Before the Civil War, John C. Calhouns views on the equality of human beings were nurtured with a mint julep on the veranda of a southern plantation. This leading North Carolina senator, and presidential hopeful, had a splendid panoramic view of the jobs that Americans wouldnt do. In spirited debates, Senator Calhoun became a voice for the South in perpetuating the institution
By 1860, however, Hinton Helpers best selling book, “The Impending Crisis,“ demonstrated that slavery benefitted neither whites nor blacks. By spurning jobs that Americans wont do, Southern whites became detrimentally dependent upon others. In the South, Hinton Helper observed: We want Bibles, brooms, buckets and books, and we go to the North; ... we want toys, primers, school books, fashionable apparel, machinery, medicines, tombstones, and a thousand other things, and we go to the North for them all.
When cotton was king, the South believed it could comfortably rise above the jobs Americans wont do. The pretentious image was supported by an illusion. Hinton Helpers book sold well in the North, but pervasive illiteracy among blacks and working class whites stifled book sales in slave trading states.
The slogan, Jobs Americans wont do, has now emerged as the presidential mantra for importing more foreign labor. The leader of the free world offers an assurance that Americans have graduated to a better life. There is a curious appeal to self-referential pride in the slogan, but it comes with all the trappings of Calhouns mint juleped view from the veranda.
Who, actually, is unwilling to do the jobs Americans wont do? Has picking up after ourselves fallen beneath our dignity? Has caring for others lost appeal? Are we no longer interested in cooking? Are our sons and daughters no longer willing to work their way through college? How do these jobs get done in areas with low-immigrant populations? Harry Truman once professed that no one should have to wash anyone elses socks and underwear. Truman washed his own.
Who is claiming that we wont do these jobs? Do they have contempt for calloused hands? Is the unemployed American refusing to do these jobs? Or is this appeal to our sense of dignity and pride actually a disguised corporate quest for cheap labor?
The illiterate slave drivers disdainful view of inferior beings became a sad disillusion. Yet, this view is inherent in the Presidents proclamation that the jobs
Americans wont do will be
offered to the lowest bidder in a global job fair.
What is the Presidents mental image of jobs Americans wont do? Hes not claiming the jobs are unnecessary. Rather, he is pointing out that we need not perform them. Then who will? People looking different than us? Has the President been sipping mint juleps with Sen. Calhoun?
What are the jobs that
Americans wont do? Doing laundry? Making beds? Milking cows? Picking up the garbage? If this is a job that only immigrants will do, then Los Angeles should be spotless, and trash should be gathering on the streets in low-immigrant northern communities.
In fact, Americans do these jobs. Americans do these jobs with pride. Americans have thrived on these jobs over the centuries. The Americans doing these jobs dont look any different. They wear the face of America. They do not shrink from work. Americans just resist enslaved wages and indecent working
conditions. The soul of America is still found in our commitment to a work ethic. A presidential slogan to the contrary offends the soul of America.
If we hope to restore dignity to labor, then we need to honor it with a living wage. Flooding the job market with cheap labor forces a debate over the minimum wage. Congress has not repealed the law of supply and demand.
The jobs Americans wont do adage seems innocuous on its face, but it carries a hefty price tag. Wordsworth reminds us that by Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers. By laying waste our powers, we become the enslaved, much like the disillusioned illiterate white Southerner of 1850.
The Presidents slogan is an invitation to join him on Sen. Calhouns veranda. Mint julep anyone?
Petoskey attorney John F. Rohe is a member of the board of directors of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.