Tuesday, April 04, 2006

No Irish Need Apply

Will someone please explain to me why the Order of Ancient Hibernians isn't calling for Lou Dobbs' head?

In commenting on the United States' illegal immigration "problem," Dobbs has said that he resents people "celebrating a distant history". In his own words, Lou Dobbs doesn't "think there should be a St. Patrick's Day."

This is not a post about immigration policy, but I'll pass on two quotes. Fareed Zakaria, on The Daily Show last week, wonders why "we do immigration very well, and we're looking to the French on this one issue for a solution."

The other quote comes from my local bar. A contractor was having a drink and looking at the news. He set down his beer, took a drag on his cigarette, glared at the TV, and said "Lou Dobbs wouldn't know competitive advantage if it bit him on the ass."

But this is far bigger than a policy debate. This goes to the core of what we believe about these United States. It appears to me that Dobbs clings to the "melting pot" theory of America, where "individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men." (Crevecoeur, 1782.)

But it's instructive to check the Oxford English Dictionary on this one, where we find that a "melting pot" is also "a situation in which things are constantly changing and the outcome is uncertain", a home for things "in a process of flux or change."

That sounds a lot more American to me than Crevecoeur's stable amalgam. Our nation is more than the dirt we're born on, more than our mixing bloodlines. The Constitution is our nation, a complex experiment which we have promised to keep trying to figure out.

We are the people of flux and change. The First Amendment guarantees us the right to assemble peaceably, which is to say, to be whom we like. It's part of our national mythology that, in America, you can always move west and start over - only as proud of your past, or as shackled to it, as you choose. In fact, you can pick and choose from as many parts of your past as you like, without monarch or caste to stop you.

And the First Amendment also guarantees us the right to tell you about it. How sad that Dobbs can't even see that. Racial or religious, ethnic or sexual, based on our geography or our interests, every pride gathering says the same thing. We came here. We chose this. We commit to it.

And that's what we need our Dash-American pride for. Not to remember where we came from, as much to remember that we all came from somewhere. Every festival is a little Independence Day.


Dobbs hasn't actually called for a ban on the sale of other nations' flags, as far as I know, or for the governments to shut down the parades on St. Pat's or Columbus Day or Puerto Rican Pride day. So it would be wrong, or at least premature, to write this off as Know-Nothing Bill The Butcher nativism.

Which is a shame, because that would be fun. Kind of like the fun I'm having imagining some of New York's proud Irish-American finest taking the time to check that Mr. Dobbs' auto is in perfect working order. Or some upstanding Italian-Americans inviting him down to their social club for a frank exchange of views.

Or just hordes of proud Dash-Americans turning CNN off at the same time.

I'm really enjoying that one.


Blogger tommyspoon said...

You know, we're such a young country. Right now, we're a teenager: rocking back and forth between tolerance and intolerance, a punk one day and a prep the next.

Whenever I hear that "melting pot" stuff, my mind immediately turns to the cassoulet. It's a french stew that is allowed to simmer slowly on the stove at very low heat for a very long time. How long? Some inns have kept their cassoulets simmering for years. (Yes, they add liquid to keep the pot full. But just enough and the simmer is bare.)

So I have no doubt that America will one day become a "melting pot" of different people. But that will take time, just like the cassoulet. We aren't even 300 years old yet. We've got such a long way to go.

P.S. You know that actors were also barred from housing and job applications back in the day. Sometimes both prohibitions (Irish and actors) were on the same sign. Everybody was oppressed once. It's part of human history.

9:08 AM, April 05, 2006  
Blogger Alison said...

Of course, no matter how long you cook down cassoulet, you retain discrete chunks of food. Cassoulet will never become a uniform soup.

9:25 AM, April 05, 2006  
Blogger Joe said...

Tom: All true. But what a sad thing it would be if the U.S. "matured" into an old-fashioned nation state, instead of keeping its committment to being an idea state.

And everybody was oppressed once, that's true too... but that doesn't make it right or necessary. We should be committed to saying "no more", not "my turn!"

Alison: Exactly the metaphor I was going to go with, until I found out that a melting pot is really for metal, not cheese.

Stock making vs. soup making is an apt metaphor, though. A soup or stew should have identifiable different textures and flavors in it. In stock making, you just boil out the good parts and discard the remains.

Not how I like thinking of my Irish ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.

6:13 PM, April 05, 2006  
Blogger tommyspoon said...

A little something for you, Joe:


6:33 AM, April 06, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joe, I suspect you fell victim to the family legend that the AOH has some kind of power and influence going back to the days of past, laddie, when strongman Sylvester Reilly brought the whole clan over from County Wexford, swimmin across the Atlantic with his parents and sisters ridin' on his own back.

(This a'course was before the polio rendered him to the odd chimpanzee-shape that you see in the family photos, with the long arms and tiny legs; Sean Mannix claims he still could have done the swim well into his 60's and smoked a few packs of Lucky Strikes while he did it, but all I can say is that I tried on Sylvester's tux just for kicks some time after grandad died, and I realized that you probably couldn't find a man more than twelve years old who could get those pants over their hips. If he was gonna swim the Atlantic in that kinda shape, he shoulda been on the short list for Todd Browning's first casting call).

Back to my point, the only members of the AOH I ever met were all over 70, and all of them were named Reilly or Slattery. They don't know who Lou Dobbs is.

Dude, they don't even know who Lou Rawls is.

Love, Tom

5:11 PM, April 12, 2006  

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