Amidst the noise of the top political stories this week -- President Obama’s immigration maneuvers, the grand jury announcement in Ferguson -- little attention was paid to former senator Jim Webb’s announcement that he was forming an “exploratory committee” with an eye towards running for the White House as a Democrat in 2016.
In a letter posted on his web site, Webb stated, “Your early support will be crucial as I evaluate whether we might overcome what many commentators see as nearly impossible odds.”
This, of course, was an acknowledgment that Hillary Clinton is seen as the favorite to nab the Democratic Party’s nomination -- if, that is, she decides to seek it.
“The inequalities between top and bottom in our country are greater than at any time in the last hundred years,” added Webb, who also called for “reducing ill-considered foreign ventures that have drained trillions from our economy and in some cases brought instability instead of deterrence.”
As a Vietnam veteran who also served as secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan, Webb is certainly not a stereotypical Democrat. But there’s another thing that makes Webb’s views interesting. He is the author of numerous books, including Born Fighting: How the Scots Irish Shaped America.
Webb’s book is not only an enlightening look at an oft-forgotten immigrant group -- who gave us our first Irish president, Andrew Jackson, whose parents were born in Antrim -- but a reminder of how important America’s immigrant tradition is.
“(The Scots-Irish) people gave our country great things, including its most definitive culture,” he writes.
“Its bloodlines have flowed in the veins of at least a dozen presidents, and in many of our greatest soldiers. It created and still perpetuates the most distinctly American form of music … Its legacy is broad, in many ways defining the attitudes and values of the military, or working class America, and even the peculiarly populist form of American democracy itself.”
It’s good to hear a full-throated defense of immigration at a time when a chorus of 21st century nativism is teaming up with overheated anti-Obama rhetoric to drown out any calm understanding of the president’s recent executive actions on immigration.
Look no further than the Indianapolis Star newspaper, which ran a cartoon this week featuring a white family sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner -- and dark-skinned folks climbing though the window.
“Thanks to the president’s immigration order, we’ll be having extra guests this Thanksgiving,” the beleaguered dad says.
Webb might well remind folks like those depicted in the cartoon that their ancestors were also looked down upon when they first arrived on these shores. And yet, America not only survived but thrived.
I know, I know, lots of people -- including quite a few Irish Americans -- love to point out that immigrants were somehow more thrifty and well-behaved in the good old days. But the sad truth is that too many Irish -- and Italian and Polish and other ethnic -- Americans celebrate their immigrant roots on the one hand, while denying that immigrants still have a vital role to play in our future.
In an interesting Op-Ed piece published in The New York Times on Sunday, immigration historian Zoltan L. Hajnal argued that Obama’s moves on immigration may actually hurt his own party.
“Many white Americans see that America is changing, believe that immigration is driving many of the negative changes and know that one party stands largely on the side of immigrants while the other party stands largely in opposition. For many whites, this is a powerful motivation to vote Republican,” Hajnal writes.
One can quibble with certain specifics of this argument, but there is no denying that too many white ethnics suffer from a blissful form of ignorance when it comes to their own roots and the immigration debate today.
It would be nice if Webb -- or Clinton or Martin O’Malley -- articulated a defense of the Democratic Party’s immigration policy aimed not just at immigrant activists but the broader American voter.
And it’s time for that American voter to stop listening to fear mongers -- some of them proud Catholics with distinctly Hibernian names -- when it comes to immigration.
(Contact “Sidewalks” at tdeignan.blogspot.com)