Irish Amnesia

The terminally clueless Paul Ryan’s crusade against free school lunches and other benefit programs is one of the issues that marks the difference between “movement conservatives” and normal people. It’s likely the rabid crew at CPAC ate it up, so to speak, but do the wingnuts really think the average suburban soccer mom voter is angry that children from impoverished families qualify for a bigger lunch subsidy than other children? It’s not like all school lunches aren’t partly subsidized, you know. Does Ryan not know that? Is he calling for an end to all school lunch subsidy? If not, how much subsidy does it take to eat one’s “soul”?

And his recent comments about the work ethic of inner city men were not only racist; they were ignorant. The fact is that entrenched poverty in the U.S. tends to be rural as much as urban. There are exceptions to everything, of course, but if you look at both patterns of poverty and where people who receive food stamps and other benefits are actually living, the highest rates of such benefits tend to be in low population density areas, especially in the South.

I’ve spent enough time in Ryan’s state of Wisconsin to know that parts of Wisconsin are poor, especially in northern Wisconsin where there is less dairy farming and a lot of the jobs are seasonal. If people didn’t get benefits they’d never make it through the winter. And off the Sioux reservations, that area is also almost all white.

Timothy Egan has written before about how Ryan’s “eat the poor” rhetoric repeats the same arguments against helping the Irish that the English made during the famine, but it bears repeating and he’s repeating it

There is no comparison, of course, between the de facto genocide that resulted from British policy, and conservative criticism of modern American poverty programs.

But you can’t help noticing the deep historic irony that finds a Tea Party favorite and descendant of famine Irish 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.”

Preach it, brother Timothy.

Ryan boasts of the Gaelic half of his ancestry, on his father’s side. “I come from Irish peasants who came over during the potato famine,” he said last year during a forum on immigration.

BUT with a head still stuffed with college-boy mush from Ayn Rand, he apparently never did any reading about the times that prompted his ancestors to sail away from the suffering sod. Centuries of British rule that attempted to strip the Irish of their language, their religion and their land had produced a wretched peasant class, subsisting on potatoes. When blight wiped out the potatoes, at least a million Irish died — one in eight people. …

… the Irish were starving to death at the very time that rich stores of grain and fat livestock owned by absentee landlords were being shipped out of the country. The food was produced by Irish hands on Irish lands but would not go into Irish mouths, for fear that such “charity” would upset the free market, and make people lazy.

It’s not just Ryan. I don’t know what it is about Irish-Americans and wingnuttia, but it seems a disproportionate number of spokesmouths for the Right have Irish names. Off the top of my head — Hannity, O’Reilly, Noonan, Buchanan. Rep. Peter King used to be an IRA supporter, I understand. The Irish “made it” in America thrugh public emplyment (Irish cops and firefighters, anyone?) and labor unions, after all. Are the descendents still trying to prove they are white?

30 thoughts on “Irish Amnesia

  1. Ryan finds some alleged “elite intellectuals” like the professors he cited, and uses what they write to reinforce his already strongly held opinion.

    I taught, and co-taught, college-level courses in a NY Maximum Security Prison in the late 70’s and up until Reagan stopped the program – naturally.
    The prisoners in the program got no time off. What they got, was an Associates, a Bachelors, and even a few Masters, degrees.

    There were a lot of very, even fiercely, bright men in that prison.
    And a lot of them were voracious readers.
    And so, one of the first thing you had to do as a teacher, was to break them of reading only what reinforced their own opinions.
    THEN, when they saw the validity of another person’s perspective, they were ready to really learn – by comparing and weighing certain points-of-view.

    Sadly, Ryan never went to prison, and so he never learned that.
    But, being a corrupt douche-canoe Republican Congressman, there’s always hope that he will end up in one, and learn.

    The last I heard, unlike back in the 19th Century, the Irish are welcome everywhere – even prison.

  2. Ryan’s high school period was subsidized by the taxpayers – personally subsidized over and above the public funding of schools. Why was his soul not destroyed? I guess that just shows how special he is.

  3. At any rate, we’ve finally found one thing that Paul Ryan is willing to do for poor people: scold them. Up to now his solutions have all centered on taking away as many benefits as possible. I guess it goes back to that religious experience he had where his Catholic faith awakened him to the poverty crisis in America. And he saw clearly, for the first time, that the problem is not just that poor people have it too easy, it’s also that they haven’t been scolded enough.

  4. I dunno, Maha, if someone asked what is the matter with Jews, based on a few selected Jewish right-wing jerkwads (say, Eric Cantor, Jonah Goldberg, Charles Krauthammer and David Brooks), that would make me uncomfortable.

