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A stunning lack of respect for diversity

Anyone who values diversity should shudder at the thought of Phil Berger Jr. being their congressman for the next 30 years. The messages conveyed on the glossy cards bearing his name fall well short of the standard set by the phrase “liberty and justice for all.”

Just how does a politician in the year 2014 choose to run on the Gods, Guns and Gays + Illegals platform? Sure it plays well with the base in a Republican primary, but is playing to the basest instincts in our nature really the best America has to offer?

I think not. The message I get from Berger Jr.’s campaign is that if I’m a gun loving Christian with a vehement dislike of President Obama, persons of the same sex seeking marriage rights and/or illegal immigrants seeking a pathway to citizenship then he’s my man.

Last week the campaign left a door knocker at my house. At the top is a smiling Berger Jr., gleam in his eye, asking for my vote. He tells me twice that he is a committed Christian, which is great. That means he will represent the values of faith, hope and love, right?

He loves guns, that much is clear. He tells me that he is a “strong supporter of the Second Amendment” and a “Lifetime member of the NRA.” But he clearly has little faith in his fellow man, nor does he seem inclined to offer hope to gay people in the Sixth Congressional District of North Carolina.

The main talking point on the card is that Berger Jr. will “Stop Obamacare.” That’s fine for a political campaign in this day and age, despite coming across as childish and petty given that the Affordable Care Act has been passed by Congress, signed into law by the president, who was reelected after a brutal campaign in which the ACA was the number one target. Not to mention that the Supreme Court has ruled the law constitutional. Game over, right?

Not for Republicans who will gridlock the federal government in perpetuity until the day the law can be killed off. Or as Berger Jr.’s campaign literature describes his plans to “dismantle and stop every aspect of this catastrophic law.”

On this point the nation is truly divided, with little hope in sight for compromise. Perhaps cooler, more rational thoughts will carry the day soon enough. But is combative rhetoric aimed squarely at a law that has helped millions gain access to health insurance a step in the right direction?

I think not. One of the most intellectually disturbing aspects of the Berger Jr. campaign materials is his repeated claim that he will “defend our values.” Two rhetorical questions come to mind. First, what are these values? Second, what small subset of intersecting Venn diagrams constitute the communal “our” that share these undefined values?

This appeal to shared moral values has a long history in our state’s politics. But the tactic is normally deployed against a well-defined other, some outsider or dark force that threatens the white picket fences keeping the hordes at bay. Willis Smith pledged to “uphold the traditions of the South” and keep Jim Crow in place during his 1950 run for the US Senate against the progressive politics of Frank Graham. Jesse Helms, who got his start in politics as a strategist on Smith’s campaign that year, later used the tactic in his 1972 bid for the senate.

Helms ran that year against Congressman Nick Galifianakis, who led the race until the Nixon surge washed Helms into office. Just before that tide became clear (Nixon carried the state by 40 points), a worried Helms campaign deployed the “He’s one of us” slogan, which many interpreted as a slam against Galifianakis’s last name and Greek heritage.

Berger Jr. follows in that same mold, however so subtly deployed on his glossy, high-dollar mailers piling up on my kitchen table. The first, which I dubbed “Know your Enemy”, puts forth the claim that Berger Jr. will “hold Obama accountable.” Obama, whose name is in BOLD several times on the card, is responsible for Americans being murdered overseas, veterans dying in VA hospitals, and is using Eric Holder and the IRS to target Christian and pro-life groups, according to the Berger Jr. campaign.

Berger Jr., by contrast, is purported to be a “tough prosecutor” who “built a career” out of holding the guilty accountable. Now I know that he has served for eight years as district attorney of Rockingham County. But I hardly think two-terms in an office makes for a career, especially when a large part of the second term has been spent running for higher office.

In the end it’s Berger Jr.’s failure to stake out the moral high ground that is most disappointing in the person most likely to win this important congressional seat. Nowhere is this failure more striking than in his stated goal to deny a pathway to citizenship to any of the millions of hard-working, yet unauthorized, immigrants currently in these United States.

Berger Jr. stakes out “No amnesty for illegals” as his position on immigration reform. “We cannot reward law breakers with citizenship,” his campaign card states. “Berger opposes so-called ‘pathways to citizenship’ as they are simply pathways to amnesty.” His campaign position is to secure the border in order to “address the real issues with immigration.”

In the real world there are millions of children and young adults who came to the United States through no fault of their own, are enrolled in our schools and are as American as anyone from Eden. I used to agree with Berger Jr. that illegal immigrants should be given no option but to return from whence they came. But then an artist friend of mine invited me to view his photo exhibit wherein he told the stories of hardworking people lost in the invisible world of the undocumented. I heard the stories of a couple of young people who graduated high school in our state but then were locked out of higher education, a driver’s license and a job because of the rigidity of our immigration laws.

In the real world things aren’t as cut and dry as “no amnesty for illegals.” There’s room for compromise in the pursuit of liberty. There is room to “love your neighbor as yourself” even if your neighbor wasn’t born here. !

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