Normally I don’t blog politics since I don’t know shit really. I generally subscribe to 2-3 political feeds which I regularly rotate to keep me “hooked in.” Today I saw something so so shockingly stupid, or, brazenly mendacious, that I had to take note. Red Massachusetts?:
…And a Scots-Irish war veteran as the Republican nominee complicates predictions about whom Kennedy Country will support come November.
Most of the commentary seems fine, if disputable; I might not agree, but it’s political pundrity, about as rooted in reality as sports predictions. James Kirchick graduated from Yale with a degrees in history and political science, so I assume he knows something and has the processing power to engage in a fair amount of rigorous ratiocination. The reference to “Kennedey Country” has to do with the fact that Massachusetts is demographically dominated by Irish Americans and their political culture. This is not identical to Scots-Irish, who are customarility Presbyterian. Additionally, in the southern highlands some of the Scots-Irish regions were often redoubts of Unionist-Republican sentiment during the long Democratic hegemony (ergo, the creation of West Virigina). Nor are these two groups similarly distributed across the nation.
If you read Albion’s Seed you know that the Scots-Irish are one of the Four Folkways from the British Isles which established themselves in the American colonies before 1776. They were not always immigrants from Ireland, and in particular the counties of Ulster. Rather, a substantial proportion were economic refugees from the Scottish-English borderlands These people also did not necessarily perceive themselves to be Celtic, as evidenced by the cultural isolation of the Gaelic speaking Scots from the Highlands who settled on the Cape Fear peninsula.1 Finally, if you follow something called the news you will know of The Troubles which emerged from the faction which divides the Protestant Northern Irish, often of Scots ancestry, and the Catholic Northern Irish, who identify as indigenous sons of the soil (the reality is a bit more complex considering the frequency of travel between Dalriada in Scotland and Ulster).
The Irish of Massachusetts on the other hand are descended in large part from the massive waves of emigration out of Ireland in the wake of the Great Hunger. Unlike the Scots-Irish, who were attached to radical Protestantism first in the form of Presbyterianism and later in the United States to the Methodist & Baptist revivals, the Irish immigrants were only recently Anglicized and staunchly Catholic. They were the proto-typical “white ethnics,” racially identified with the American majority but culturally retaining their distinctiveness in large part because of their Roman Catholic religion. Irish Catholics in the United States exist at some remove from Scots-Irish, their own interaction with the WASP majority has been with the diverse traditions of the Middle Atlantic and the Yankee ascendency of New England.
I feel a bit retarded repeating this, but I want to make clear what my understanding is so that people can point out what I got wrong and how I missed the subtly of Mr. Kirchick’s argument. My own suspicion is that Kirchick knows all this, but he was trying to fool the readers of TNR, something that failed as one can see by the 3rd comment on his post. But it makes me wonder, how idiotic are the readers of political punditry that Kirchick thinks he can get away with such blatant misrepresentations? Perhaps blogging for Commentary has made him a bit blase about the necessity of factual support for arguments?
Note: Unfortunately the maps above do not reflect the county level populations. So the spikes in Irish American numbers in the Great Plains do not entail that these regions are as significant toward the creation of an Irish American identity as South Boston. Additionally, I’m pretty sure that the Census underestimates the number of Scots-Irish for three reasons. First, a substantial minority probably simply put “Irish” as their ancestry because of a weak ethnic self-identity. And, many also put “American” as their ethnic identity, a common trend in the south. Finally, I did some work with the 2000 Census back in college and I can assert honestly that there was a strong tendency for white Americans to put their most “exotic” ancestral contribution for their ethnicity; so if someone was 3/4 English and 1/4 German, they would put German.
1 – The Gaelic aspect of Scottish identity has been over emphasized over the past few centuries for romantic reasons. As is well known the Scottish nation emerged from the melange of Gaelic and Brythonic Celts, Picts, Vikings and Northumbrian Anglo-Saxons. The last probably had the strongest representation in the cultural orgin of what we called the Scots-Irish.