John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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The Paddy Wagon

Posted on August 4, 2010
It is unclear whether the paddy wagon got its name from the Irish who were hauled off in police wagons in the late 19th century or from the Irish cops who threw them in there in the first place.

What is clear is that when the Irish descended upon America starting in the 1840’s, it created social disruption, political chaos, and a crime wave for a generation.

My great great grandfather on my father’s side was one of those Paddys who came to New York fleeing a desperate potato famine in the 1840’s, and while I don’t know for sure if old Tom Feehery ever ended up in a paddy wagon, I know for sure that some of his friends probably did.  Tom Feehery was a legal immigrant, but old Joe Hurley (my mother’s grandfather) probably wasn’t.

The No-Nothing Party was founded as a reaction to the Irish masses.  It didn’t do much to stop them though, and pretty soon the Irish were running the big cities, dominating the police forces and fire departments, and making in-roads into the Democratic party North of the Mason-Dixon line.

Woodrow Wilson (a distant relative) didn’t much care for the Irish Catholics (he was an Irish Protestant), saying about them “I want to say, I cannot say too often, any man who carries a hyphen about with him carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic whenever he gets ready,” when they opposed his entry in the First World War (the Irish back then didn’t care too much for the British), but only 8 years after he left the White House, Al Smith, a first generation Irish-American, won the Presidential nomination for the Democratic Party.

I was thinking about the Irish in the context of the current debate over the Arizona law and the effort by some to change the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.  I have been in favor of the Arizona law, because I believe that the drug war that is bubbling up just over Arizona’s border in Mexico requires some extreme measures to stem the tide.  Amending the 14th Amendment? Well, that is just a bit too crazy for my taste.

Immigrants make up an essential part of our national being.  Immigrants provide cheap labor, making American products and services very affordable to consumers.  Immigrants provide cultural variety, making America an endlessly evolving, vibrant and exciting place to live.  Immigrants provide America with population growth, essential for economic growth and I might add, retirement security.  Immigrants provide energy and enthusiasm, talent and toil.

Immigrants, especially illegal immigrants, also create more crime, more vice, and more poverty.  They change the essential character of America, with their strange languages, different shades of skin, strange customs, and different religions.  That has always been the case.

That surely is what the first American Indians thought when the Pilgrims came upon the shore in Massachusetts more than five hundred years ago.  That is what the English thought when the Scotch-Irish came, and what the Scotch-Irish thought when the Irish Catholics came, and what the Irish Catholics thought when the Italian Catholics came, and what the Italians thought when the Jews came, and what the Jews thought when the Arabs came.   And that what we all think when the Mexicans, the Hondurans, the El Salvadorans, the Columbians, the Dominicans come.

But guess what?  This is all part of the process.

If you ask me, the reason our current problems seem so bad now is because the marketplace is skewed.   And the market is skewed because of government.  Government imposes a minimum wage law, so immigrants who are willing to work on a cash basis for below minimum wage get hired in certain jobs.  Government doesn’t allow enough legal immigrants in, so illegal immigrants come here anyway and find jobs in the underground economy.  We ban drug use despite all evidence that there is a very profitable and extensive market place of customers who are willing to break the law to get the drugs.  So, we try to smash the marketplace up (unsuccessfully, I might add), and it moves into a black market, and encourages criminals to use violence to sell their products to their customers.

Now, all of these government policies might seem to make sense from a political standpoint, but all of them encourage illegal behavior.   And some would say that what all we need is more government and more enforcement to take care of these problems, but I am not in that camp.  I actually think the last thing we need is more government.

Republicans need to resist the urge to bash immigrants.  They should respect what they bring to the table economically, culturally and demographically.  And they should do the hard work of reaching out to the various constituencies within the Hispanic community, to make them understand that the GOP is the party of opportunity, economic growth, and the best access to the American dream.

George Bush and his political team understood the importance of the Hispanic vote to the long-term health of the GOP and so he did his best to push for policies that would appeal to those voters.  That seems like a long time ago these days.