November 27, 2015

Open Letter: Justifying our immigration position

From Jim Babka
President, Downsize DC

Lots of people have written to us, so it’s getting impossible to respond to all of them. We have been informed, repeatedly, over the past couple of days, that we’ve “lost our way.” Here I am, working on Thanksgiving, reading those messages and writing this reply…

This memo needs to be an Open Letter. It is not intended for anyone, personally. I think, given the number and type of letters requesting response, that it’s important to be general in my response and answer everyone alike — which means this answer is lengthy.

I like people, and I prefer to be liked. I prefer even more to be understood. And I value yet even more than anyone’s understanding, standing for the good and right thing.

On immigration and human dignity…

We would like to ask, which of the following values should we surrender, so that our position appears “well thought-out” and/or pro-American, or at least, not like a “liberal-progressive” looking to “destroy America?”

  1. All persons are created equal, endowed with rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…
  2. That these rights come with our humanity. They are pre-Constitutional — that is, not dependent on government benevolence.
  3. That no one has the right to initiate violence against another human being engaged in peaceful behavior. They certainly cannot delegate that power to their most elite neighbors, a.k.a., politicians.
  4. That human rights include free association — that is, anyone can visit and stay as long as someone will offer them a room or bed, a meal, or a job. Any such arrangements between parties are nobody’s business.
  5. That each person should be judged by their character, not the color of their skin, so that all human beings are innocent and free until proven guilty of initiating harm against others.
  6. That each of us desires, from others, respect for our rights. Thus, we realize, in Golden Rule fashion, that in order to be free, we have to extend liberty to others, and…
  7. Because of this natural empathy, we recognize that everyone must be secure in their person and property, unless a warrant has been secured, based on probable cause that a crime has been committed.
  8. That our republican form of government prohibits democratic mob rule, which is why it includes mechanisms to defend individual rights and liberties.
  9. That the Constitution is built upon the “doctrine of enumerated powers,” meaning that the only powers granted to it, are those specified in that document, but the liberties of persons are beyond number.
  10. That the power you give a politician you like, to do something you want done today, is a power that will be used tomorrow, by a politician you hate, to do things you loathe.
  11. That, as Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Those who will give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
  12. That politicians have done nothing, performance-wise, to demonstrate that they would do better with even greater powers.
  13. That it’s a huge compliment to America — something of which we should be very proud — that the tired poor and huddled masses yearning to breathe free, seek out our country as their safe-haven.
  14. That the people who said first the Irish, then the Chinese, followed by the Italians and Vietnamese (to pick just a few examples) were a threat to the American way of life, could not assimilate, and we’re basically a criminal race, turned out to be wrong every single time.

It’s possible to say our commitment has deepened, but inaccurate to say we’ve changed our views. These have always been our values.

  • Which of them is anti-American?
  • Which of these concepts are left-statist positions?
  • Which one do you disagree with and think we should throw in the trash?

Were we unfair?

In response to our most recent newsletter titled, “Should we strike ‘home of the brave’ from the national anthem?” a handful of correspondents told us they weren’t to blame for the refugee mess. They registered offense at how we’d framed the argument. Frankly, we found the sensitivity to this question fascinating. Unless folks supported the policies that created the crisis, why would they be offended? And if they did support those policies (and the politicians who brought them)…

We would like to know why it’s “American” to encourage patriotic heroism on battlefields, where one’s odds of death, maiming, or emotional devastation are high, but we should shirk bravery when it comes to permitting 10,000 desperate human beings to come to our shore because ONE might be a terrorist? That makes zero sense. If it offended you, perhaps you should ask, “Why the inconsistency? Why is greater danger a coveted experience, but mundane risk is intolerable?”

The fashion by which we justify ourselves…

It has been disappointing to see the number of assumptions people are willing to make about us or our character, despite the fact that we’ve spent many years constantly fighting for what we believe are morally-sound principles.

It is tragic that, some of these persons have told us they either cannot work with us further or are about to part from us if we don’t shut-up! That is a strategic mistake of epic proportion.

Consider the following example…

Downsize DC belongs to several coalitions. In one case, I have worked closely with a woman whose values differ sharply from mine. I daresay, we disagree about more than we agree. For example, her present organization routinely attacks the Koch Brothers. To be blunt, I don’t like that a bit. Nevertheless, our relationship has been profoundly respectful and cordial. And it’s not insincere or phony. I like her. But I admire the fact that she’s a consistent civil libertarian whose profound knowledge has helped us in a variety of privacy battles. Over the years, she’s also partnered with us to fund two federal court amicus briefs.

Should we have refused her expertise and shunned her support for our good projects because we disagreed on other things?

If the only persons with whom you will work are those who agree with you all the time, I daresay, your professional career, your friendships, and even your love life will all be impoverished. How much more so does a movement require the alliance of unique and patient individuals, who work together most of the time, and simply don’t work together when the differences are significant?

And how is it reasonable to expect someone to be principled, but then, when you come across a moment — even two or three — where you disagree with them, to suddenly expect them to surrender? Principled people do things for principled reasons. If these people were valuable last week, mere disagreement isn’t enough to make them less so this week. Perhaps it’s best to wait a couple more weeks before emotionally executing them.

Perry Willis and I look for people who have the character to appreciate our approach. We count amongst our friends many who disagree with us, even on important topics. Why? Because we admire their character, and they teach us so much.

A final, personal note about me…

Threatening that you cannot support us, going forward, unless I read or watch the stuff you send me and/or concede to your points is both unfair to me and unpersuasive for you.

I have a job and a life, like everyone else. I try to respond to as many people as possible. This activity is a significant part of my work week. I’ve been advised by leaders of two other organizations to do less interaction so that I can focus more on growth activities. Writing threats, like that, takes unfair advantage of my good graces and my strong concern for the feelings of others. Therefore, please understand that…

  • If you told me you disagree with us, I get it. But if you know me well, you know that I am absolutely not interested in “winning a debate.” I generally don’t have time for or interest in debates. I don’t want to make others feel bad or embarrass them or provoke them to dislike me.
  • A protracted dialogue is valuable ONLY if someone is LEARNING something…

a) Iron sharpens iron: Maybe you’re teaching me something new, profound, and of expected value to me. I get euphoria from learning new things, even if it requires me to say, “I was wrong.” But we’re each going to make judgments about how to spend our time, and it might not be me that’s wrong.

b) Perhaps I believe I can teach you something new. But if I sense that you’re closed, unwilling to consider my point of view, I’ll make a quick and (usually) polite exit from the conversation. Questioning my integrity at that point, as some have done, is not only unpersuasive but also a disrespectful, dialogue killer.

c) I believe persuasion usually requires patience. Name-calling or ad hominem arguments are signs of impatience. In my experience, it’s unproductive and rude to berate someone who doesn’t want to hear it in a one-on-one conversation. I’m inclined to think that’s a violation of the Zero Aggression Principle.

d) Do I debate? Yes, in public forums. There, I’m doing my professional best to reach and teach observers. Often I’ve recognized that the person I’m debating is never going to agree. But the conversation will benefit others who are watching.

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