Who is deny­ing kids a shot at the Amer­i­can Dream?


His­tory may well re­mem­ber this po­lit­i­cal year for fem­i­nine jeers and manly tears. We heard Sarah Palin tell the Repub­li­can Party reg­u­lars to “man up” and sup­port Tea Party can­di­dates. We heard Repub­li­can sen­a­to­rial can­di­dates Shar­ron An­gle of Ne­vada and Chris­tine O’Don­nell in Delaware call on their op­po­nents to, re­spec­tively, “man up” and “get your man­pants on.”

And we saw in­com­ing Speaker John Boehner bring to the na­tional spot­light his long­time pen­chant for pub­lic weep­ing.

He cries, his wife, Deb­bie Boehner, ex­plained as the Ohio Repub­li­can burst into tears three times dur­ing a CBS “60 Min­utes” in­ter­view. Friends and col­leagues in both par­ties agree. Video clips of boo-hoo mo­ments by the new “weeper of the House,” as some call him, have gone vi­ral on the In­ter­net.

He’s been a chronic crier dur­ing poignant mo­ments ever since they met, she said, which moved Boehner to weep again. No prob­lem. Women and Demo­cratic male can­di­dates have long been warned against weep­ing, but Boehner cries with im­punity. We’ve come a long way, guys. Go ahead. Tear up. It’s al­lowed.

Boehner was com­fort­able enough in his fa­mously tan­com­plex­ioned skin, he said, to un­leash his tear ducts with­out feel­ing em­bar­rassed by it. “I’ve been chas­ing the Amer­i­can Dream my whole ca­reer,” he said, his voice chok­ing up again. “There’s some things that are very dif­fi­cult to talk about.”

But I am less in­trigued by Boehner’s tears than by what he says brings them on. He’s an emo­tional wa­ter­works, he said, for any­thing that re­minds him of “the Amer­i­can Dream” and how far he has come since his small-town child­hood. He was the son of a tav­ern owner, one of 12 chil­dren who grew up in a small home small, and their lob­by­ists.

He has voted against as­sis­tance to work­ers whose jobs have moved over­seas, against ex­pand­ing health care for poor chil­dren, against rais­ing the fed­eral min­i­mum wage and, re­cently, against ex­tend­ing un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits un­til they were in­cluded with tax cuts for the wealthy.

And as the nation ques­tioned his lat­est tele­vised tears, he led House Repub­li­cans in vot­ing against the DREAM Act, a bill that ex­em­pli­fies what hap­pens when to­day’s Amer­i­can Dream runs up against po­lit­i­cal re­al­i­ties.

The DREAM Act would give a break to im­mi­grant high school grad­u­ates, brought to this coun­try il­le­gally as chil­dren and still lack­ing doc­u­men­ta­tion. It would of­fer a con­di­tional six-year res­i­dency sta­tus to those who meet its con­di­tions, which in­clude res­i­dency in the U.S. for more than five years, no crim­i­nal record, and en­list­ment in the mil­i­tary or en­roll­ment at a four-year col­lege for at least two years.

Sure, op­po­nents call it a dis­guised amnesty bill, a re­ward for il­le­gal­ity, even though the il­le­gal­ity was com­mit­ted by the par­ents, not the kids. The kids are only forced to live with its con­se­quences.

Be­sides, even if this sounds like amnesty to you, it seems to me that there hardly could be a more worth­while group to re­ceive it. The mil­i­tary needs troops, our econ­omy needs a well-ed­u­cated work­force and our na­tional bud­get needs more tax­pay­ers to help keep pro­grams like So­cial Se­cu­rity sol­vent.

No, you don’t have to be a na­tivist bigot to op­pose the DREAM Act, but in­dif­fer­ence to a le­gal Catch-22 that’s block­ing thou­sands of hon­est and am­bi­tious, but un­doc­u­mented, kids from col­lege and the mil­i­tary shows more con­tempt for the Amer­i­can Dream than a be­lief in it.

Maybe that’s what Boehner’s cry­ing about. Maybe his con­science is both­er­ing him.

As­so­ci­ated Press photo by Cliff Owen

House Repub­li­can leader John Boehner was tearyeyed at an elec­tion night rally on Nov. 2.

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