Wednesday, August 02, 2006

More on "Americanization"

We're back. The Tribune editor chopped my lede's parenthetical--apparently worried that the usual readership won't catch a reference to Boswell and Johnson--but I have more faith in my blog readers. He also deleted my paragraph about older Anasazi sitting around complaining about these newcomers who insist on being hunter-gatherers instead of adopting true American ways, and changed "Native Americans" to "American Indians" ruining the scan of the sentence--but left in the Yiddish. I don't understand my editor. The Tribune did add a disclosure to my column that I've contributed to Hayworth's opponent, former Tempe Mayor and state Sen. Harry Mitchell (and you can and should, too!), but left off my other disclosure that I've never owned a Ford vehicle.

East Valley Tribune, July 30, 2006

To J.D. Hayworth (and to Joe Eule, the dollar-store Boswell to Hayworth’s talk-radio Johnson) “whatever it takes” means taking some thoroughly-discredited part of American history -- the internment of Japanese-Americans, or anti-Semitic college admissions quotas, or slavery -- then bleaching out the racism, and trumpeting “what’s left” as honest, American virtue.

That’s the basis for Hayworth invoking notorious anti-Semite Henry Ford as justification for Hayworth’s vision of “Americanization.” After all, Henry Ford did many other things besides being anti-Semitic. True; he also found time to receive the Third Reich’s highest honor given to non-Germans, and founded a car company that was quite successful last century, less so today.

After all, says Hayworth, many historical heroes did things we find upsetting or immoral today, like Thomas Jefferson keeping slaves. Also true; most Americans today, however, don’t look to Jefferson for advice on how to handle the domestic help. We focus instead on how his political thought still shapes our view of our country and our future, and gloss over Jefferson’s ideas on proper treatment of young women working in his household.

The problem with using Henry Ford and his call for “Americanization” is that Ford’s entire concept for the term grew out of his conviction that Jews couldn’t ever become “true” Americans. Not only was Ford wrong, but the anti-Semitism was the core of Ford’s entire theory. You take out the anti-Semitism, and “what’s left” is nothing at all. Buppkes, as some might say. It’s like claiming that the Civil War was an abstract philosophical debate, with armies, over the proper balance between federal power and state autonomy. You’ll just have to understand that black Americans aren’t quite so willing to pretend that slavery had absolutely nothing to do with it.

The other problem is that if there was a better historical analogy than Henry Ford, you’d think Hayworth would use it. I realize these guys never admit to making a mistake; why else are we fighting in Iraq? But if there was a better old-fashioned folk hero model of Hayworth’s vision of America-should-be-as-I-want-to-remember-it-decades-ago, and not the politically-correct-culturally-diverse-why-are-there-billboards-in-Spanish America of today, shouldn’t he use the alternative instead of bigoted old Henry Ford?

Hayworth’s problem is that all the other historical analogies don’t work any better than Henry Ford, anti-Semite. In Pennsylvania, I’ve read politicians’ complaints that more than a third of the population is native speakers of a foreign language, who don’t seem to want to learn English but prefer living in neighborhoods where English is hardly spoken. People worry that English is endangered and embattled. A major political figure warned that these “aliens . . . will never adopt our language or customs, any more than they can acquire our complexion.”

The problem is that the complaints date from 1776, the foreign language was German, and the politician was Benjamin Franklin. (Thanks to Mark Liberman of the University of Pennsylvania for unearthing the data and the Franklin quote.)

Probably the older Anasazi used to complain that these Johnny-come-lately Athabascan immigrants were keeping to their own ways and language, and don’t understand what it means to be an American -- that is, if the Anasazi had such a concept.

It seems laughable today that Americans of English descent fretted over German immigrants’ complexions, and nobody seems to much care that the only natives with a valid complaint about how immigrants ruined everything are the Native Americans.

That’s the sorry historical record of complaints of fraidy-cats like Hayworth, who don’t understand the power of the American idea. They fear that suddenly we’ve lost the ability to incorporate the best of the rest of the world into a vibrant, eclectic, healthy, and constantly changing country. Well, we haven’t, no matter how scared and angry Hayworth is.

That’s the last part of Hayworth’s response, that any criticism of his nonsense reflects the critics’ bitterness or partisan bias. So remember that anytime Hayworth criticizes Gov. Napolitano. By his own standards, you must ignore him, because after all, Hayworth’s just a bitter little man who lacked the guts to run against Janet.

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