Yesterday’s St. Patrick’s Day pints and parades, full of joy and laughter, will soon be forgotten. But here is an Irish cautionary tale for what lies ahead for the poor in America: how the British mishandled the potato famine in Ireland over 130 years ago that resulted in the starvation death of over 1,000,000 Irish men, women and children. It should not be forgotten, especially with the mid-term elections for Congress coming up later this year!
In the words of Timothy Egan, an editorial writer for The New York Times, some U.S. politicans are preaching “the heartless language of hunger economics” in this election year.
The preacher of this misguided philosophy of the poor is U.S. Representative Paul Ryan (Republican, Wisconsin), a great-great grandson of Irish immigrants who fled to America during the famine of the mid-19th Century. You may know him better as Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential candidate in 2012. He is considered the brains of the Republican Party, the smart one in the cloak room. He is the Chairman of the all powerful Budget Committee in the House of the Representatives. There Ryan has an out-sized platform to formulate, propose and articulate public policy on a wide range of issues that deal with the economy, the budget, and the role of government in programs that address the needs of the poor, elderly, handicapped and less fortunate citizens of the United States of America.
The bottom line is this: Ryan is saying the same things about the poor that the English were saying to justify and rationalize their ignoble handling of the Irish potato famine that resulted in at least 1,000,000 Irish dying of starvation.
During the potato famine the English said that feeding the Irish would create a “culture of dependency.” Sir Charles Trevelyan, the man in charge of easing the famine said, “Dependence on charity is not to be made an agreeable mode of life.” He thought of the Irish as “defective,” as “selfish, perverse and turbulent.”
Ryan is a little more deceptive, but he still speaks in false codes and destructive language. He says, “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.” [Italics for editorial emphasis.]
Words are one thing, but Congressman Paul Ryan and his Republican colleagues act on this malice of the heart and vote repeatedly to cut food stamps, Head Start programs, education, healthcare, and other long-standing safety nets for the poor.
Egan’s conclusion: “What was a tired and untrue trope [a saying]back then is a tired and untrue trope now. What was a distortion of human nature back then is a distortion now. And what was a misread of history then is a misread now.”
TD’s conclusion: beware of politicians who only claim an Irish heritage but ignore the history of Ireland.