  5. Gator90. presumably Barbara O’Brien is entitled to make such comments if she feels inclined to do so.

  6. Lynne – I thought her first name was Maha and her last name Blog. Nevertheless, I’m not sure whether her Irish-sounding surname makes her remarks less weird or more weird. In my Jewish example, if the person sounding off about Jewish right-wingers were Jewish, I’d still be uncomfortable. Generalizing based on a few people just isn’t logical. Unless the whole post was a joke and I missed it, which admittedly happens to me sometimes.

  7. Gator90…I think you’ve got it backwards. Maha isn’t asking what’s the matter with the Irish based on Paulie Ryan or any of the other conservative jerk wads of Irish ancestry . She asking what’s the matter with Paulie Ryan and the other jerk wads based on the history of their Irish ancestry.

  8. Swami: Your point is well taken. I think the remark that creeped me out was this: “I don’t know what it is about Irish-Americans and wingnuttia, but it seems a disproportionate number of spokesmouths for the Right have Irish names.”

  9. And let’s not forget the granddaddy of them all: William F. Buckley, Jr., Irish-Catholic and founder of the National Review:,_Jr.

    “In the August 24, 1957 issue, Buckley’s editorial ‘Why the South Must Prevail’ spoke out explicitly in favor of white supremacy in the South. It argued that ‘the central question that emerges… is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas where it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes – the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race.’ His answer was that white supremacy in the South was a good idea now (in 1957) and the black population lacked the education, economic, or cultural development for racial equality to be possible, claiming the white South had ‘the right to impose superior mores for whatever period it takes to effect a genuine cultural equality between the races.'”

  10. Diana,
    William F. Buckley was a ass!
    A bigoted, ass!!!!!
    A bigoted ass, who wrote fairly well – unlike today’s bigoted asses!

    In an unequal society, the downtrodden people of one race will NEVER get to “a genuine cultural equality between the races.”

    Because they are kept UN-equal, due to apartheid policies and politics.

  11. When Buckley was still alive and kicking with his Sunday morning show, l thought he was a condescending asshole. Now that he’s gone, what has replaced him is something that crawled out of the radioactive sludge left from a non reported nuke plant melt down.
    I’m tempted to get into a discussion on tribalism with gator 90 , but that would be like bowling at the moon, so I won’t tread there. All I will say is, if a plane full of Americans went down in an ocean, who gives a damn what their color, religion, or political party is. So much for tribalism.

  12. Erinyes – bowling at the moon? This is my day for being insulted with colorful turns of phrase…

  13. Gator90 – I think you need to understand the subtleties of political correctness. If Barbara has indicated she deosn’t like or trust Irish-Americans as a group, that would be a PC violation, regardless of the examples she might cite. Barbara was observing a valid contradiction – namely Irish-Americans who seem ignorant of or have selectively forgotten their ancestral history. The ‘ethic’ which Paul Ryan embraces does sound like the rationalizations of the English who willfully starved the Irish. There was no blanket indictment of the Irish, to observe the contradiction of an Irishman taking bread from the mouths of hungry children when it was starving Irish who immigrated to the US.

    The second point is – government service provided the step up for many of the Irish who had previously occupied a rung on the social ladder barely above Southern slaves. There is a kind of hypocrisy for an Irishman to rail against government service and unions, when government service was the vehicle of progress for the next generation of Irish-Americans. There was no statement of bias against Irish-Americans to say that Ryan & his Irish conservative friends, because of their heritage should know better.

    You brought up anti-Semitic bias. In the same vein as Barbara’s blog, there is no indication of bias against Israel, to observe that because of their history, Israel should be the last country on Earth to create a concentration camp and exile a people to it based on their religion. I’m a strong supporter of the right of Israel to exist, but that does not blind me to injustice.

  14. I thought Barbara’s point about the Irish ancestry of so many of these bigwig wing nuts was akin to the common, and accurate, observation that so many self-assured creationists with some sort of professional credentials are engineers. It’s not that all engineers are foolish enough to buy into creationism, but the idea attracts them. I suspect that the history the Irish have had in the USA of being lumped together with brown-skinned minorities (which Barbara alluded to). This seems to led to some of them trying even at this late date to do whatever they can to differentiate themselves from “those” people. And that’s the base for wingnuttia (of course there’s also the heavy funding from the rich and many corporations).

  15. Pablo – I’ve been a reader of this blog for years. I comment every once in a while.

    Doug – I am persuaded by you and others that I misapprehended aspects of Maha’s post.

    Being told that people who’ve been persecuted have a special responsibility to be better than other people rubs me the wrong way. I don’t think Israel’s obligation to treat people humanely is greater than any other country’s; nor do I believe that Irish-Americans have a special duty to be compassionate that people of other ethnicities lack.

