Sometimes political jokes can be funny … and illuminatingly on the money. The tale goes like this – two Irish American ladies of a certain age in the Bronx are chatting. One says, “Mary, did you hear that Joe Crowley has joined the Republican Party?” The other says “Ah, Brigid, that’s not possible. Sure, didn’t I see him at Mass last Sunday!”
Okay, maybe if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool liberal Democrat, you might not think that’s so funny. But, in real-life America today a majority of Irish Americans have moved to the Republican side of the political divide. There was a time in American politics when the Irish voted the solid Democrat Party line in every election cycle. Republicans rarely got a look in. That has changed.
For the first time in history, a majority of Catholics in America voted Republican in the 2004 elections, when George W. Bush was elected to a second term. Where the Catholic vote goes, it is fair to say, the Irish American vote goes too!
So what’s going on here? That old unbreakable rubric that Irish American equals Democrat no longer applies. Irish names have been breaking out all across the Republican lines in America for many years now. Congressional races, state house races, Governorships, national party office posts – the Irish presence in Republican party politics is clear and unmistakable.
Ronald Reagan – a great Irish American for sure – was at one time the leader of a trade union when he was President of the Screen Actors’ Guild. "I didn't leave the Democratic Party," he famously said. "The party left me." He switched party affiliation in 1962. The ideological drift that has over several decades moved the party’s center-of-gravity so far to the left has similarly stranded many other free-thinking Americans.
If you are a fan of big Government, then the Democrats are the party for you. The big-city party machine that has fashioned disastrous social and economic policies which have laid waste to vast tracts of our American urban landscape is one hundred percent Democrat. Charles Krauthammer, the noted conservative commentator and columnist was once asked why he moved from the liberal line to a more conservative outlook. He replied: “The answer is one word …… Detroit,” he said.
And, were it not for two decades of conservative mayoral terms in New York City from 1994 until 2014, who knows how many murders might have been committed in the Big Apple this year? When Rudy Giuliani took office after David Dinkins – the stereotype of the party-machine-liberal – there were 2,245 murders in New York. Even when you say that number quickly it never fails to shock. Compared to the number of killings in Northern Ireland’s “Troubles” – 3,600 people killed over 30 years – the human carnage in New York was shocking. By 2013, the number of murders had been cut to 332. Few can doubt that the fresh thinking of a Republican in the Mayor’s office was the clear reason for the massive drop in crime. For sure, it has made New York City a more livable place. This compares to cities like Chicago and Detroit where one-party politics has created urban nightmares, which do not look like getting better soon.
For sure, Irish Americans have taken notice. Maybe, it’s that concepts like individual liberty and personal responsibility – foundation stones of this republic – resonate so strongly in the Irish breast. Or maybe it’s that distrust of government (maybe especially big government) that lies deep in every Irish soul has prompted this political shift. To be sure, Irish Americans have always been a law-and-order tribe – check out the personnel rolls of the New York City Police Department, for just one example.
Of course, say “Irish American” and the word association “trade union” pops right up. The influence of the trade union movement in the United States, long a bulwark of Irish America, has been steadily ebbing. Union membership has been declining in the United States since the 1950’s. Sixty years ago, nearly a third of U.S. workers belonged to a union. Today, it's fewer than one in 10.
Also, in the big cities (like Boston, New York and Chicago), the trade union movement has centered more and more on government workers. The impact of these government worker unions has not been benign. Irish Americans pay local taxes like everyone else and the cost of local government in these big cities has ballooned, in large part because of restrictive trade union rules, majestic pension arrangements and gold-plated health insurance plans.
Irish Americans, also like most others, want the best education for their children. Clearly, the powerful teacher unions are the single biggest impediment to improving the quality of the education available to working class and poorer people. So as parents and taxpayers, many Irish Americans have felt the negative impact of trade unions on their lives.
Finally, Irish Americans know better than any others that freedom is not free. Abraham Lincoln inaugurated the Medal of Honor. More Irish Americans have had that distinguished and revered award pinned on them than has any other ethnic group. Of course, Abraham Lincoln, who emancipated America’s slaves and saved our republic, was a Republican.
Do you know yet how you'll be voting in the 2016 presidential elections? Share your thoughts in the comment section, below.
The above article is the first in a two-part series on the Irish American community’s relationship to the major American political parties. Part II, on Irish America and the Democratic party, will run tomorrow.