Puerto Rico and Glenn Beck

by Benjamin Domenech on 10:13 am April 29, 2010

puerto rico


Update: Welcome Hot Air readers!

Popular right-wing personality Glenn Beck did extended segments yesterday across his media appearances on radio and television about the issue of Puerto Rican statehood and HR 2499, the bill currently before the House which would engage another Puerto Rican plebiscite on the statehood issue.

This is a controversial issue, and Beck thrives on the games he plays with his audience on such matters — warning them with a sotto voce tabloid whisper that what he’s about to say will sound like a conspiracy theory, but always emphasizing that he has the facts to back it up. In the case of Puerto Rico, as on a few matters, I don’t think he does. A few corrections are in order, particularly for the radio piece.

Beck began with an extended monologue about how democracy is an overrated term, and what we need to be on the look out for are those vile “progressives” in our midst — noting that “Chavez, Castro, Ahmadinejad, Hitler, Mussolini I believe was democratically elected.” Well, Mussolini was democratically elected to the cabinet, but not to the head position in the government — he seized power in a coup to do that. Hitler wasn’t technically, either — he got 37% of the vote, but was appointed chancellor (effectively, a vice presidential role that they thought would keep the boy in line — whoops) [ed. note: thanks to Ace for pointing out that this is a bad comparison — in reality, given the chancellorship role, it’s more like he was appointed as prime minister], another example of why a two party system is a better way to go. Castro deposed a democratically elected regime with a revolution, and thousands of Iranians risked life and limb to defy Ahmadinejad in his rigged election. But hey, maybe Beck thinks democracy is “beautiful in theory; in practice, it is a fallacy.” Mussolini said that.

That was his lead up to talking about the “Puerto Rican Democracy Act,” whose name Beck found suspiciously designed to prevent opposition. He may have a point there — bills are frequently named to achieve that goal (all the more credit to those like Phil Gramm who successfully stand up and block bad bills named things like the “Puppy Protection Act” — true story).

States have become states in different ways — sometimes via odd and interesting paths. Some of these ways include internal elections, some not. In Puerto Rico’s case, America took it over in a war, and then held onto it as a commonwealth for security purposes and eventually because we didn’t want it to slip into communism. The power’s never been at the island to do anything about that status. This bill is designed to change that and force the issue — assuming commonwealth status wins again, it sets up an eight year regular vote on the issue.

Beck acknowledges that what he’s about to talk about could be accused of being a “conspiracy theory,” but that he’ll flesh it out in more detail on his TV show. That segment is here. In it, Beck says a lot of stuff that he said earlier on the radio, but he tacks on this:

Why are Democrats and Republicans for this? Because it’s not about Republicans and Democrats. The progressives in our country know that this is the moment they’ve been waiting for; every Marxist daydream they’ve ever had, now is their time to get it done. They are not going to let it pass. That’s what’s happening: The fundamental transformation of America. And this is only the beginning.

The idea that Puerto Rico becoming a state is a Marxist daydream really didn’t seem to be the case back when Ronald Reagan was supporting it. As Reagan personally responded to an angry letter writer in 1979:

Puerto Rico is a US territory and has been for most, if not all, of this century. My only other reason for mentioning this in my speech was the fact that with our attention to Iran and the Middle East, most Americans are unaware of what has been going on in the Caribbean islands. We are being ringed in there by islands which, one after the other, have come under the influence of the Soviet Union by way of Castro. I believe this constitutes far more of a threat than most people realize–a threat to the security of our country. As you know, there is a Communist radical faction in Puerto Rico which has been trying to bring about independence from the United States. The Puerto Rican Republican Party has opposed this and has worked for statehood for many years. My declaration was simply that if the people of Puerto Rico voted for statehood, I would support legislation to grant this. I was not trying to show how “liberal” I am, for I am not. I am a conservative and will not change my position to seek votes. There would be no purpose in running if I were willing to give up my own deeply held convictions.


Ronald Reagan

The irony here, of course, is that the Gipper supported Puerto Rican statehood primarily as a push to block creeping Marxism in the Caribbean — something which actually could be said today about South America and Chavez.

Anyway, back to Beck, where he’s interviewing Rep. Jason Chaffetz from Utah:

GLENN: Tell me about what congress is going to do tomorrow.

CONGRESSMAN CHAFFETZ: Well, there’s a push to push this HR 2499. I see it as part of a four pronged plan that I see to really change the environment here in the United States of America. Amnesty for people who are here illegally, voting rights for criminals and felons. They wanted D.C. voting rights, something, got this little thing called the Second Amendment got in the way. They weren’t willing to put it forward, but they certainly wanted to do something I believe was unconstitutional and give Washington D.C. voting rights. And now this 2499, which is the Puerto Rico statehood bill which is being pushed by the new progressive party in Puerto Rico trying to create a federally sanctioned; that is, a U.S. sanctioned vote that they say is nonbinding but would give them the legitimacy to then come back and try to seat people in the United States congress.

I actually think Rep. Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, sounds far more unhinged in this segment than Beck. He just compared Puerto Rico, which has four million American citizens, voters and law-abiding people, who pay 100% into Medicare and get 70% back, who send young men to war from Vietnam and Korea to Iraq and Afghanistan under American colors, with voting rights for illegals, criminals and felons? There’s a constitutional barrier to the statehood of Washington D.C. And there’s a constitutional barrier to the voting rights of felons and people who are here illegally. But you’re really going to compare that to a place that already has voting rights, and uses them in heavy turnout in primaries and general elections?

