On this St. Patrick's Day weekend, if you're in the mood for a lamentation of Irish-Americans' ongoing shift to the political right, you're in luck. Andrew O'Hehir provided that and much else in a Saturday piece for the liberal online magazine Salon.
While O'Hehir believes that the 1998 Northern Ireland peace deal was "unambiguously a good thing for the people of Ireland and their British next-door neighbors," it had a downside stateside: "[T]he last connection between Irish-American identity and genuine history was severed...On one hand, Irishness [now] is a nonspecific global brand of pseudo-old pubs, watered-down Guinness, 'Celtic' tattoos and vague New Age spirituality...On the other, it’s Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Pat Buchanan and Rep. Peter King...consistently representing the most stereotypical grade of racist, xenophobic, small-minded, right-wing Irish-American intolerance. When you think of the face of white rage in America, it belongs to a red-faced Irish dude on Fox News."
O'Hehir notes that a great many Irish-Americans backed (financially and otherwise) the Irish Republican Army and opines that "[i]n its finer moments, the Irish republicanism of the ’70s and ’80s sparked a global consciousness among a population of privileged white Americans whose cultural distinctness was fading fast. You didn’t have to support Angela Davis, Che Guevara and the PLO to understand that there was a historical relationship between their issues and the Irish Troubles. Ireland was the original colonized nation, and was subjected to a near-genocidal conquest centuries before the Holocaust."
Liberalism, observes O'Hehir, has gradually withered among Irish-Americans, which means Irish-American politics these days is light on a "social-justice component" and heavy on "a bunch of unappealing right-wing guys yelling at us":
...[O]ver the course of the last century the bulk of the Irish-American population drifted rightward through the Democratic Party and then out the other side into Archie Bunker-land. A key constituency of the New Deal coalition became, 40 years later, a key constituency of the Reagan revolution. But throughout that period there was always a countervailing social-justice tendency in Irish-American life, the tendency of the antiwar activist brothers Daniel and Philip Berrigan (quite likely the only Jesuit priests ever to make the FBI’s most-wanted list), or of 1952 left-wing presidential candidate Vincent Hallinan and his firebrand San Francisco family. This was the tradition of the radical Vatican II priests, nuns and theologians, who kept many of us from abandoning the Church altogether, and of the 1968 reawakening of Robert F. Kennedy and the subsequent career of his brother Teddy.
Without exception, those people started from an understanding of their own cultural and national history. They began with Irish nationalist or republican politics, and moved from there to consider how Ireland’s story fit into a worldwide pattern that transcended the specific racial paranoia of the United States. Of course Irish history did not end in 1998, and the current situation in that country – a land of immigrants for the first time in its modern history – is exceptionally interesting. But Ireland is no longer a divisive and charismatic “issue,” capable of galvanizing people who live thousands of miles away. With Irish-American identity now split between an optional lifestyle accessory and a bunch of unappealing right-wing guys yelling at us, its social-justice component has evaporated as well...