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BOOK REVIEW: Chef Barone: Gourmet Demographer By: Lowell Ponte
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, June 26, 2001

WHICH ETHNIC GROUP AFTER THE 1929 MARKET CRASH cast the largest proportion of its votes in 1932 to re-elect Republican Herbert Hoover?  Surprise: African-Americans. 

But by 1934 a majority of Blacks had migrated from the party of the Great Emancipator to the party of the slaveowners, Ku Klux Klan, segregationists, racists, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt – the Democratic Party, for which 92 percent of African-American voters cast their ballots in the 2000 election.

Those who crave a deep understanding of American politics will find Michael Barone’s The New Americans as tasty and satisfying as a box of gourmet chocolates. Every page contains surprising, eye-opening facts and insights gleaned by the most sophisticated popular demographer in Washington, D.C. 

Barone’s co-authored biannual Almanac of American Politics, which analyzes the internal politics of each congressional district in our nation, has held an honored place on political junkie bookshelves for 30 years.  A senior writer at U.S. News & World Report, Barone has become so recognizable from years as a panelist on TV’s The McLaughlin Group that the publisher put his face on this book’s cover.

In The New Americans Barone explores the hot political issues of immigration and of Democrat attempts to gain power by Balkanizing America into sub-nations of warring ethnic groups by analyzing three recent immigrant groups – Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. He finds striking parallels between these groups and three previous flavors of immigrants –  the Irish, Italians, and Jews – who have succeeded and become part of the American tapestry. 

Despite his subtitle, Barone on my radio show expressed dissatisfaction with the old metaphor of America as “melting pot,” and also with the liberally popular metaphor of America as “tossed salad,” in which the lettuce, tomato, and other ingredients come together while retaining their original identity. 

Barone prefers to describe immigrants as threads which add color and richness to our national fabric.  Part of his reason, this reviewer suspects, is more than a desire to split the difference between the old soup and salad metaphors. 

The three groups Barone uses as touchstones of success have been called “unmeltable ethnics,” groups that cling to their cultural identities more than most.  Outside a few geographic enclaves such as Viking Minnesota, Cajun Louisiana, or hex-signed Pennsylvania “Dutch” (i.e., Deutsch, German) country, most folks whose ancestors came from Scandinavia, France, or Germany simply think of themselves and are viewed by others as un-hyphenated Americans whose ethnicity did vanish in the melting pot.  Irish-, Italian-, and Jewish-Americans are more inclined to retain their hyphens and remember their ancestral heritage.

Are Blacks an immigrant group, their ancestors having been brought from Africa in chains and against their wills?  Yes, says Barone, because the migration to which he refers came after slavery during the 20th Century, as African-Americans moved from South to North, and from being sharecroppers to factory workers.  Slavery had been made profitable and revived because of a machine, Eli Whitney’s 1794 cotton gin, but Black sharecropping during the 20th Century was made unprofitable by another machine, the mechanical cotton picker, which accelerated African-American northward migration.   

The Irish wave, unleashed by the potato famine of the 1840s, also brought peasants who had been driven mostly from plantations they did not own.  Like Blacks, they arrived from a land where they had been politically powerless to face discrimination of the “No Irish Catholics Need Apply” variety.

And like Blacks, early Irish immigrants were widely viewed as racially inferior. Republican cartoonist Thomas Nast depicted these supporters of Boss Tweed’s Tammany Hall as dim-witted savages and monkeys.  One of Barone’s favorite sources is a book entitled How the Irish Became White.

Like Blacks, most early Irish immigrants grew up with little education, property or entrepreneurial skills and preferred to work for others. In the Democrat political machines of places such as Boston and New York City they filled then-patronage jobs as firemen and policemen. But Irish-Americans never trusted or looked to government to produce social change as much as did Blacks, and out of their stock would come a descendant of the brother of famed Irish King Brian Boru named Ronald Reagan.

One of the great surprises in Barone’s book is that the great waves of immigration to the United States have come from only a few places – Britain, south and west Ireland, selected parts of Germany and Scandinavia, Vietnam and Korea, the Jewish parts of Russia, Eastern Europe, and southern Italy.  Barone’s ancestors are from Ireland and Sicily, where his noble name literally means “baron” but in a humorous, ironic way.  He grew up with enough fluency in Italian that to this day via shortwave radio Barone follows overseas election returns broadcast in Spanish and Italian.

The great wave of Italian immigration from the late 1800s until a new U.S. law stifled it in 1924 was caused by grape infestation, volcanic eruptions, and economic crop price collapse that drove people from their farms in southern Italy.  Early immigrants were mostly unmarried men who were quick to intermarry with other ethnics.

The “Little Italys” they created in cities were mostly made up of newcomers from specific Italian towns or regions, more accurately deserving exact names like “Little Calabria” or “Little Napoli.”  Their values included the culture, music, and “evil eye” superstitions of southern Italy.

They tended to distrust authority, and “Italians were never the largest ethnic group in any great [American] city,” writes Barone.  But they have achieved great success in the arts, sciences, politics, and throughout the rest of American life.  By 1990 Italian-Americans earned income 17 percent above the national average and were 50 percent more likely to have college degrees.

But when they arrived a century ago, Italian immigrants were often viewed as “swarthy” non-whites.  In Louisiana, five Italian-Americans were lynched in Tallulah in 1899 and eight years earlier 11 were lynched in New Orleans.

They were also unfairly stereotyped as Mafiosi criminals, even though, during the Al Capone era in Chicago, only 30 percent of those in organized crime were Italian-Americans, while 29 percent were Irish-Americans and 20 percent were Jewish. In fact, writes Barone, “Italian immigrants had lower crime rates than immigrants generally (although there was more crime among Italians than among urban blacks).”

