Behind a web of bottles, bales Tobacco, sugar, coffin nails, The gombeen like a spider sits, Surfeited; and, for all his wits, As meagre as the tally-board, On which his usuries are scored. —Joseph Campbell, The Gombeen Man This is a great day to be Irish-American. Barrack Obama is of Irish descent, which I suspect might bother a large number of his critics almost as much as his Kenyan ancestry. Joe Biden is of Irish descent, and embodies the stereotypical Irish post Tammany East Coast Irish politician. On the FOX right, pundits Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity show that we have an exceptional capability to kiss the ass of the establishment while on the progressive left, Chris Matthews, Chris Hayes and Alex Wagner (Half Irish, Half Burmese!) show that we can still be critical, and open to more inclusive approaches. Ireland won the Six Nations, and Brian O’Driscoll was reduced to tears as a result. O’Driscoll is the greatest Center and possibly player of his generation of Ruby players, and is retiring this year…so far.
And, then there is Paul Ryan, our national Gombeen man. Sigh. Paul Ryan is a weasel. His family was in construction and remains there; he’s wealthy on his own and has been, even though his mother thought nothing of signing up for survivor’s benefits for the family after his father died…and, she shouldn’t have. That’s the idea behind social insurance; you pay into the system and you draw benefits from it. Everybody who draws wages earns it for his family. What makes the Ryan thing obnoxious is that he now spits at the whole concept…entitlements are anathema in his world, things to be cut down and treated like leeches on the body politic.
Those F*CKING GOMBEEN MEN, SCHEISTER,CON-MEN GANGSTERS They've ruined the country , they've ruined the people and they took away the future of any young person in this country They should be in F*UCKING Jail This song tells the story of the whole F*UCKING thing , BANANA REPUBLIC—Bob Geldorf
Of course, we did pay for them – Social Security is paid for; pensions are deferred earnings. There are demographic pressures, but those seem largely based not so much on population decline as on income inequality and a progressive tax system that has rapidly become regressive.
\ Mr. Ryan was a right wing bonbon tossed to the Republican right by Mitt Romney and his handlers. Since no matter what amazing nonsense he of the perfect coif and big teeth and dancing horse tossed to the crowd, he was still considered a “Moderate Republican” – whatever the hell that is, Abby Huntsman, maybe? – and Ryan was intended to shore up his bona fides as a supply side, budget-hawk, small government slasher of the true Freddie Kruger style. He’s a Laffler curve type of guy who realizes that the true drivers of the economy and success are the rich, and those who work for a living are just drones. Venture capital man; if you blink at the cost of a bottle of wine or an elevator for your cars, you’re just not getting it.
Well, there are some serious problems with Ryan. Besides being factually wrong, he’s a hypocritical, treacherous bastard with a Eddie Munster haircut. There is a pattern to the immigrant experience, and the Irish have mirrored this quite well; in fact, the Irish are the model of this pattern at certain levels. The Kennedy’s are a good example – first generation in the Potato famine, followed by Pat Kennedy who ran a bar and was involved in the Irish political machine, then his son Joe who went to Harvard and resented being snubbed by the WASPS and then Joe Jr.,Jack, Bobby, and Ted who could charm and woe the Protestants and such but never forget what they were and where they came from. The pattern deviates when the political machines driving the local politics were Republican and the Irish just sort of joined in. Then the Irish worked harder to forget where they came from, and adopted the patterns of behavior and political judgment that betrayed the Irish reality.
No immigrant came to the United States because they just thought it was a nice day to go on board a coffin ship and take a sea voyage. They did it because they wanted to leave some level of oppression – religious, economic, ethnic or intellectual. In the case of the Irish, they left behind all three. You would expect those of us who come from those roots to respect the traditions that led to the journeys of our ancestors. You are right in slightly over 50% of the population; you are wrong in slightly less. However, the hopeful 50%--plus tend to not be so passionate; the pessimistic 50%--minus are permanently aggrieved. They have a scarcity mindset – they don’t have enough and somewhere someone is getting something that they themselves are not getting, and there isn’t going to be enough. The more optimistic approach, the Democratic approach, is that there is plenty for all if we distribute it better. I respect kindness in human beings first of all, and kindness to animals. I don’t respect the law; I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer – Brendan Behan I have no inking nor do I really care whether the Ryan family made its way here in Black 1847 or in the crackdown on the Irish Republican Brotherhood and Sein Fein or following the defeat of Father Murphy and the Pikes in 1798. The fact is that Ryan espouses a philosophy long discredited by its practice particularly between 1846 and 1852 or so, when the potato blight destroyed the Irish sustenance while the country exported millions tons of food to England…Ireland was the English Industrial Revolution’s breadbasket, you see, and the absentee English landlords believed that their tenant farmers should live only on potatoes and similar poor man’s grub. Cuts of meat so old and tough and discarded as to require soaking in brine for weeks so as to be edible, some cabbage perhaps, root vegetables – hence, corned beef and cabbage and the obsequious New England boiled dinner of boiled protein, boiled potatoes, boiled cabbage, some root vegetables, boiled until as Dennis Leary describes it, “you eat it through a straw.”
