Monday, March 17, 2014

An Irish history lesson

Being Irish-American is about a lot more than shamrocks, the color green, leprechaun hats, and partying every March 17.

In fact, Ireland and the US have a long history of interaction and many Irish-Americans have strong ties to the Emerald Isle. St. Patrick's Day is a great day to keep this shared history in mind, and for NYT contributor Timothy Egan that meant noting how thoroughly ignorant of a seminal event in Irish and Irish-American history one particular Irish-American is.

Egan's column covers how Paul Ryan's railing against food assistance and other programs intended to help impoverished Americans parallels the words and ideas of British officials who refused to relieve the victims of the potato blight. The similarity is both uncanny and disturbing. Obviously, the US is not in the same situation as, say, Ireland in 1847, but there are people here and now experiencing real hunger and the deprivation of other basic needs. Some of these people are even working one or more jobs. 

It would be great if Ryan could learn the lesson his ancestors did: hunger is a symptom of a defective society, not a defective person. It would be even better if others who share his views and make similar remarks about "dependency" would learn it as well, about both the SNAP program and programs to help the poverty-stricken generally. It will probably take more than a simple Irish history lesson and longer than a St.Patrick's Day parade, however, for them to learn it.

In the end, as always, the best response to his comments about the poor and nearly everything else that comes from Paul Ryan is: