Iowans are getting a lesson on the art of the flip-flop.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand last week announced her plans to run for president, accompanied by a trip to meet with Iowa Democrats. In doing so, she put herself in the middle of an ongoing discussion about Democrats’ evolving views on immigration.
Last year, Gillibrand was one of the first high-profile policymakers to call for abolishing and replacing Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She told Iowans last week that President Donald Trump’s policy agenda is “racist” and “immoral,” according to a New York Times reporter on location in Boone.
But not so long ago, Gillibrand sounded more like Trump than she sounded like the new and improved Gillibrand.
An immigration policy brief has since been removed from Gillibrand’s campaign website, but it’s preserved by the Iowa-based nonprofit Vote Smart. It called Gillibrand a “firm opponent of any proposal that would give amnesty to illegal aliens.” She wanted to significantly increase the number of border patrol agents to catch drug smugglers, make English the national language and block non-emergency taxpayer benefits undocumented immigrants.
During an interview on CNN over the weekend, Gillibrand said she still supports some additional security measures, but is firmly opposed to Trump’s proposed wall.
“Border security and investing in keeping us safe is a better way to talk about it because a wall is a waste of money and will not actually help us create safety,” Gillibrand told anchor Jake Tapper.
Even now, though, it’s not totally clear where she stands. In the same interview, Gillibrand said she still would support a bill she voted for last year, which included $25 billion for the wall and border security, as well as permanent protection for immigrants brought to the country as children, known as Dreamers. Only one fellow 2020 hopeful, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, voted against that proposal.
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Gillibrand’s shifting opinions about immigration are by no means unique. If you lament political flip-flopping as a sign of cynical opportunism, I have bad news for you — this is the norm, rather than the exception.
Former President Barack Obama famously “evolved” on same-sex marriage. Franklin Roosevelt was against military intervention in Europe until he was for it. Abraham Lincoln said during his first inaugural address that an armed invasion of any state or territory was “among the gravest of crimes.”
Among Iowa politicians, U.S. Sen Chuck Grassley came to Washington, D.C., as a traditional law-and-order Republican, but eventually became a leading voice for sentencing reform. As the most recent example, Iowa Republicans who have long stood by U.S. Rep. Steve King in the face of racism allegations are now pledging neutrality in his upcoming primary campaign.
As the late conservative journalist Andrew Breitbart said, “Politics is downstream from culture.”
It is a mistake to view our elected representatives as moral agenda-setters. In reality, they are political meteorologists studying the winds of public opinion.
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