The topic of the day is the use of the term “anchor babies” by certain Republican candidates for president. Both Donald Trump and Jeb Bush were recently asked by members of the press why they are using this “offensive” term. Put on the spot, both candidates asked their inquisitor for a less offensive substitute. They might, instead, have asked what exactly is offensive about the term “anchor baby”. The short answer – only it’s intended meaning.
Confucius said that “when words lose their meaning people will lose their liberty.” Language control has been a staple of those who would impose their political will since the dawn of politics. In our self-governing society, the usurpation of language has always been a favored tool of the left. By controlling language, they affect messaging and ultimately thought.
Sometimes they co-opt words which have gained favor with the public and redefine them, presumably in the hope that the positive connotation will continue even after it has been redefined. There is perhaps no better example of this tactic than the progressives’ theft of the word “liberalism”. Once, “liberalism” defined a political perspective which valued individual and economic liberty, private property, very limited government and the strict application of the rule of law. Because the progressive movement stole the term and redefined it for its own purposes, this original conception of “liberalism” is now typically referred to as “classical liberalism” in order to distinguish it from modern liberalism. As Ralph Raico wrote so succinctly, “The qualifying ‘classical’ is now usually necessary…because liberalism has come to be associated with wide-ranging interferences with private property and the market on behalf of egalitarian goals.”
On other occasions the left usurps language by demonizing it. By deeming a term or phrase politically incorrect, offensive or even racist, they hope to block the transfer of ideas in two ways. First, they seek to gag the messenger. Most people are concerned for their reputations and do not want to be seen by the public as intolerant or narrow minded. If an idea can be squelched before it’s uttered, it never makes its way to the intended audience. Second, they hope to poison the potential listeners’ perspective. If the public can be made suspicious of certain words and phrases, the message being communicated may not find open minds willing to consider it. By demonizing language, the left seeks both to gag the speaker and taint the receptiveness of the listener.
The term “anchor baby” refers to children of illegal immigrants who are argued to have achieved U.S. citizenship by virtue of having been born here. The babies’ alleged citizenship, provides a legal tether to the U.S. for their families thus “anchoring” them here. Those who are here illegally and wish to stay, as well as those who support them may find the term offensive because it calls attention to their illegal status or because it might lead one to speculate that illegals intentionally birth babies in the U.S. in order to provide them that tether.
There’s a stark distinction between being offended by words and phrases that society has generally come to disdain for their ugliness or insulting nature and being offended by words and phrases because they effectively communicate an idea with which one simply disagrees. “Anchor babies” falls in the second category. To suggest that the term is offensive and should not be utilized is to advocate the stifling of an idea which is particularly pertinent in the greater debate over illegal immigration.
Perhaps the next time a candidate has an opportunity to challenge an inquisitor on this issue, he or she will challenge the notion that the term is offensive rather than merely suggesting that there is no better alternative. They would do society a favor by standing in the way of yet another leftist attempt to highjack language in order to thwart effective communication and thus control public thought.