Friday, March 14, 2008

The New Irish: Mexicans

This is a slightly changed repost from last year. Happy St. Patrick's Day!

A Special St. Patrick's Day
Message for Lou Dobbs

Some of my best friends are ... Irish.

I'm blessed in this way. They have great Irish surnames like Flannery, O'Flannery and McFlannery. As I said, truly blessed.

Starting last weekend, and continuing this weekend (St. Patrick's Day is Monday) and still continuing the weekend after that, I'll be celebrating St. Patrick's Day at pubs, parades and parties put on by various friends with great names like Patrick or Paddy, Seamus or Shane.

With so much love for the Irish during this time of year, it's easy to forget just how much the Irish in America used to be hated. Despised, really.

Let's review the history.

Around the middle of the 19th century -- say, roughly 1840 - 1860 -- there were lots of Lou Dobbs-like characters who were hell bent on whipping up hatred of Irish-Catholic immigrants for many of the same reasons that Lou Dobbs whips up hatred of Mexican immigrants (also usually Catholic) today.

Back then, the ire revolved around the competition these new immigrants posed for housing and jobs in America's Protestant-packed cities. There was also a strong anti-Catholic religious element as well. People were a-feared of the pope sticking his beanie-capped head into American politics via Irish-Catholic Democratic politicians (The 19th Century Teddy Kennedys, if you will.) The thought among the radicals was that Catholics sought to take over the United States and install the Pope as its leader, a sentiment so strong that JFK faced these same questions when he ran for President in 1960.

So just as Lou Dobbs is fearful of Mexicans today because they supposedly take good jobs (like picking lettuce) away from Americans, men like Dobbs in the 1850s pumped up a similar fever-pitch against the Irish, many of whom were fleeing the Irish Potato Famine and (also like Mexicans today) just trying to make sure their families didn't starve.

Back then, the anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant crowd had their own political party, The American Party, also known by other names, such as the Know-Nothing Party.

They were quite successful, as third parties go, including a presidential ticket in 1856 that included a former president, Millard Fillmore, who received almost one in four of the votes cast that year. (The gay guy, James Buchanan, won this race. And, as a sidenote, I wonder if the current anti-gay party, the Republicans, will look as foolish 100 years from now?)

Lou Dobbs probably would have been a Fillmore-button-wearing and card-carrying member of the Know-Nothing party had he lived back in the 1850s.

There is one big difference between the Know-Nothings of the 1850s and the present-day Lou Dobbs. These haters of yesteryear didn't reinvent themselves and go on populist rants just for want of better ratings, as Lou Dobbs has and does, since cable TV (of course) had not been invented yet. In any case, The Know-Nothings would have LOVED to have played hard-ball and engage in all the shouting that goes on on cable TV news programs. Like Bill O'Reilly and Lou Dobbs and Chris Matthews, they'd probably have top-rated shows.

So on St. Patrick's day, I want all my Irish friends to turn the other cheek. I want them to raise their frosty and frothy mugs, filled with green sudsy liquids, and to give a special toast to Mr. Lou Dobbs himself -- and to all of Mr. Lou Dobbs' ancestors who had the good sense to immigrate to this fine country.


Suggested Toast for Lou: May the wind always be at your back, and may the windbag anti-immigration hysteria on CNN be kept to an absolute minimum.


missie said...

Flannery is a good name.

Michael said...

Great post. Unfortunately, St. Patrick's day always symbolizes gay oppression to me. Here in NYC, the biggest St. Patrick's parade in the country continues to deny Gay Irish groups the right to march in the parade. It kind of kills it for me.