The Philadelphia covenant

Posted: Aug 08, 2000 12:00 AM
The convention made clear not only the need to commend the Republican Party to the favor of Hispanic voters, but also the evanescence in America of ethnocentrism. Somehow it no longer feels quite right to feel internally, let alone to stress publicly, pride in ethnic background -- if you are white.

The pleasing, dolichocephalic nephew of George W. Bush stressed his pride not in his father's background, so much as in his mother's, who is a Mexican-American. He spoke alternately in English and in Spanish, hewing the party line on the question of language by telling an interviewer he thought English the right language to stress in school. But the flavor of the evening, up until his uncle took the floor for his acceptance speech and wowed the audience, in and out of the hall, was heavily Latino. The entertainment included the prototypical Mexican with the big sombrero singing such songs as "Cielito Lindo," which instruct us, in life, to sing, not to weep.

At a jovial gathering in Philadelphia in honor of Rep. Henry Hyde from Illinois, we found ourselves in conversation with a Republican congressman who is the chairman of the august subcommittee on immigration of the Judiciary Committee, over which Henry Hyde presides. We asked Lamar Smith a question which even before the words had quite escaped from our lips, we recognized as naive, unworldly. Mr. Chairman, is there any place in current immigration law for the traditional white ethnic pride? Congressman Smith smiled with that special avuncularity reserved for elderly people who haven't quite swung with the times.

Answer: Of course not.

Interest in the question had been sparked by a letter recently received from a 501(c)3 outfit called the New Century Foundation. Its president, Jared Taylor, a white separatist of sorts, recalled opposition to the bill signed into law on Oct. 3, 1965, by President Lyndon Johnson abolishing country-of-origin quotas. He cited an article in National Review by Professor Ernest van den Haag, the distinguished sociologist/criminolgist, defending laws that had been in place for generations, giving preference to European countries seeking quotas to immigrate. Many of these, notably the British quota, were never filled, and this during a period when Latin American pressures to immigrate were intensifying.

Rejecting the charge that existing laws were "racist," Professor van den Haag, an immigrant from Holland, had written: "One need not believe that one's own ethnic group, or any ethnic group, is superior to others in order to wish one's country to continue to be made up of the same ethnic strains in the same proportions as before."

He went on: "Conversely, the wish not to see one's country overrun by groups one regards as alien need not be based on feelings of superiority or 'racism.' The wish to preserve one's identity and the identity of one's nation requires no justification any more than the wish to have one's own children, and to continue one's family through them need to be justified or rationalized by a belief that they are superior to the children of others."

That is not, so to speak, an alien thought. When the McCarran-Walter Immigration Bill was passed in the early '50s, Rep. Walter vigorously defended its open-door attitude toward Latin America yet stressed, in an article for the Reader's Digest, his belief that America should continue to exercise pride in its own ethnic composition. This quandary was highlighted in the novel by Jean Raspail, "The Camp of the Saints," published in 1975, which brought electrifying self-recognition to the French intelligentsia. It spoke of a seaborne avalanche of Africans arriving in the South of France invoking the shibboleths of French equality and asserting citizenship.

The pictorial background of the scene in Philadelphia in the royal boxes gave viewers a panoply of Wasp pulchritude -- big, handsome George and mother-of-mankind Barbara, picture-perfect sons and daughters and grandchildren, happy almost beyond human endurance at the incarnation of a new American dynasty, happy, indeed jubilant, over the reforms enunciated onstage in their presence by the Dauphin, who celebrated the founding of the Republic. That was done by slaveowners -- "Ben Franklin was here. Thomas Jefferson. And, of course, George Washington, or as his friends called him, 'George W.'" From slave-owning to ethnic indifferentism, a hell of a ride. "Canta y no llores" -- sing, not weep.