What is going on with Republicans in Congress? They've largely abandoned many traditional conservative principles -- smaller government, belief in the free market and protection of individual, not group, rights.
Instead of acting as good stewards of the people's money, Republican members have taken the art of "earmarking" funds for their pet projects to heights that should make big-spending Democrats blush. They've become so obsessed by immigration, many have adopted the centrally planned economic models of radical population-control advocates.
And now some Republicans are about to engineer the reconquista of Hawaii. There is much talk among some Republican members of Congress of late that Mexicans are trying to reconquer the American Southwest, but the real irredentist threat seems to be coming from Hawaiians, not Mexicans, with the help of a lot of Republican politicians. Instead of being the party of principle, Republicans are in danger of becoming the party of hypocrisy.
The latest travesty comes in the form of a bill to grant "Native Hawaiians" status as a sovereign government within the United States. Half of the co-sponsors of the legislation are Republicans: Sens. Lisa Murkowski, Gordon Smith, Norm Coleman, Ted Stevens and Lindsey Graham. And so many Republicans are supporting the bill that opponents may not be able to sustain a filibuster when it comes up for a Senate vote next week.
The bill creates a new racial category -- so-called Native Hawaiians -- that will be defined as a "tribe" for purposes of self-government. Anyone who is one of the "indigenous, native people of Hawaii" and who is a "direct, lineal descendant of the aboriginal, indigenous, native people" who resided in the Hawaiian Islands on or before Jan. 1, 1893, and "exercised sovereignty" in the same region will be given special autonomous rights, including the right to "negotiate" with the federal government over lands and natural resources.
In order to qualify for membership in the group there will be strictly a racial test -- "tribal" members wouldn't even have to live in Hawaii. And never mind the obvious nonsense that the indigenous peoples of the Hawaiian Islands ever exercised "sovereignty." The only sovereign of the Hawaiian peoples in 1893 was Queen Liliuokalani, but that won't stop some 400,000 people claiming special privileges under this bill.
The legislation is a marked departure from the government's treatment of legitimate Indian tribes, which must produce evidence to show that they have been in continuous existence since 1900 and have kinship and marriage, as well as cultural or religious, patterns that are distinctive. Indian tribes must also prove that their membership is based on historical tribes that have functioned as a political entity in the past -- none of which will be required for Native Hawaiians.
The recent debate over immigration has raised important questions about national identity, but conservative Republicans are no better than their Democrat colleagues in tackling this issue head-on. Republicans -- including illegal alien foe and Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner -- back bilingual ballots, for example.
When I testified at Judiciary Committee hearings against providing bilingual ballots, I felt a little like the skunk at the tea party. And Republicans have been almost as bad as Democrats in including racial preferences for supposedly underrepresented minorities in federal legislation, even voting again to include such preferences in legislation that had been the subject of a successful Supreme Court challenge in the 1995 Adarand v. Pena case.
What we need now is not more racial categories and special privileges, but fewer, especially in light of the changing demographics of the country. Instead of pushing legislation to create a whole new victim-group -- Native Hawaiians -- Republicans ought to get back to color-blind principles and a commitment to the melting pot.
But principles don't seem to matter to some members of Congress nearly as much as interest groups pushing an agenda. At this rate, it's hard to figure out what some Republicans really stand for anymore. Aside from support for aggressively challenging our enemies abroad, the GOP doesn't bear much resemblance to the party of Ronald Reagan on much of anything these days.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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