Worse things have happened in the last week or two. Worse things have been said. Yet what sticks in my mind and won't go away are a few sentences that came out of Nancy Pelosi's mouth during her marathon speech to the House last Wednesday.
She was there, on the House floor, to speak up for the so-called “Dreamers” – people who were brought illegally to America by their parents when they were children and who now want to be accorded legal residency, if not citizenship.
As Pelosi and other advocates for “Dreamers” have tirelessly asserted, some of them have made exemplary contributions to the United States. Others, however, in the course of agitating for residency status, have engaged in activities that hardly serve their cause.
They've waved Mexican flags. They've posed for pictures giving the finger to Mount Rushmore. They've cursed America, they've sneered and snarled at it – exhibiting a hostility to the country so intense that it makes one wonder just why they're so eager to be Americans.
And yet they've been taken up as heroes by the left – even as others who've gone through the laborious and expensive process of securing U.S. residency legally have been made to feel like fools for doing it the right way.
It was because of the “Dreamers” that the Democrats closed down the government for a couple of days, causing military families to worry that their paychecks might not show up in the mail. And it was because of the “Dreamers” that Pelosi, age 77, broke the record for the longest speech ever given on the House floor – eight hours and ten minutes.
I haven't heard or read the whole speech, but I've listened to a great deal of it. There's one part I've listened to several times. It's the part about Pelosi's grandson. “He is Irish, English, whatever, whatever, and Italian-American,” she said. “He is a mix.”
Before we proceed, let us note that, for Pelosi, her own grandson's ancestry comes down to a couple of whatevers. It brings to mind the Seinfeld episode on which the principal characters discuss the proper use of the phrase “yada yada” to skip over inconsequential details.
Of course, Pelosi's whatevers could be viewed in a positive light. We're Americans. Who cares where your or my ancestors came from? Such things aren't supposed to matter.
But Pelosi went on to make it clear that, for her, such things matter a lot.
She recalled that her grandson, at the time of his sixth birthday, “had a very close friend whose name is Antonio. He's from Guatemala. And he has beautiful tan skin, beautiful brown eyes. And this was a proud day for me, because when my grandson blew out the candles on his cake, they said: 'Did you make a wish?' He said yes, he made a wish. 'What is your wish?' 'I wish I had brown skin and brown eyes like Antonio.'”
Before I move on to Pelosi's response to this wish, let me say this. As a kid in the 1960s, spending summers in my mother's hometown in South Carolina, I witnessed a society obsessed with race. I knew people who lived a block or two from each other but on opposite sides of a very broad racial divide.
Yes, some of them deeply loved and respected each other across that divide. Yet the divide was a daily reality for them, as palpable as the Berlin Wall.
I was lucky enough to grew up in an America that seemed increasingly to reject this divide – to move past a preoccupation with skin color. I thought I was experiencing progress.
Walls were coming down. We were growing up. American society wasn't about superficial attributes. It was about the content of our character.
Certainly this was what liberals were supposed to be about. It was conservatives who obsessed over race, wasn't it?
Well, so much for that. “I wish I had brown skin and brown eyes like Antonio,” says Pelosi's six-year-old grandson. And her comment about this, to the House of Representatives and to the world, is as follows: “So beautiful. So beautiful. The beauty is in the mix.”
No. No. No. The beauty was supposed to be in not fixating on such cosmetic details.
Yes, when it comes to sexual attraction between adults, many of us have certain preferences: tall or short, slim or plus-sized, and – yes – dark-skinned or pale. Whatever. But such attributes have, or should have, nothing to with the way we value one another as human beings.
And surely skin color shouldn't figure in the hopes and dreams of a six-year-old child blowing out the candles on his birthday cake.
Hearing Pelosi's anecdote, one couldn't help wondering: how on earth has this boy been brought up, that he should despise his own skin color and envy somebody else's? How is it that such a thought could even occur to him?
Even when I was his age, playing in the summer heat in 1960s South Carolina with black kids, it didn't cross my mind either to admire their skin color or to look down on it. Nobody had ever told me to do either.
There's a song from the 1949 musical South Pacific – music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. “You've got to be taught to be afraid / Of people whose eyes are oddly made / And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade / You've got to be carefully taught.”
That song expressed a strong, simple message: you don't become a bigot unless your parents or teachers or other adults turn you into one.
But it works the other way, too. If you're six years old and you envy somebody else's skin color, that, too, is the product of “teaching.” And that kind of teaching – the kind that makes you loathe your own skin color – is just as odious as the kind of teaching that makes you proud of it.
That Nancy Pelosi could take precisely the opposite view of her grandson's remark shows just how far the left has wandered from classical liberalism. That her grandson could say such a thing in the first place shows just how easily the left's poison can taint the mind of a child.