You probably don’t have to have grown up in an Irish-American family to have heard of the Irish Potato Famine, or as the Irish themselves called it, The Great Hunger. One million Irish died and a million more left Ireland. At least one of my ancestors emigrated around that time — to fight as a mercenary in the US Civil War.
After the blight destroyed much of the potato crop that many Irish grew in their tenant farms, Irish officials asked the UK government for assistance. Not for charity, mind you, but for public work projects, such as railways. The government responded with repeal of the Corn Law tariffs, the Gregory Clause of the Poor Laws, and the Cheap Ejectment Act — exploiting rather than helping the poor. Eventually a few men were put to unproductive work digging holes and breaking up roads, but farms continued to export beef and produce to England while the Irish starved.
Religious and non-religious groups provided some assistance, the Queen donated one thousand pounds and foreigners including the Ottoman Sultan and Native American Chocktaws sent charitable donations. But they weren’t close to enough. Local and absentee landlords found it profitable to evict their starving tenant farmers. English literature began to dehumanize the Irish. English Lion and Irish Monkey cartoons in Punch Magazine depicted them as work-shy apes.
After a brutal winter, the spring of 1847 brought a peak of starvation and desperation. That year is now remembered in Ireland as Black ’47.
Under a new Treason Act, John Mitchel was transported to Bermuda, but not before writing:
“The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the Famine.”
With Mitt Romney’s revealed quote, we have a new black 47, the percentage of Americans that don’t pay income taxes. The fact that this percentage mostly includes the retired, the unemployed and even injured veterans doesn’t matter to the still prosperous Republican supporters. The fact that many Obama supporters pay higher tax rates than Romney himself (as far as we know) doesn’t matter.
The name of the game is dehumanization. A factoid like 47% allows them to believe that almost half the country is simply dead weight. Given power, they will undoubtedly create even more poverty — all the while congratulating themselves for their superior moral character.