The Corner

Pants on Fire

That was an interesting quote Mark Krikorian lifted from Teddy Kennedy speaking at the time of the Senate debate on the 1965 immigration bill:

The [1965] bill will not flood our cities with immigrants. It will not upset the ethnic mix of our society. It will not relax the standards of admission. It will not cause American workers to lose their jobs.

As it happens, I have been browsing in Adam Clymer’s fawning 1999 biography of EMK.  (Amazing what you find in a cruise ship library.) It gives some background to his motivations for sponsoring the 1965 bill.

After 1924, immigration into the United States had been governed by a national origins quota system designed to replicate the ancestry of white Americans on hand in 1920.  It parceled out tickets of admissionin a way that strongly favored northern Europe… 

(All of which is quite true—JD.)

As a Senator, John Kennedy had denounced the quota system and called for a change to place all applicants on an equal footing, regardless of national origin.  The existing system, he wrote in 1959, displayed an ‘indefensible racial preference.’ … Ted [Kennedy] seized the cause of ending the discriminatory national origins system, although Burke [i.e. David Burke, Ted’s legislative assistant] worried about the politics of ending discrimination that favored the Irish, and some Irish groups lobbied hard against the bill…

And so on.  What I get from all this is that Teddy was fired up by outrage that the immigration system should favor people from one part of the world over people from another.  That is what the post-1924 system did, in the interests—as was made clear in 1924—of maintaining the ethnic balance of the U.S.A.

Whatever you think of that policy, Ted Kennedy was clearly driven, in 1965, by indignation against it, and the desire to end it.

But now look back at the quote Mark Krikorian posted.  “It [the 1965 bill] will not upset the ethnic mix of our society.”  Not upsetting the ethnic mix of our society was precisely the logic of the national-origins quota system implemented in the 1924 Act.  Kennedy hated that, and was trying to overturn it… while assuring the American public that he was doing nothing of the sort!

You don’t have to favor the 1924 system to perceive some pretty blatant dishonesty there.  Fool us once…

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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