerto Rico.
He’d leave the decision to initiate full union talks with the Puerto Ricans—sadly, with the caveat that they would have to accept only English as their official language. Awkward: for over a century, English and Spanish have been officially recognized.
Santorum excused his veto with a helpless shrug:
“Like any other state, there has to be compliance with this and any other federal law,” Mr. Santorum said in the interview with El Vocero, a Spanish-language newspaper, according to Reuters. “And that is that English has to be the principal language.”
There are two problems with this approach as a potential president of a great country.
First, it’s not accurate.
So long as the US remains a free great power, the New York Times and at least a handfull of others will be around to point out when presidents are inventing federal laws to excuse what they don’t want to agree to or to excuse something they shouldn’t have done. Today, there’s no federal statute mandating US states and territories to guard the supremacy of the embattled English language. And if there was one, you’d think a true conservative like Rick Santorum would oppose it, rather than hide behind it.
Second, it’s common—not presidential—to immediately quote the law or the constitution, as you read it, against a new idea.
America became a transcontinental federation and great global power, in large part, by amending its constitution and by electing brilliant negotiators. Commanders and chiefs were a last resort.
With Puerto Rican capita incomes barely a third of those of Americans, complete union with continental US would be contentious. However, to rule it out on language grounds is an evasion, even if there was a problem constitutionally.
Would constitutional conservatives like Rick Santorum, for instance, reject out of hand expanding the American federation to include Canada—with its comparable standard of living, economic productivity, parliamentary traditions, democratic secular values, military solidarity, free market institutions, and mutual friends globally—simply because seven million French-Speaking Quebecers would demand constitutional guarantees?
Would they turn down Canada because amending the American constitution on Canada’s behest would now be un-American?
PS: Sorry for being a bit uneven. We’re in Miami, visiting and trying to keep up.

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