What’s more, if this is a four-pronged plan to change America, what about the fact that this bill was originally introduced, in only a slightly different form, in 2007 after consultation with the Bush administration? The language is essentially the same. Did this four pronged plan originate under W, under Reagan? Perhaps Chaffetz dismisses this as being an example of progressivism crossing party lines, as Beck does, but that’s a hard case to make given its long history of Republican support.

As Alex Castellanos notes, “For over 50 years, every Republican president and every GOP platform has supported the right of self-determination for U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico. A bill that would turn that GOP commitment into law is currently moving through the House with 57 Republican co-sponsors. As soon as this Thursday, Congress could decide whether the 4 million citizens of Puerto Rico have the same right as other Americans to determine their own fate.”

If Congressman Chaffetz wants to reject this part of the platform, that’s fine, but he should come up with a better reason than “it’s not necessary” to let these people determine their own fate.

Puerto Rico is larger than roughly half of the fifty states in population. Residents of Puerto Rico are required to pay numerous federal taxes, including import/export taxes, federal commodity taxes, social security taxes, Medicare taxes, and so on. Business taxes are a bit more generous than most states. And as Reuters notes, “no Medicaid beneficiaries — the country’s poorest residents — pay taxes, and Medicare beneficiaries on the island pay the same taxes as stateside residents.” That’s no different than living in, say, a more populated version of Mississippi, where many pay less taxes simply because they’re too poor or because they have multiple children. This is a fair point — the cost to the federal government of putting Puerto Rico into the fully formed state level services programs on entitlements and benefits would be great. But that’s an indictment of our welfare and benefits systems, not Puerto Rico.

The other fair criticism of the bill that Chaffetz and Beck bring up: the first, as I mentioned, is the financial status of the island. The second is the ability of roughly 2.5 million Puerto Rican born people who now live on the mainland to vote on the matter. Several of my own family members would be able to vote in this despite living in Massachusetts, Texas, or Washington DC for most of their adult life. It’s a ludicrous proposition — do you get to vote on ballot issues in the state you were born in, even if you live elsewhere now? No. So offer an amendment and take it out in the Senate.

Again, the vote on HR 2499 is not a vote on statehood, but a vote on whether or not Puerto Rico is going to have a formal process to decide its status as opposed to just ad hoc plebiscites every couple of years. The status quo will probably win again — and even if it doesn’t, Congress has to respond before it means anything. There will be pressure on them to respond from Puerto Rico, but that would be a complicated situation, since other states would have to give up Congressional seats (capped at 435). At that point, wheeling and dealing would begin.

Now, back to Beck:

CONGRESSMAN CHAFFETZ: I hope you talk about is how the new progressive party has sent people here to serve in congress, sometimes as quote/unquote Republicans, sometimes quote/unquote Democrats.

GLENN: Mmm hmmm.

CONGRESSMAN CHAFFETZ: But they all come from the quote/unquote — Republican governor of Puerto Rico is the chairman of the new progressive party.

GLENN: It is Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson all over again. Parties mean nothing, nothing. It is only about the size of the government and who controls it. That’s how you get a choice between Nazi and communist. When both sides want gigantic government, that’s how you get that. Not through a republic with limited powers.

Progressive in Puerto Rico doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing Beck thinks it does (Canada either). While Puerto Rico has historically been a place of high spending and government expansion, Republican Gov. Luis Fortuño is doing a lot to change that. Much like Chris Christie in New Jersey, Fortuño has faced a $3.2 billion budget deficit not by looking for handouts from Capitol Hill, but by instituting a hiring freeze, slashing pay for himself and across all agencies, cutting back on politically appointed positions, and recommending an across the board 10% cut in spending. In less than two years in office, Fortuño has slashed the deficit from 45 percent of the budget to 12 percent, bringing Puerto Rico out of a pretty deep economic hole.

This is a place which probably needs to do a lot more work toward being able to stand on its own two feet as a 51st state. But to suggest that Fortuño is a “progressive” in the sense Beck means is ludicrous. He’s even staring down a lefty student strike right now. His health care policy is bad, but hey, so was Mitt Romney’s — and he’s a good sight better than a lot of other Republican governors, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jodi Rell, Linda Lingle, and for a few more hours, Charlie Crist.

Beck is, as always, a consummate Howard Beal-school entertainer. He likes to connect disparate threads into a conspiracy-like whole. It makes for great TV, and good radio — but usually, it conflates things that are unconnected with some grander plan, and plays on people’s willingness to be paranoid. Comparing Puerto Ricans loving America so much that they can’t wait to be fully part of it to a Marxist conspiracy to get a bunch of criminals the right to vote is a pretty jarring statement.

The reality here is very simple: The whole point of this legislation is to drive the Puerto Rican status question toward a resolution. Puerto Rico’s people consider themselves Americans, and are divided roughly in half about whether they ought to be a state or not. But after a century without clarity, they want some and have been trying to achieve it for a long time. It’s been in the Republican Party platform since the days of Eisenhower that the GOP supports this, and if Beck thinks that’s a progressive conspiracy, well, he’s welcome to it.

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