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