Who Elected Emma Lazarus?

Ken Gorrellby Ken Gorrell,
Weirs Times

The liberal-progressive Slate magazine’s recent article, “Obama: The Statue of Liberty Lays Out Some Pretty Clear Guidelines on the Whole Refugees Thing” provides a window into the President’s mixed-up thinking:

“On the Statue of Liberty, a gift from the people of France, there are the words we know so well. ‘Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.’ That’s the spirit that makes us America. That’s the spirit that binds to us France. That’s the spirit that we need today.”Ignore for a moment that he misquotes the “words we know so well.” Focus instead on the idea that this poem, written in 1883, exemplifies the spirit that makes us America. Pardon me for being so retro as I dust off my powdered wig, but isn’t the American spirit truly embodied in the words of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution? And our French connection was established during our fight for independence, grew through two world wars, and is strengthened as we deal with today’s existential threat posed by Islamofascism.

The Declaration and Constitution are the foundations of “American Exceptionalism.” They separate us from the nations that existed at the time of our founding, and even from our allies today. Challenging the world’s most powerful empire to secure liberty for themselves and their posterity and creating a federal government of limited and enumerated powers: That’s the spirit of America.

Many nations take in immigrants. Until the recent wave of Muslims proved too much to handle, Sweden was taking in so many huddled masses yearning to breathe free, mainly from the Middle East and Africa, that the foreign-born now make up about 15 percent of the population and cities like Malmö have areas considered unsafe for non-Muslims . Canada considers itself a “moral superpower” because of its generous immigration policies (which it may soon regret).

The idea that a poem, written more than a century ago and affixed to the base of a statue presented as a gift to commemorate the centennial of the Declaration of Independence, should have any sway over current immigration law boggles the imagination. We are a nation of laws, not poems. We are also a nation that has seen significant changes since Emma Lazarus penned “A New Colossus.”

In 1883 there were just over 54 million Americans; today we number over 300 million. There were just 38 stars on our flag; large parts of the upper mid-west and southwest weren’t states yet, including the Dakotas, Montana, New Mexico and Arizona. Socially, we expected assimilation. Today we “celebrate diversity” to the point where the Los Angeles school system struggles with a student population speaking more than 90 languages and driver’s exams in some states are given in 10 languages. In 1883 the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was declared unconstitutional. The Supreme Court held that the Constitution did not give the federal government the power to prohibit discrimination by private individuals and organizations and that it could not prohibit racial discrimination in public accommodations.

So a lot has changed, but most critically, the progressive income tax of 1913 fueled a welfare state that now redistributes more than half a trillion dollars annually to 35% of the population. In 8 states, welfare pays more than the average salary of a teacher. Unlike in Lazarus’ time, immigrants both legal and illegal gain access to the nation’s wealth as soon as they step ashore. They may yearn to breathe free, but they aren’t passing up the free stuff, taking advantage of our entitlement programs at significantly higher rates than the native-born.

That Slate would uncritically report on a poem being used to establish guidelines for immigration law is bad enough. They also deprecate the threat posed by Muslim immigrants and refugees by asking the nonsensical question, “What if the freedom to bear arms is also the freedom to be a jihadi?” They might as well ask “What if receiving a driver’s license gives one the license to commit vehicular homicide?” And bearing arms isn’t so much a “freedom” as it is a right, enshrined in our founding document and supported by two centuries of legal opinion.

No, what’s truly awful about the article is that it is our Chief Executive citing a poem as if it had controlling moral authority over our laws. Sadly, it does seem that our federal government’s policymakers have been guided by poets these past seven years. In addition to Emma Lazarus, they seem to be drawing inspiration from Lewis Carroll and Dr. Seuss.

Ken can be reached at kengorrell@gmail.com