Monday, March 17, 2014

On St. Patrick's Day: The Forgetting of Irish Americans (Including Paul Ryan)

As St. Patrick's day arrives, interesting commentary about the grand irony of Irish-American history--that a people who arrived in the U.S. starving, dispossessed of land and futures, have, in many cases, become the chief promoters of the socioeconomic philosophy that led to the Great Famine that drove their forebears out of Ireland. Irish Americans now lead the political pack as the politics of racial dog whistles plays its ugly games, blaming people with darker skins for the woes of the nation, suggesting that "they" are lazy, shiftless, addicted to a culture of handouts--rhetoric used by the English at the time of the Great Famine to justify ignoring the needs of their starving neighbors in Ireland.

At Salon, Andrew O'Hehir puts the point bluntly:

When you think of the face of white rage in America, it belongs to a red-faced Irish dude on Fox News.

Timothy Egan comments in the New York Times

But you can’t help noticing the deep historic irony that finds a Tea Party favorite and descendant of famine Irish [i.e., Paul Ryan] using the same language that English Tories used to justify indifference to an epic tragedy. 
The Irish historian John Kelly, who wrote a book on the great famine, was the first to pick up on these echoes of the past during the 2012 presidential campaign. "Ryan’s high-profile economic philosophy," he wrote then, "is the very same one that hurt, not helped, his forebears during the famine — and hurt them badly."

At Salon, Brian Beutler notes that Lee Atwater, master craftsman of the racially charged Southern strategy that put the white South solidly in the Republican camp after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, laid out the dog-whistle game plan decades ago, when he said that those playing the politics of race have to shift from the overt "N—-r, n—-r, n—-r" to the more subtle allegation that "they" lack initiative, are lazy, and expect "us" to provide for them via a welfare handout state.

Or as Irish-American Paul Ryan, whose forebears came to this country in the Famine years, said last week,

We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.

Beutler notes the following: 

A quick point of trivia: I first learned about Atwater’s comments years ago, in this New York Times column by Bob Herbert questioning why anybody was surprised to hear GOP education secretary-cum-talk radio host Bill Bennett say, "I do know that it’s true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could — if that were your sole purpose — you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down."
Guess whose program Ryan was a guest on when he stepped in it last week?

That would be Irish-American Bill Bennett. On whose radio program Irish-American Paul Ryan appeared last week. To discuss "their" culture of dependency, which saps "us" of our resources--the same argument that the English used to permit the Irish to starve to death in the middle of the 19th century, even as the Irish exported food in abundance to England.

But the market can't be tampered with, because the hidden divine hand in the operations of the market does its work in its own way and time, and when we tamper with it, we tamper with the divine plan. It's the market that will save us in the end, after all.

Why do American conservatives keep saying these things, Paul Krugman asks in the Times? It's because it's really all they've got: 

And why do they say such things? Because American conservatism is still, after all these years, largely driven by claims that liberals are taking away your hard-earned money and giving it to Those People. 
Indeed, race is the Rosetta Stone that makes sense of many otherwise incomprehensible aspects of U.S. politics.

And so it goes, St. Patrick's day 2014, when my Irish ancestors are rolling in their graves as they listen to Paul Ryan, Bill Bennett, Pat Buchanan, Bill O'Reilly, Bill Donohue, Sean Hannity, and the rest of the blathering boyos fellows do what they do best. Rolling in their graves, because if any single virtue was stressed to me over and over in the stories told about my Ryan ancestors who left Co. Kilkenny in the middle of the 19th century--as Paul Ryan's ancestors did, too--it was this: give and don't stop giving.

When anyone comes to your door asking for help, you always give to the person in need. Because you might well be in her shoes. 

And because this is how Christ chooses to come to us, and when we close our door on a person in need, we close our door on Christ himself.

The graphic: a drawing by H. Strickland Constable (1899) published in Harper's Weekly to illustrate the genetic racial inferiority of both the Irish and of Africans--in contrast to the racial superiority of the Anglo-Teutonic races. 

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