October 15, 2014;NBC News
Mitch McConnell is hardly anyone’s cup of tea on the issue of immigration reform, but his Democratic opponent for the U.S. Senate, Alison Lundergan Grimes, just demonstrated either that she’s been hiding in the right wing anti-immigrant closet for a long time or that for the purposes of elections, she is willing to pull a 180 and attempt to portray herself as more intransigent on immigration reform than her opponent.
Whichever is the truth, Grimes has been running television ads denouncing McConnell for being “soft” on what she called “illegal immigrants” and for favoring “amnesty” and “taxpayer-funded benefits” for undocumented immigrants. In the ad, Grimes herself promises to oppose amnesty and benefits for undocumented immigrants forever.
Did she smirk when she uttered those words like she did when, in her debate with McConnell, she refused to say whether she had voted for Barack Obama because of her commitment to the “principle” of a secret ballot? Or when she charged McConnell with having gotten rich due to his decades in Congress, despite McConnell’s sole angry outburst that his wealth is because of his marriage to former United Way CEO Elaine Chao, who herself was very wealthy and gave the Senate Minority Leader the basis for his vault up the income ladder?
Whether one is for or against immigration reform, a candidate might want to be less rhetorical and, vis-à-vis her opponent, more accurate. Perhaps Grimes felt she could take the anti-immigrant stance because Kentucky is among the states with the smallest proportion of Latinos—only three percent of the population—so that for most Kentuckians, she might have assumed that her anti-immigrant message might appeal to their lack of knowledge and interaction. Sorry, Grimes, but when a major candidate of a national party makes statements like these on immigration, their impacts extend beyond the borders of the target electorate, attracting national attention, response, and criticism.
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The nonprofit immigration reform advocacy organization United We Dream quickly released a statement that the Grimes ad demonstrates that Democrats “very easily sell us out for their political interests.”
“It smacks of desperation,” added Frank Sharry, president of the nonprofit immigration advocacy group America’s Voice. “It’s a real eye-roller. First of all, when Democrats try to get to the right of Republicans on immigration, it just doesn’t work.”
“Grimes is trying to play the anti-immigrant card. She’s gotten into the race to the bottom with Sen. McConnell on who can bash on immigrants the most, which is pretty much as low as you can get, frankly, when you look at McConnell,” Arturo Carmona, the head of Presente.org, said. “She’s basically using the lives of millions of undocumented immigrants to advance her political aspirations. It’s totally morally reprehensible. It represents the worst of the Democratic Party and an increasingly dying breed across the nation when you look at the Democratic Party in particular.”
The worst consequence of the Grimes ad is that she seems to have lost MoveOn.org. “This latest TV ad from Alison Lundergan Grimes is deeply upsetting. Grimes seems to be forgetting that we are a nation of immigrants that has continually strived to honor all the hard-working people who aspire to the American Dream,” Ilya Sheyman, MoveOn.org’s executive director, said in a statement quoted in The Hill. “It’s deeply troubling that Grimes would stoop this low in order to try to defeat [Senate Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell.”
The issue for nonprofits isn’t about Grimes’ prospects of upsetting McConnell. It should be about holding politicians to telling the truth and calling them out when they don’t. It isn’t necessary to get into the muck and mire of nonsense or the lobbing of politicized charges and countercharges; just focus on issues of policy and make sure politicians know that when they pull stunts like the Grimes ad—contradicting her own previous stances on the issue and misrepresenting McConnell’s—they are called out for what they are.
The American public has lost a great deal of faith in the reliability and honesty of our nation’s political leaders. With a core mission of promoting and improving democracy, nonprofits should be taking on a variety of issues about the mechanics of our electoral system. One element of those mechanics is making sure that politicians tell the truth about where they stand on the major issues of the day. That extends from the White House, to Congress, to candidates like Grimes, to agency and department heads. Props go to United We Dream, America’s Voice, and others that have probably had little to like in McConnell’s approach to immigration reform but were willing to stand up to his opponent, Kentucky Secretary of State Grimes, and tell the public what’s wrong with her statement.—Rick Cohen