By Richard Hoover
Americans once had an appetite for sentimental, some would say "sticky-sweet" stories, ones filled with human interest, which "tugged at the heartstrings." Hollywood and the media were filled with them. Remember "Lassie," "Ozzie and Harriet" and the "Reader's Digest," and how easily little Margaret O'Brien could turn on the waterworks?
However devoid these outpourings may have been of literary quality, the good news was that they focused on the triumph and vindication of home and religious values -- the 'Golden Rule,' compassion for the underdog, respect for others and love of country.
Interestingly, as I remember them, American sentimentalists kept their values and tears pretty well confined to home, religion and to the welfare of their fellow Americans. They did not allow what was lachrymose, if not wooly-minded, to cross over into areas of governance and security.
Maybe it was the Cold War with its threats of Communism and nuclear annihilation which, paradoxically, made these soft-hearted citizens such able practitioners of Bismarckian 'Realpolitik.' I well remember, for example, their views on immigration -- something to be welcomed only if it brought the best and the brightest to America -- something to be rejected if it appeared that an applicant might someday become a public charge. Tourist visas? -- only granted with iron-clad proofs that the applicant had a home outside America where he would go when his visa expired.
It is big news, then, that the locus of sentimentality appears to be expanding from home and religion, where it has a good place, and is heading in the direction of governance and security, where it will do harm, where, inevitably, it transmogrifies into wooly-mindedness.
No doubt that it is sentimentality raised to the level of piety, which accounts for the anguished demands that the United States save the children of Central America. The former speaker of the house calls them America's children. On a broader scale, perhaps, one Chicago congressman hopes that White House action alone can legitimize the presence of up to 5 million persons who entered the country illegally!
Government visa-issuing consular employees are not immune from the same wooly-mindedness: I read that over 30 percent of those living illegally in America, the ones "living in the shadows," arrived not by sneaking over the border, but with U.S. visas at regular ports of entry!
Taking the cake in the sentimentality-applied-to-governance category is the recent heart-breaking front page story in the Northern Virginia Daily about a Honduran single mother and her family, living in the American shadows and multiplying by leaps and bounds, whether by natural increase or by the arrival of left-behind children, one of whom flew in with a visa. Written to tug at the heartstrings, rather than for any clear-eyed analysis, the article avoids issues which were central in the old days but, sadly, are not for present readership: (a) is this family a public charge? If so, to what extent is the burden and on whom does it fall? (b) was the child who arrived by plane 'visaed' as a tourist, which she is not, or as an immigrant, even though she travels to join those living illegally in the U.S. and most likely will become a public charge, and (c) now that the illegal presence of this family is exposed, how likely is it to be deported?
It is troubling when sentimental and heart-throbbing impulses drive our approach to governance; I wish that many clerics, politicians, journalists and bureaucrats had a clearer-eyed view of the national interest. What we owe our several governments is the promotion of their good health and survival, not the promotion of debilitating immigration policies to burden and drag them down, to increase the burdens already borne by our own citizens.
Richard Hoover is a retired Foreign Service officer (1969-95) who resides in southern Warren County.