On Immigration, Poetry Isn’t Policy, but Poetry Matters, by David French, National Review

The conservative National Review offers an interesting take on what happens when a reporter relies on poetry to make a point.

During a White House press conference yesterday, CNN Reporter Jim Acosta prefaced a question by reading “The New Colossus,” then asked White House aide Stephen Miller how he could support a policy that goes against the poem. Miller noted (correctly) that the poem was not originally part of the statue, which the French created in order to symbolize the light of American freedom spreading out to all the world; the addition of the text welcoming immigrants changed the perception of the statue.

Remember the “Fearless Girl” statue, which, when placed in the context of an existing “Charging Bull” statue, changed the perception of the meaning of the charging bull? (The bull was actually the work of a rebel artist, while the girl was part of an organized corporate marketing campaign.)

As a descendant of poor immigrants, I am not defending the Trump administration’s immigration policy. I am, however, very interested in this conservative commentator’s reaction to a journalist’s choice to invoke poetry while introducing his question.

Art doesn’t have a single meaning, and the meaning of art can and does change over time. Students who expect the instructor to tell them the single correct answer to the question “What does this art mean” are missing the point of art, just as this reporter may have missed the point.

On policy, Miller had facts while Acosta had feelings. For those who don’t have time to watch the exchange, [it] went something like this:

Acosta: (Emotionally reads poem)
Miller: (Counters with facts showing that the history is more complex)
Acosta: (Emotionally defends poem)
Miller: (Counters that the poem never set policy)
Acosta: (Bigotry accusation)
Miller: (Snobbery accusation)

As I watched the exchange, I immediately and viscerally sided with Miller. Why is a supposedly objective journalist acting like a partisan? Why was his question so ill-informed? He not only botched the history, he was actually asking whether American immigration policy was consistent with a century-old poem. And even then, wasn’t he utterly incoherent? After all — as Miller pointed out — American immigration has ebbed and flowed for generations, and there is no one, true number that’s consistent with the poet’s original intent. Besides, and this is important, poetry isn’t policy. Yet leftist Twitter and the liberal Web exploded with glee. Look how mean Miller is! Did he just diss America’s greatest poem? How could anyone like that guy? … Do we tell those Americans who are even now dying deaths of despair in part because of lost economic opportunity that immigration policy should make their lives more difficult because, well, “there’s this poem on the Statue of Liberty”? —National Review

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