There's a saying I recall hearing as a child (perhaps it came from those "Chicken Soup for the Soul" books): "Don't make decisions when you're upset."
If you do, the saying goes, you risk making a decision guided by the same fear and anger that caused you to be upset in the first place instead of making a decision guided by reason.
That's essentially the argument Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) made in a succinct but powerful interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep on Wednesday morning about why America should accept 10,000 Syrian refugees who need a home. America is understandably afraid after the terror in Paris and its roots on the migrant trail from Syria, he said, but if we close the door on Syrian refugees, we are doing so out of fear, not any reality-based rationale — and that would be a mistake.
To emphasize his point, Inslee recalled a moment in American history when the nation collectively did just that: Made a mistake because it was afraid.
"I live on Bainbridge Island, this little island just west of Seattle. And it was the first place where we succumbed to fear, in 1941 after Pearl Harbor," he said. "And we locked up Washington and American citizens, and we sent them to camps for years while their sons fought in the Army in Italy and were decorated fighting for democracy."
Inslee's reference of course, is to Japanese internment camps.
"We regret that. We regret that we succumbed to fear," he said. "We regret that we lost moorage for who we were as a country. We shouldn't do that right now."
The implication from Inslee was clear: America is at a crossroads after Paris. We can choose to take a deep breath and make a decision based on logic about what to do with Syrian refugees. Or we can react out of fear and risk making mistakes we might regret for decades to come.
This is probably a more effective message than accusing your opponents of "popping off" or being "scared of widows and orphans," the latter which President Obama said Wednesday in Manila in an impassioned speech attacking those who want to block refugees from Syria.
In doing so, Obama leaves little room for nuance in a heated political debate that desperately needs it.
Inslee, on the other hand, was willing to recognize that his position comes with inherent risks. Inskeep asked the governor if, in taking such a forward stance, he recognizes that all it takes is just one refugee with intent to commit harm to come to Washington state for the critics to say, "I told you so."
Inslee said sure, there are risks. But " that's the price of leadership."
It also doesn't change his basic argument that in the Syrian refugee debate, reason is a better guide than fear.
Here's the full transcript, via NPR:
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST: We're also tracking the way the Paris attacks have intensified a debate here in the United States. It's the debate over admitting Syrian refugees. The United States has admitted fewer than 2000 Syrians over the last several years. That is fewer than one-tenth of 1 percent of the millions of refugees who are outside their country right now. President Obama says he wants to admit about 10,000 more. Numerous Republican governors and one Democratic governor have said they do not want Syrian refugees in their states for security reasons. This is largely a symbolic protest. Governors, according to experts, cannot seal off their states from people who are in the United States legally. But the governor of Washington state did not like the sound of it. Jay Inslee spoke out on the other side, declaring that refugees are welcome.
JAY INSLEE: I think that our nation is tested from time to time. And I think this is one of those times to really dig deep and see what kind of character our nation and my state has. And I've always believed in my state, and the country has always been a place of refuge from those who are persecuted. Right on the Statute of Liberty they talk about the wretched refuge of your teeming shore. And I don't know where we've had more people who fit this classification of victims.
INSKEEP: I want people to know that you made a public statement about this early in the week, and there has been some criticism. There was a state lawmaker who called you utterly irresponsible. How much pressure have you felt?
INSLEE: Well, I think, in moments like this, you got to understand, fear is a powerful thing. And these atrocities strike deep. And people are going to have very legitimate and real concern. But I think that leadership calls for people to, yes, recognize it's real, act responsibly. In this case, that means insisting on a robust, multilayered screening process before they're allowed in this country. And we have the luxury, frankly, unlike Europe, of doing all these multilayered things before people really step foot on our shores.
INSKEEP: Well, I want to make sure that I'm absolutely clear on your position, governor. There is a screening process now, as you know. It's taken quite some time - 12 months, 18 months, two years - for people to get through it, which is one of the reasons the United States has accepted so few. Do you believe the screening process is strong enough now?
INSLEE: I think it is much, much more robust than the screening process we have for people just coming here on tourist visas. You know, some of these terrorists were from Belgium, and they could get on a plane on a tourist visa and come to New York, you know, or Seattle, for that matter, with much less screening that we have if somebody sought refugee status.
INSKEEP: Robert Bentley, the Republican governor of Alabama, offered a different view this week. He said in a statement, I will not place Alabamians at even the slightest possible risk of an attack on our people. Although you're in favor of admitting some more refugees, is there a slight risk that goes along with it?
INSLEE: Well, there's risk getting out of bed in the morning. And we are a nation that has always taken the path of enforcing our freedom, our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our humanity, our relationship with the rest of the world. And we've hewed to those values, even in troubled times. And when we haven't, we've regretted it. I'll give you an example. I live on Bainbridge Island, this little island just west of Seattle. And it was the first place where we succumbed to fear in 1941 after Pearl Harbor. And we locked up Washington and American citizens, and we sent them to camps - Japanese-Americans.
INSKEEP: You're talking about the Japanese internment camps, right?
INSLEE: Yeah. So my neighbors were locked up by the federal government and sent to camps for years while their sons fought in the Army in Italy and were decorated fighting for democracy. We regret that. We regret that we succumbed to fear. We regret that we lost moorage for who we were as a country. We shouldn't do that right now.
INSKEEP: Have you thought about the possibility that, having taken such a forward stance on this issue, there is that possible moment in the future when one person who's admitted as a refugee does something terrible a year from now or three years from now?
INSLEE: You bet, and that's the price of leadership. Maybe Franklin Roosevelt was thinking about that when he locked up the Japanese-American citizens who were good neighbors and put them in camps. But it was a bad decision, and it wasn't consistent with who we are as a country. And we look back at that now and say, you know, we lost our way. And it's really easy to lose your way in moments like this, when we are so fearful. We've got to beat these guys in hearts as well as U.S. Air Force. Now, I'm glad the U.S. Air Force dropped a whole load of ammunition under the area controlled by ISIS in the last 48 hours. That's a good thing. But we also have to win the moral battle. And that's a battle of hope and a vision for the future where we can live together. And I think this is part of that.
INSKEEP: Governor Inslee, thanks very much.
INSLEE: Thank you.
INSKEEP: He's the governor of Washington state, where he says Syrian refugees will be welcome.