Two weeks ago there was the much-discussed debate between Stephen Miller and CNN’s Jim Acosta. The latter, in a fit of unprofessional outrage, exposed his ignorance of history by invoking “The New Colossus” (otherwise known as the Statue of Liberty poem) in defense of a liberal immigration policy.
“The Statue of Liberty says ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’ It doesn’t say anything about speaking English or being able to be a computer programmer,” Acosta argued from his chair in the White House Briefing Room.
As was pointed out here and elsewhere, the construction of the Statue of Liberty had nothing to do with immigration, and “The New Colossus” was added to the statue decades later. Moreover, poetry doesn’t set immigration policy. The poem shouldn’t set immigration policy any more than the legend of Johnny Appleseed should determine agricultural policy.
Perhaps lamenting the politicization of Lady Liberty, Ben Sasse seized the opportunity to produce a short video on some true history surrounding the monument. Friday was the 128th anniversary of Americans raising $100,000 dollars to build the pedestal on which the Statute of Liberty stands. Like most things Sasse produces, it is an inspirational and unifying lesson about America.
Raising such a massive amount of money “demonstrates the power of volunteerism, which is the foundation of our freedom,” Sasse says. It wasn’t the federal government, a SPLOST, or a couple rich donors who paid for the pedestal, but tens of thousands of ordinary Americans voluntarily giving their hard earned money to a worthy cause.
As long as she stands, Lady Liberty rests “on volunteerism, on love, [and] on persuasion. Not force. That’s not the center of freedom.”
“As we think about the future of freedom in this nation,” Sasse concludes, “may the legend of the Statute of Liberty inspire us today to be united in generosity and support no matter how small our ability or our individual contributions might be.”
It’s a wonderful story, and it’s beautifully told by Sasse. The senator’s story, perhaps inadvertently, raises an actual connection between the Statue of Liberty and immigration.
Much of the history Sasse recounts centers around Joseph Pulitzer, the publisher of the New York World who spearheaded the effort to raise the money.
Before growing his media empire and lending his name to the most prestigious award in journalism, music, and literature, Pulitzer was a Hungarian immigrant. He came from a successful family who provided him with a superior education, but Pulitzer sought opportunity in America after his father’s bankruptcy left his family in poverty. Arriving in Boston at the age of 17, he immediately joined the Union Army. He fought in a unit of mostly German immigrants under General Sheridan. After the war Pulitzer became an American citizen and sought opportunity in the West. In St. Louis he would begin to build his media empire.
Pulitzer is one of the great immigration success stories Americans have long admired. Both sides of the immigration debate could appropriate Pulitzer to serve their own ideological ends. Liberals could hold him up as an example of how mass immigration has served the country well. Pulitzer did not learn English until he’d been in the country a few years. Conservatives could point out that Pulitzer is a case study in why we should favor immigrants from Western countries who have the background and education that would lend to their success and assimilation in America.
What both sides should strive for, however, is to base their arguments on actual history. Remember the purpose of the Statute of Liberty. Remember Lady Liberty’s pedestal. Remember the story of Joseph Pulitzer. Remember “The New Colossus”.
Remember that history can inform, challenge, and inspire us as we struggle with the issues of the day.
Remember some sources, like a biased journalist or a Facebook meme, will twist history to serve their own emotional and ideological ends.
As Harry Truman once said, “There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.”