What’s a mugwump?
In the early 1800s, an Algonquian word for “war leader” was used in English to describe someone who was a leader in a small setting. Americans wrote this word as “mugwump.” By the end of the 1800s, the word had changed its meaning completely. Now it is used to describe a person who won’t commit to a position. As the cartoon above breaks it out, a mugwump has his “mug” (face) on one side and his “wump” on the other.
We see this a lot in discussions of statehood for Puerto Rico.
The NAACP recently released a statement saying, “The NAACP stands with the people of Puerto Rico now more than ever, and we affirm our ability to work together in our joint struggle for equal protection, equal opportunity, and free will. Puerto Rico should be free to decide its preferred option in a fair and inclusive manner.” This followed their endorsement of HR 6246.
Puerto Rico’s voters have three times chosen statehood from the constitutionally viable status options. The elected leaders have introduced a bill calling for statehood for Puerto Rico. It’s time to support the “preferred option” — statehood. Instead, the highly respected organization chose to make an ambiguous statement.
Many politicians have done the same. But calling for “self-determination” for Puerto Rico is not a show of strength or support. It’s an effort to keep voters who support statehood without losing those who don’t. In other words, it’s being a mugwump.
Three choices; one good option
There are three options under the U.S. constitution:
- remaining a territory
Independence has never received more than 5% of the vote; Congress is not likely to force independence on Puerto Rico. Continuing in the current territorial status leaves Puerto Rico in a position of powerlessness. Statehood gives Puerto Rico the dignity and the rights of a state.
“Those who stand to gain financially from a continuation of the status quo will seek to delegitimize the results of this federally authorized plebiscite. I wrote the law making this plebiscite possible so Congress could get a clear understanding of the wishes of the American citizens of Puerto Rico,” said Senator Ron Wyden after the 2017 status vote, which resulted in a 97% vote for statehood. IN 2020, a clear majority again voted for statehood.
Don’t accept mugwumps
Political candidates should say outright whether they support statehood for Puerto Rico. As we head into the next elections, we need to know who honestly supports Puerto Rico and who is a mugwump.
Here are some examples of clear statements of support:
- “I believe that the appropriate status for Puerto Rico is statehood… I will recommend to the 95th Congress the enactment of legislation providing for the admission of Puerto Rico as a State of the Union.” Gerald Ford
- “I am supportive of statehood. I think it is a solution that is long overdue.” —Rob Bishop
- “They [Puerto Rico voters] have now sent a clear and unambiguous message that they want to transition from a territory to a state. Congress needs to begin looking at ways to fulfill the wishes of these fellow Americans, as it has for all previous territories that voted for statehood.” — Ron Wyden
- “When I announced my candidacy for this office more than 2 years ago, I pledged to support statehood for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, should the people of that island choose it in a free and democratic election. Today I reaffirm that support, still confident in my belief that statehood would benefit both the people of Puerto Rico and their fellow American citizens in the 50 States.” — Ronald Reagan
Ask the candidates you follow for their positions on statehood. If they say it should be up to the voters of Puerto Rico, tell them that the voters have already spoken and you want to know if they will support statehood. Don’t accept mugwumps.