September 24, 2014

DAVIS | When Did Supporting the Constitution Become a Political Liability?

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By this time of year, with an important national election a little over a month away, television commercial breaks have become inundated with political attack ads from candidates and political action committees (PACs). Even for people like myself with an interest in politics, amusement has by now given way to indifference as the default reaction to such advertisements. I’ve come to long for the days when my commercial breaks will again be filled with ads for light beer and erectile dysfunction medication.

Yet as I was sitting in front of the T.V. in my townhouse on Sunday afternoon, watching football and procrastinating on my homework, I saw a political ad that managed to startle me with its content, even this far into September. It was an attack ad created by the National Republican Congressional Committee, and its target was Dan Maffei, the Congressman running for reelection in New York’s 24th Congressional District. One of the main accusations of the fear mongering ad was that Maffei wanted to give Constitutional rights to foreign terrorists.

My reaction was not one of indignation that Maffei could take such a stance, as the NRCC would have hoped, but rather one of astonishment that support for the Constitutional rights of anyone could be construed as a weakness in a politician’s record. Growing up here in the United States, the importance of the Constitution, and the rights that it provides us, were drilled into my head ever since elementary school, as was the legal principle of the presumption of innocence. Yet here was an ad that attacked those very principles. Did I miss the footnote at the bottom of the page where it was explained that those rules didn’t apply to the Middle Eastern men shown in the attack ad’s grainy footage? Was there another elementary school somewhere where children were being taught that basic American freedoms didn’t extend to “scary-looking” foreigners?

The whole ad just made me pause and reflect for a moment. What kind of country are we if supporting Constitutional rights can be a political liability? And who defines what a “terrorist” is? Is it a definition based on his alleged crimes? His ideology? His ethnicity? Are certain terrorists less deserving of rights than others? Certainly the message of the ad seemed hypocritical for a group of people who are suing the President for allegedly overstepping his Constitutional bounds, and for a party that depends so much on the rhetoric of “freedom.”

While Republican candidate John Katko is not personally responsible for the advertisement, it is my sincere hope that he does not gain a single vote because of it. I hope that the people of New York’s 24th Congressional District are able to see through the xenophobic fear mongering of the National Republican Congressional Committee when they go to cast their votes in November.

Adam Davis is a freshman in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at [email protected].