The Politics of Punishment

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I’ve had a thought steeping in my head for a while, and I need to serve it up. I’m not sure if you’ve followed the fate of the “DREAM Act” or not, but it’s an attempt to assimilate and welcome minors who were brought to our country illegally by their parents.

Now, I’m one of those political cats who can’t always decide which view to hate more, so I’m usually a little more conservative than my neighbors in DC, but am usually way more liberal than my neighbors in Alabama and Texas. I rarely have big political statements to make. A lot of people think that’s the problem with “moderates,” but at least you can’t blame us for clogging the blog-o-sphere with our rants.

Today is different for me. I have a statement to make. Opposition to the DREAM Act is not “conservative” politics, it’s the politics of punishment. I grew up in conservative geography in which I was taught a love of one’s neighbor, compassion and empathy. I grew up in conservative geography where I was taught that we are a country of many kinds of people, and that’s alright. I was raised in a conservative geography where I was taught that I am in fact “my brother’s keeper.”

So what happened to all those ideas? When did “conservative” come to mean conserving an ideological viewpoint at the price of people’s futures? When did the politics of punishment take over?

The answer is partly found in the polarizing nature of Conservative and Liberal points of view, and the necessary vilification of “the other” to win in an arena of competitive viewpoints. We simply cannot share an issue, and that’s just sad… it may be the great American weakness.

But something like the DREAM Act rolls along and suddenly we have a moment of sublime clarity… a lot of us are just pissed off, and we want to punish someone because we’re pissed. Kids? Sure, we can punish them too. And we’re blinded enough by a politics of punishment to think it’s OK to refuse a simple gesture of welcome to someone who is already our neighbor. The sadness deepens.

Go ahead and quote the reasons for wanting to punish minors who were brought to a country by decisions not their own… really, this is your time. Right here. Spill it. Say how the influx of undocumented illegal immigrants is destroying our health care system. Say that it’s overwhelming our social services. Say that it’s depleting our job pool. Say that it’s unfair to those who came here documented. I’m pausing now for you to do that.

Now, tell me that those reasons are good enough for you to reject a neighbor who was brought to our great country as a minor and knows this as their home. Tell me that even with the included requirements of education and proof of moral character in the DREAM Act, that we can’t open a door for them. Tell me that it is for all those reasons just stated that we faced our recent economic depression, collapse of banks, sky-rocketing unemployment and record setting home foreclosures. Hmmmm, you can’t. I can’t. We “legals” made that mess. Our banks made that mess. Our home lending policies and practices made that mess. We have a fine enough time designing our own demise without ferreting out the least among us to scapegoat.

Did you read up on the DREAM Act? If these kids manage to get citizenship, according to the terms of the DREAM Act, some of them will have done a whole lot more with intentionality for their citizenship than I’ve ever done for mine. (I’m whispering this part, “Or the vast majority of you.”) I was just along for the ride… oh, wait! So were they! Truth is, as minors go, they are in about the same position I was in as far as choosing where we’d call home. My neighbor is me.

We all honor those who come to our country in an open and legal process. But that’s just lip service. Have I ever found a way to help tutor someone in process for citizenship? Have I ever written a “thank you” note or a given a congratulatory gift to someone who was naturalized as a citizen in our country? Of course I haven’t. And though someone out there surely has, I’m betting the vast majority of us haven’t unless we by chance had a family member or close friend go through the process. No, we’re not galvanized into action by that to which we give lip service. We are moved by indignation.

The politics of punishment offends my ingrained Texan neighborliness. I was taught that being a neighbor meant better than that. The politics of punishment offends my sensibilities as a Christian. As one who has been shown the grace of God and heard the stories of Jesus, I am offended. I think of the servant who choses to punish another servant after witnessing the grace of One greater than he; Matthew 18:21-35. I think of the servants who have come late to the fields and are just as welcomed and paid by the owner of the fields as those who came earlier; Matthew 20:1-16. These are the stories of Jesus Christ. This is the legacy I was raised to carry forward.

So, I support the DREAM Act. Because my unintentional arrival on this continent makes me no more important than these other children who arrived here by no choice of their own. I need to work hard to love my neighbor, every neighbor. There are in fact people in this life deserving of some of the punishments that come their way, but let’s not ever let our political needs lead us deny a neighbor. That would be a fundamental mistake.

My neighbor is me. That’s how I was taught.

3 thoughts on “The Politics of Punishment

    Mikey Cunningham said:
    December 9, 2010 at 11:09 pm

    Brilliant, Todd… Well written, well reasoned, well put.

    Rock on!

    Janet said:
    December 10, 2010 at 9:35 am

    Nicely put! I do find that my sensibilities have been offended. It saddens me to see my Christian brothers & sisters acting with hate to the least of these.

    […] a love of one’s neighbor, compassion and empathy. I grew up in conservative geography … “conservative politics” – Google Blog Search This entry was posted in Conservative Politics and tagged faithful, path, politics, Punishment. […]

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