How closely does Barone compare these five million Italian immigrants to the 10 million Latinos who have flooded into America since Lyndon Johnson’s immigration law in 1965 opened the door to them? 

In one historic way Latinos and southern Italians are identical, notes Barone.  During the 1500s Latin America and southern Italy were ruled by the same Spanish kings – Charles V and Philip II.  (The Mafia, incidentally, came into being as an underground “government” during foreign rule of Sicily.)  One could almost say that southern Italians are Latinos, with shared history and both names originating in Latin.

Both Italian and Latino immigrants have generally been unskilled laborers with strong work ethics and deep family values.  But, if anything, employers according to Barone have discriminated in favor of hard-working recent Latino immigrants.  While Italian-Americans have largely always been Roman Catholic, writes Barone, today “only about 70 percent of American Hispanics are even nominally Catholics.”  Many are becoming Protestants.

Unlike Blacks, writes Barone, Latinos generally have an affinity for business, distrust government, and tend to avoid public-sector jobs and government welfare.  Eighty-nine percent of Latino-Americans want their children taught in English, which is nightmare news for the Democratic Party because when Latinos leave the linguistic ghetto of the barrio, they start voting Republican in the same proportion as other Americans. 

(Latinos, of course, vary widely from Democrat Puerto Ricans to Republican Cuban-Americans to mixed Mexican-Americans.  And Latino is not a racial category, but a cultural and linguistic one, with Latinos varying in color from ebony black to blue-eyed and blond-haired white.)

Having already surpassed African-Americans as America’s largest ethnic group, Latinos have a large voice in shaping America’s future.  And the Democratic Party now finds itself trapped, knowing that it cannot go on giving legal preferences to Blacks without angering Latinos – but also knowing that if it loses its monolithic Black voter support, the Democratic Party will collapse.  If half of Black voters in the last election had voted Republican, Democrats would have lost both houses of Congress and the Presidency by huge margins.

Both Jewish and Asian immigrants came to America as “People of the Book,” writes Barone, as strongly ethical peoples whose cultures were steeped either in the Torah or the Analects of Confucius.  Both groups arrived in America mostly as intact families, and both cultures honored learning, hard work, and the skills of business. 

The Jewish immigrants of a century ago brought many skills from the small cities, the shtetls, of Europe and Russia.  By 1937, Jews were 25 percent of the population of New York City – but 65 percent of lawyers, 64 percent of dentists, and 55 percent of physicians in the city were Jews.  As immigration has continued, it has tilted American Judaism from Reform towards Orthodox worship. 

In politics, Jewish immigrants have shown great skill in the United States, from winning the friendship and support of George Washington to electing New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia – whose father was Italian, Mother Jewish, and faith Episcopalian – to Senator Joseph Lieberman (D.-Conn.), the first Jewish-American (since Barry Goldwater) on a major national Presidential ticket. 

But demography is destiny, as Barone understands, and Jewish-Americans who were 4 percent of the U.S. population in the 1930s have declined to only 2 percent today.  Intermarriage with non-Jews characterized 50 percent of their marriages during the 1990s, with only 28 percent of children from such marriages being raised as Jews and only 20 percent getting Jewish religious education.

By 1960 more than 75 percent of Jewish-Americans voted Democratic or even farther to the Left.  Asian-Americans, although more Democratic than Republican, have been less politically deterministic.  After all, it was Democratic god Franklin D. Roosevelt who threw 80,000 Japanese-Americans into concentration camps like Manzanar during World War II.

By 1995, Asian-Americans were 4 percent of America’s population but 14 percent of all those scoring 700+ on the verbal Scholastic Aptitude Test and 28 percent of those scoring 750+ on the math portion of the SAT.  As had happened with Jews generations earlier, some prestigious universities (e.g. the University of California Berkeley) imposed quotas to keep Asian-Americans out lest, with their high grades and test scores, they by merit win almost all the admissions places.  Today Asian-Americans are 19 percent of all students at Harvard, 28 percent at MIT, 22 percent at Stanford, 39 percent at Berkeley, 38 percent at UCLA, and 10 percent at the University of Michigan.

Golf champion Tiger Woods, notes Barone, is by ancestry three-quarters Asian.  Asian-Americans have excelled in virtually all professions and enterprises.

Although Confucian values permeate most Asian nations, a highly disproportionate share of Asian immigrants recently have been Christian, especially from lands such as Vietnam.  Barone notes that half of all Korean immigrants are Christians, but in Korea only one in five citizens is.

“We’ve been here before,” writes Barone, who believes America will be enriched by its new immigrants just as it has been by earlier immigrants.  And, frankly, we need immigration to support soon-to-retire Baby Boomers.  The welfare states of Europe and Japan are not producing enough babies to sustain their populations – 1.4 babies for each couple in Italy, for example, when 2.1 babies per couple are needed merely to reproduce their number.

Change is the order of things.  Barone reminds us that Eleanor Roosevelt grew up as a Republican, the niece of President Theodore Roosevelt.  The woman who channels Eleanor, Hillary Clinton, began as a Goldwater girl.  FDR aide Harold Ickes when young was a Republican, as was FDR Vice President and later Stalin worshipper Henry Wallace.  But now, as the Marxist tide recedes, sanity is propelling more and more people away from the socialist insanity of the Democratic Party.  Every Republican and conservative should read Michael Barone’s enlightening book to more deeply understand America’s ever-renewing role as a magnet that attracts good people from everywhere – and in the process is creating a whole new world.

Mr. Ponte co-hosts a national radio talk show Monday through Friday 6-8 PM Eastern Time (3-5 PM Pacific Time) on the Genesis Communications Network. Internet Audio worldwide is at GCNlive .com. The show's live call-in number is 1-800-259-9231. A professional speaker, he is a former Roving Editor for Reader's Digest.

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