Poetry vs. Prose

By Mark Krikorian on April 23, 2010

The president's comments today criticizing the Arizona bill were pretty anodyne. He described it as an example of "irresponsibility" (at least he didn't say they "acted stupidly"), but implicitly justified it in a clinging-to-their-guns-and-religion fashion by saying it was the kind of thing that would happen in the absence of amnesty. Also: "I've instructed members of my administration to closely monitor the situation and examine the civil rights and other implications of this legislation." The ACLU's going to make sure that the Ninth Circuit does that, so the administration is off the hook for now.

But what really struck me was the venue; he made these political comments at a naturalization ceremony, a wholly inappropriate place for such a thing. I've spoken at a number of such events (see here, for instance) and you're specifically instructed not to talk about politics, with good reason. This is supposed to be about welcoming our new countrymen, patriotism, the rights and duties of citizenship, and maybe an anecdote from your own immigrant background. And Obama's comments were mostly along those lines (though the president has no immigrant experience, so that's not there).

But even some of the poetic parts of his comments were off. For instance:

As a nation, as a people, we can choose a different future — a future that keeps faith with our history, with our heritage, and with the hope that America has always inspired in the hearts of people all over the world. For just as each of these 24 new citizens once cast their eyes upon our country from afar, so too, somewhere in the world today is a young boy or a young girl wondering if they, too, might someday share in America's promise.


young boy? More like hundreds of millions of young boys, all of whom, and millions more, would come if the law allowed and if enforcement were even more lax than it is now. It is the conflict between poetic thoughts like this (not to mention this) and the prose of reality that causes us problems in crafting immigration policy. Poetry was a luxury we could afford when the oceans and technology made it expensive and unpleasant to get here, thus limiting numbers naturally. But in the modern world, nature no longer limits immigration — we have to do it ourselves, through the very law and bureaucracy that open-borders folks like the president are uncomfortable with, because it conflicts with the poetry.