Thursday, May 18, 2006

Something there is that doesn't love a wall

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., has been quite entertaining to watch during the increasingly shrill debate over illegal immigration, which strangely enough managed to wait until an election year to become an urgent crisis of great magnitude.

First Sessions called for a giant 2,000-mile border fence, which would stop all outsiders who didn't have access to things like boats or airplanes or shovels. Then he sounded the alarm about the imminent threat of the equivalent of the entire population of the rest of North America moving to the United States within 20 years. Then, perhaps uncertain that engineering and math were the only subjects he'd need to persuade listeners to his side, Sessions turned to American literature to share wisdom from beloved poet Robert Frost: "Good fences make good neighbors."

It's the most famous line from Frost's poem "Mending Wall," and it's often quoted as a self-apparent maxim. However, the poem itself conveys exactly the opposite sentiment, as Frost condemns humans' stubborn insistence on erecting barriers between each other instead of living peacefully side by side and getting to know one another. The "good fences" line, which the narrator's neighbor repeats reflexively and thoughtlessly as a defense mechanism, is the ultimate symbol of that much-maligned intransigence.

More than 90 years after Frost set a tempting literary trap for the unwary, Sessions walked right into it.


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