There he goes again.
When this newspaper endorsed Congressman Steve King for re-election last fall, we did so with a reservation — saying that the Iowa Republican had been “so provocative in his rhetoric that it undercuts his effectiveness.”
King’s latest comments on illegal immigration are a sad reminder of that.
King voiced sympathy for those young people who work hard and graduate as valedictorians after being brought into the country illegally as children. Then he told the Newsmax website, “For every one who’s a valedictorian there’s another hundred out there that they weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert. Those people would be legalized with the same act.”
Really? That kind of ugly stereotyping adds nothing to the immigration reform debate — and is just plain wrong. As World-Herald staff writer Joseph Morton reported, a study by the Center for Investigative Reporting found that four of five drug arrests by the Border Patrol involved U.S. citizens.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was among lawmakers rightly taking King to task: “What he said is wrong. There can be honest disagreements about policy without using hateful language. Everyone needs to remember that.”
In a different context but also troubling, Nebraska State Auditor Mike Foley was recorded telling a recent seminar, “Now if you are a low-income person, you’re probably not managing your money very well anyway. Sorry to stereotype, but that’s true.”
Foley was talking about an audit that found a number of state energy assistance checks sent directly to households had not been spent on heating and cooling costs. He said his presentation made clear that the poor and vulnerable suffer “when HHS (the Department of Health and Human Services) bungles these programs.”
No public official should be making such generalizations. Not for reasons of “political correctness,” but because respect is needed to foster healthy public discourse.
Many problems government deals with are hard enough to resolve without injecting flammable rhetoric. There are no easy answers for ending illegal immigration, or for determining when and how best to give a helping hand to the less fortunate.
Reasonable people can and will disagree. Prejudicial stereotyping contributes nothing. It undermines the trust needed to reach workable compromises. To be productive, debate needs to be sober, thoughtful, fact-based and respectful.