Happy St. Patrick’s Day: The Only Irish Catholic President

The discussions of “only” candidates, Obama and Clinton, remind me on this St. Patrick’s Day, of another first. In a recent book, I describe the historical “firsts” for Irish Catholic Americans this way:

Alfred E. Smith, the Democratic candidate for president in 1928, was the first Irish Catholic to carve out an important role in presidential politics. Yet his Catholic religion counted against him in this first Irish Catholic presidential campaign. Not until 1960, more than three hundred years after the first few Irish Catholics had come to the United States and more than a century after sizable Irish Catholic communities had been established, was the first and only Irish Catholic (also only Catholic) president elected. Six of the thirty-six presidents, from Washington to Nixon, had Irish American backgrounds, but except for John Kennedy all of these were Protestant Irish, as were the more recent presidents, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

In the 1960 presidential election, Irish Catholic votes in New England, New York, and Pennsylvania helped to create John Kennedy’s narrow victory. As president, Kennedy acted not only on behalf of Irish Americans but also, to some extent, on behalf of America’s other emergent urban racial-ethnic groups. Thus, Kennedy appointed the first Italian American and the first Polish American to a presidential cabinet and the first African American to head an independent government agency.

I might add too that it was black voters in a few states, like Texas, that also gave key states to Kennedy. There are some interesting comparisons and contrasts here with this year’s election.

Racism Endemic in “War on Terror”

From Friday, March 14 to Sunday, March 16,  an organization called Iraq Veterans Against the War held a Winter Soldier gathering in Washington D.C.   While this received virtually zero attention on mainstream news outlets, a number of other news outlets, such as Pacifica Radio, carried extensive coverage.   Indeed, Jeff Cohen at the Huffington Post, calls the alternate coverage a “victory for independent media.”   

As an example of the sort of coverage you won’t be hearing on MSNBC or any of the other mainstream news channels,  Joshua Holland of indy-media outlet Alternet has an excellent piece this morning about the racism inherent in the “war on terror.”  Holland writes:

At its core, the “War on Terror” is inherently racist. Its central tenet is that all Muslims are interchangeable. ….

In Iraq and Afghanistan, racism is operationalized — it’s endemic to the culture of occupation, and, worse still, it comes from the top of the chain of command and works its way down the line. It’s used to devalue and dehumanize the populations of occupied lands, and to motivate soldiers to overcome their natural inhibitions against cruelty. “

To support his assertion, Holland draws on the testimony of Iraq war veterans who oppose the war, including one who served before and after 9/11.   Mike Prysner, an Iraq veteran, testifying at the Winter Soldier gathering here (click on the video on the top right), says:

“When I first joined the army, we were told that ‘racism no longer existed in the military.’  A legacy of discrimination and inequality was suddenly washed away by something called ‘Equal Opportunity Program.’  We were sent through mandatory classes, every unit had an EO representative to ensure that no evidence of racism could resurface. The Army seemed firmly dedicated to smashing any hint of racism.  And then, September 11th  happened, and I began to hear new words, like “towelhead,” “camel jockey” and, the most disturbing “sand nigger.”  These words did not initially come from my fellow soldiers but from my superiors…all the way up the chain of command these terms, these viciously racist terms, were suddenly acceptable.”

This incredibly courageous veteran against the war confirms what Holland points out in his analysis: that the “war on terror” is racism operationalized.   Like the previously declared (and on-going) “war on drugs,” this  most recent war is fueled by racism for the profits of a few, rich powerful white men.