The Perrones arrived from Italy with the shirts on their back. They scratched and saved to help young Ferdinand attend medical school. He became a country doctor in upstate New York, where he spent his life treating local farmers. His two sons served in the US Navy. One had a daughter, the mother of my children. Ferdinand was not a real American.
Enrico Fermi, Hans Bethe, Leo Szilard, Eugene Wigner, John von Neumann, Edward Teller, and Victor Weiskopf came to America to escape Hitler. These men played key roles in the Manhattan Project and helped to establish America's military and scientific dominance over the Nazis and then the Soviet Union. They were not real Americans, either.
David Ho was born in a small Taiwanese village. He immigrated to southern California as a young boy. He was Time Magazine's Man of the Year 1996 for his role in developing life-saving protease inhibitors to treat HIV/AIDS. He's Magic Johnson's doctor, but he is not a real American.
Specialist Charles is a refugee from Sudan. His last name is withheld for security reasons because he is an Arabic translator for the US Army. He is a newly-naturalized citizen who recently was awarded a Purple Heart. He left a piece of himself in Iraq. He, his wife, and his four U.S.-born children are not real Americans.
How do we know these people are not real Americans? Because Jason Fry, age 24, of West Virginia says so. Fry offers this commentary explaining why he prefers John McCain to Barack Obama, Fry prefers "a full-blooded American."
Some people might say that Fry's views are a tad nativist and racist. In fact, however, this sagely figure has "hit upon something essential in this presidential race." So, at least, reports his Boswell, syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker. Perhaps auditioning to be the conservative counterpart to Maureen Dowd, the elegant but vacuous Parker concludes that the main issue is: "Who 'gets' America? And who doesn't?"
In case you missed it, she adds:
"It's about blood equity, heritage and commitment to hard-won American values. And roots.
Some run deeper than others and therein lies the truth of Fry's political sense. ...there is a very real sense that once-upon-a-time America is getting lost in the dash to diversity.
We love to boast that we are a nation of immigrants. But there's a different sense of America among those who trace their bloodlines through generations of sacrifice."
It goes on like this for two pages.
"...the truth is, Mrs. Clinton's own DNA is cobbled with many of the same values that rural and small-town Americans cling to.
She understands viscerally what Barack Obama has to study."
Parker finishes her essay condemning those "who disregard the laws of the land and who dismiss the struggles that resulted in their creation. Full-blooded Americans get this. Those who hope to lead the nation better get it soon."
Take a moment to ponder how ugly these paragraphs really are. Let's start with the idea that young Jason is unique in tracing his "bloodline" through generations of sacrifice. This specifically insults Barack Obama's family, including his grandfather who served in Patton's army and was laid to rest with an American flag draped across his coffin.
The real insult goes deeper. Apparently, those of us who are not white and Christian, preferably male and working class, are only America's invited guests. We lack the bloodlines and roots of "ordinary Americans." Our DNA is cobbled with the wrong stuff.
Then there's that creepy sentence: "And roots." Too bad the Soviet Union is gone. Ms. Parker would have fit right in with their propaganda department, which labeled Jews "rootless cosmopolitans," and thus untrustworthy.
America is rapidly changing. This causes real challenges. At times, it's hard to keep up. This was true in 1855, when Walt Whitman wrote about the bustling streets of immigrant New York. This was true on those same streets fifty years later, where my grandfather left school at 11 to learn his Protestant work ethic. It remains true today, when poor immigrant kids graduate in such conspicuous numbers from New York's elite high schools.
Anyone who would label any fellow American less than "full-blooded" does not understand the animating spirit of our diverse democracy. Everyone who swears allegiance to our Constitution, learns the language, and contributes to our common life is as full-blooded as anyone needs to be.
Writing in The American Prospect, Richard Yeselson commented that Barack Obama juxtaposes "an inclusive civic nationalism" against a "discredited ethnic or racial nationalism that sees blood and race and the entitlement they bring as constitutive of national creed."
Yeselson understands something important that Parker misses: We're all in this together. The fifth-generation West Virginia coal miner is no more American than the first-generation Arab-American doctor who goes to Appalachia to work off his medical school debt. Americans grieve equally for the Kansas farm boy who died for freedom at Normandy. We celebrate equally when some immigrant's son develops a desperately needed vaccine.
Parker's column is one of many to appear lately that seek to spread the same disgraceful memes: Barack Obama is faintly unpatriotic and un-American. It's depressing, but sadly unsurprising, that many as many as ¼ of the Kentucky primary voters who supported for Hillary Clinton reported to pollsters that race was a significant factor in their vote. There some good people here, but they are doing wrong. I trust, come November, that most Americans will have the decency to do better.
Jason Fry doesn't get it. Fortunately, he's only 24 and probably redeemable. Life being what it is, he'll probably find a Vietnamese-American girlfriend who will educate him.
As for Kathleen Parker -- who hides behind this young man to make ugly insinuations -- she is another story. She is being excoriated across the web for this column and others.
She fully deserves it. In attacking the content of Barack Obama's DNA to impugn the content of his character, she is the real un-American in this 2008 campaign.
Postscript: Bravo for the excellent comments as of 5/21 am. These are terrific.
Follow Harold Pollack on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@haroldpollack