Coffin Ship Memorial Croagh Patrick, Eire
Brendan Behan, the poet, playwright, author and IRA soldier who wrote Borstal Boy and The Quare Fellow often cited the story of Queen Victoria who donated five pounds to Irish famine relief and then donated five pounds to the Chelsea Dog and Cat hospital because she did not want to be seen as favoring the Irish. On the BBC on Sunday evening, “Ripper Street” portrayed a MP in his club babbling that the “Irish were blacks turned inside out…” to applause.
In much like Isiah crying out in the wilderness, the Liberator, Daniel O’Connell told the House of Commons in 1847 that “Ireland is in your hands, in your power. If you do not save her, she cannot save herself. I solemnly call upon you to recollect that I predict with the sincerest conviction that a quarter of her population will perish unless you come to her relief. O’Connell underestimated the impact because while 1 in eight died, 2 in eight emigrated. So, thank English disdain and neglect for the Irish populations in the US, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
Timothy Egan in his column this weekend “Paul Ryan’s Irish Amnesia” puts Ryan in an ethnic and valid historical perspective. Eagan points out that while the English lasiez-faire, Malthusian approach to genocide by the stuff, Victorian-Anglican establishment doesn’t equate to the modern US conservative attempt to dismantle the safety net and poverty programs in this country, there is a certain resemblance because they have the same roots – a misreading of Adam Smith, a misunderstanding of social dynamics and the desire on a large part of humankind to blame others for their problems while regarding those happy accidents of birth to be earned. Egan is scathing.
In advance of St. Patrick’s Day, I went time traveling, back to the 1840s and Ireland’s great famine. On one side of the Irish Sea was Victorian England, flush with the pomp and prosperity of the world’s mightiest empire. On the other side were skeletal people, dying en masse, the hollow-bellied children scrounging for nettles and blackberries. A great debate raged in London: Would it be wrong to feed the starving Irish with free food, thereby setting up a “culture of dependency”? Certainly England’s man in charge of easing the famine, Sir Charles Trevelyan, thought so. “Dependence on charity,” he declared, “is not to be made an agreeable mode of life.”
And there I ran into Paul Ryan. His great-great-grandfather had fled to America. But the Republican congressman was very much in evidence, wagging his finger at the famished. His oft-stated “culture of dependency” is a safety net that becomes a lazy-day hammock. But it was also England’s excuse for lethal negligence…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.”
What was a tired and untrue trope 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. 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 Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the famine,” wrote the fiery essayist John Mitchel, whose words bought him a ticket to the penal colony of Tasmania…
As Ryan has started his earnest if hypocritical, ingenuous and ignorant poverty tour, a number of commentators have pointed out that his numbers and estimates are as ludicrous as his budgets and deficit projections. Ryan knows what he thinks he thinks, and damn the facts. It’s interesting because the economy has to add up somehow or another. And saying that gaps and problems and shortfalls will be made up by “American exceptionalism” or the “market dynamics” is absolutely absurd.
That basic, blind love of absurdity drove the economic theory of the Bush years, of course: Greenspan, Cheney et al looked at the ten year budget projections, observed a growing surplus and cut taxes a lot. And then started a war and then another war…of course, the further out the budget projection or any projection, the less likely it becomes in direct relation to how optimistic it is. A pessimistic projection may not come true if we decide it’s unacceptable and decide to do something about it; but if everything is beautiful, well, what’s to do about nothing, ehh?
In addition to the hypocrisy and rejection of history while claiming his Irish roots give him some legitimacy in the discussion of poverty, Ryan’s comments are also a dog whistle. Talking about entitlements is a way of talking about minorities; we all know this. Ryan somewhat illegitimate wonk reputation depends on seeming to be all about logic and numbers and reality; in fact, his routine is taken up by racist troglodytes as a way of slapping at the poor, the hungry, the undereducated. It’s their fault they…don’t live in Scarsdale?
The anger at the school lunch program that is being touted by so many on the right is absurd. In the old days, farm subsidies supported the school lunch program by providing subsidized food to schools. In poor communities, a hot breakfast and lunch may be the only full meal the child gets. By demanding that idiocies like the spiritual enrichment of knowing mom stuck a couple of pieces of bologna and some stale bread into a bag for you as opposed to the hot spaghetti and meat sauce being offered by the lunch program is mindboggling. This is not even Malthus, this is Oliver Twist and the workhouse…
“When I came back to Dublin I was courtmartialed in my absence and sentenced to death in my absence, so I said they could shoot me in my absence.” ― Brendan Behan
In appealing to the racial dog whistle, Ryan betrays his Irish heritage in another way. Now, we Irish bow to no other country in our own xenophobic and racist approach to other cultures, ethnicities and faiths. As ignorant and racist clowns go, we have produced some great examples. But, a significant portion of us, possibly most, have accepted that we’re all god’s children and she expects us to be good to each other.
Our clannishness and callousness proceeds from 800 years of English exploitation and imperialism. We should recall that the Irish and highland Scots and Welsh as well were seen as sub-human scum with the equivalent of “weighing 100 pounds and having 30 inch calves from carrying bales of marijuana.” I’m sure Ryan has done his gym time this morning and has a nice green tie and maybe socks as well. Possibly some Donegal tweed…and is very satisfied with himself.
We can do a helluva lot better. Erin Go Braugh and Up the Republic!