    You take extraordinary license with the term “concentration camp” in order to compare Israel to Nazi Germany, a comparison that is illogical and mean-spirited.

    Just out of curiosity, why do you support Israel’s right to exist? Does it not exist on stolen Palestinian land?

    • Just out of curiosity, why do you support Israel’s right to exist? Does it not exist on stolen Palestinian land?

      As blog goddess, let me remind you that I introduce or approve topics here, and I’m not in the mood for that one. Give it a rest. Please review comment rules.

    • Being told that people who’ve been persecuted have a special responsibility to be better than other people rubs me the wrong way.

      You are reading things into my post that no one else sees and obviously aren’t there. This is called “projection.” What you see is a reflection of your own biases, not mine.

      Since you seem to lack discerning judgment, I will spell things out to you. First, as a Celtic-American (Welsh and Irish) Paul Ryan et al. anger me because they are betraying their (and my) ancestors, which is the primary point of the post. Second, nobody is saying that the Irish have a have a “special responsibility to be better than other people,” but I do speculate that some of them seem to think they have to prove themselves to “the man,” somehow. That’s an entirely different thing.

      Be advised that people who consistently miss points irritate me, and irritating me will get you banned, so take care what you say here in the future.

  16. He/she’s a newbie here?

    No, he’s been around for a while. As a matter of fact he’s been working real hard at trying to push me out of my hard earned position of being the stupidest commenter on this blog. But little does he know that he’s going to have to step up his stupidity if he expects to dislodge me.

    Gator…I’m only having fun here, so I hope no offense is taken by including you in a little of my self effacing humor. Because anybody who knows me knows that Swami is all about love, totally.

  17. Maha – when I said, “Being told that people who’ve been persecuted have a special responsibility to be better than other people rubs me the wrong way,” I was responding to Doug. That’s what I took him to mean when he stated that Irish-Americans (as distinguished from other Americans) “should know better,” and that the Jewish state (as distinguished from other states) “should be the last country on Earth” to persecute others. It seems clear to me that he was assigning special responsibilities to particular ethnicities.

    I previously conceded that I misapprehended aspects of your post. Other commenters (and you) have helped me understand it better, which I appreciate.

    It was Doug, not me, who brought up Israel and its right to exist.

  18. I think the evidence is with Ryan on this one. I mean he is the product of a childhood on social assistance, and it clearly destroyed his soul.

  19. I think the name you want is Charles Trevelyan.
    I think it’s a mistake to suggest that this was the Tory response, I think Peel and Russell both held more personally compassionate positions, but were willing to listen and act upon less humane council, particularly Russell. Trevelyan’s experience was in India, and I think he viewed the Irish as just another batch of wretched indigenes.

    We keep hearing what seem like dog whistle comments coming out of that wing of American politics. It’s not the Irish, it’s the domination.

  20. Ryan’s high school period was subsidized by the taxpayers…Why was his soul not destroyed?

    It was. Look at the soulless grifter he is today.

  21. There are cultural issues rather than any memory of the Potato Famine that affect the whole process. You point this out nicely, Maha.

    The Irish in America (my mother’s side of the family) have a real problem dealing with authority. People like Ryan or Hannity are just showing another side of the same coin. A sign that they have personally made it is the conservative carping. The more traditional response for 100 years was to become part of the establishment to get protection: fireman, cops, neighborhood politicians. This worked its way up the ladder and pretty quickly included congressmen (at the time pretty much all men), mayors and other fairly important people. John McCormack, Tip O’Neill and to a lesser extent the Kennedys come to mind. Paul O’Dwyer in New York City and the Daleys in Chicago are other examples.

    My mother was always partial to windbags who sounded good although it didn’t last. It used to drive me nuts in my childhood.

    She passed on her trouble dealing with authority, in some degree (more with me) to her two children. it hasn’t served either of us too well and we are both in our 60’s.

  22. One other point. The Irish were occupied for a very, very long time. Part of Ireland was even colonized by the British when they sent troublemakers from Scotland to northern Ireland. That didn’t work out too well, in the long run. The Scotch-Irish on the American frontier are descendants of this group.

    Roughly 50 years before the potato famine, a small movement tried to get the Protestants and Catholics working together. It used the terms of the time: the rights of man and so on and was crushed, possibly because England connected it with the French and the French Revolution. The Napoleonic wars were ongoing at the time. I think it was 1798 to 1800 (it lasted a couple of years). Two hundred years later, the same process re-emerged. That was a great loss of time and the earlier movement might have saved some of the pain.

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