Fox News' lone ranger: Why Brit Hume's show of decency got a ballistic response

As immigration becomes even more toxic, one man's advocacy for immigrant children brings out the ugly on the right

By Heather Digby Parton


Published June 11, 2014 3:01PM (EDT)

Brit Hume    (Fox News)
Brit Hume (Fox News)

There was a time, not too long ago, when all the conventional wisdom had it that the Republicans would have to come together with the Democrats on one issue, if not any other. That issue was immigration. The logic behind this assumption was understandable: The business wing of the party, as represented by the Chamber of Commerce was demanding a deal on comprehensive immigration reform. And America's demographic time bomb, in which whites would no longer be a majority, meant that Republicans would be consigning their party to permanent minority status if they continued to be seen as hostile to Hispanics, the fastest-growing minority group in the nation. It only made good sense that they would have to come around. After all, even the sainted Ronald Reagan signed a dreaded "amnesty" bill back in the 1980s and his reputation as a conservative purist somehow survived.

Unfortunately, "good sense" is not applicable to today's GOP. As Eric Cantor's defeat demonstrates, immigration has become a toxic issue once again and there is no talking the rabid right wing out of its self-destructive rhetoric and policy demands. And the malignant disregard for basic human decency has reached new heights with the repellent attitude Republicans are showing toward the influx of unaccompanied Central American children who are coming to our borders to escape the violence and grinding poverty of their homeland.

But that hasn't stopped some of the political establishment's elder statesmen from trying. On Fox Special Report with Bret Baier on Monday,  Brit Hume gave an impassioned account of their struggle --- and their courage:

Hume: The immigrant children illegally crossing American borders by the thousands have triggered a logistical, humanitarian and law enforcement crisis to which current US immigration policy  has no satisfactory answer. It may be tempting to call for their deportation but that ignores an important consideration: what the minor children most of them unaccompanied by adults had to go through just to get here. Nearly all are from Guatamala, El Salvador and Honduras, three countries plagued by extraordinary levels of drug and gang violence. Honduras now has the highest per capita murder rate in the world.

These kids are not so much immigrants as refugees who somehow had to make it here by crossing the treacherous terrain of Mexico, a harrowing  journey of a thousand miles or more. If this country had an immigration policy that  gave priority to those who had shown the personal wherewithal to succeed and contribute in this country we would find a way to keep these hearty and obviously capable kids. Remember how well the Vietnamese boat people have done in America,  their mettle having been severely tested by their arduous journey  here after the fall of Saigon in 1975.

We should try to keep these immigrant children here not because it's compassionate, though it is, but because it's the smart and self-interested thing to do.

Bair: We hear, Brit, these towns and cities along the border, Arizona, talking about it, how they're overwhelmed by this stuff.

Hume: They are and that's a very serious problem that must be dealt with on an emergency basis. But I have seen some of these kids. A youth home where I serve on the board here in Virginia has taken in dozens of them.  They are remarkable kids from what I have seen of them.  They are well behaved. When meals are served some of them weep at the fact that they're eating better than their families can back home.  They wait til all are served before they'll eat. They turn up at prayer services.  This an extraordinary breed of young children.  They potentially could make an enormous contribution to this country if we can find a way to house them and care for them and let them stay.

Setting aside his infelicitous phrase "breed of young children" and its implicit assumption that there must be other ill-mannered immigrant children who don't deserve to stay in America, Hume proves, once again, that some conservatives can find tremendous empathy within themselves once they have a personal brush with those who are less fortunate. In this case, he used his platform to make a pretty persuasive conservative argument for helping these kids by pointing out that they have shown tremendous character in making this journey, proving they have the kind of  grit and determination that traditionally has been seen as a boon to an entrepreneurial nation.  He could have easily pointed out that it was this kind of fortitude that built this country and then noted that many of us today are heirs to previous waves of immigrant children who escaped violence and poverty. He said that America should take care of these kids because they are an asset to our country. It's hard to argue with that.

But that didn't stop the right wing from going ballistic. To get a flavor of the reaction to this rare demonstration of decency by a conservative commentator, one need look no further than chief immigrant basher Laura Ingraham, whose xenophobic callousness toward the plight of the kids who are currently flooding the border from Central America is well documented. She claims to love Hume, but thinks he's a bit addled for holding those views:

Of course there are wonderful children. I love children. I remember the children in the Iraqi orphanages that I had to leave behind ... heart broke for them. But we have something going on here that is profound. In our sovereignty, our rule of law, our financial resources, our military bases.

By the way when he said they are happy to eat whatever they're giving them the consul of Honduras  is saying that the illegal immigrant children are complaining that the burritos and eggs they're being given in their holding areas are making them sick. So they're complaining about the food. I'll bet there are American kids who would like free food before they go to bed at night.

They're already complaining.

Yo quiero Taco Bell

You read that right. She played the Taco Bell tag line at the end of that rant. Her misanthropic disregard for the welfare of these little kids remains a bizarre counterpoint to the fact that she is the adoptive mother of three foreign born children, one of whom is from Guatemala. If one were a cynic, one might assume that this is a performance. The right-wing talk audience is rabidly anti-immigrant, so it's a good, perhaps necessary, career move. But if it's a performance, she deserves an Oscar. She sure sounds like she means it.

Brit Hume is not known as a squish on any important conservative issue. And from the tenor of his commentary, he truly believes that the U.S. government should treat these children as refugees and offer them asylum.  But he is also making a political gesture to whatever fringe faction of the Fox News audience there is that genuinely believes in family values, to use this opportunity to show that the Republican Party hasn't fallen so far over the cliff that they cannot even summon some generosity toward small children far from home who need someone to take care of them. It's pretty clear that he's shouting into a void. But you have to at least give him credit for trying.

After that earthquake last night in Virginia where majority leader Eric Cantor was ousted by Laura Ingraham's pet Tea Partyer, it's pretty clear that he's shouting into a void. But you have to at least give him credit for trying.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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