Matt Yglesias criticized House Speaker Boehner last year for accusing the Obama administration of “snuffing out the America that I grew up in.” Yglesias pointed out at the time an obvious characteristic of “the America [Boehner] grew up in” was that it was overwhelmingly white and sexist:
But of course in many other respects the America of John Boehner’s youth was a much more right-wing country. Gays and lesbians were stuffed deep into the closet, and there was no suggestion that they should be allowed to serve openly in the military or in any other role. African-Americans were subjected to pervasive discrimination in housing and employment, and in the southern states they couldn’t vote or exercise any basic rights—all this backed by the state, and also by collusion between state authorities and ad hoc terrorist groups. It was a whiter country with dramatically fewer residents of Asian or Latin American descent. It was a more religiously observant country, and it was a country in which Jews were far from fully accepted into American life.
I’m not nostalgic for that era at all. There are a few areas of policy in which I think we’ve moved backwards since the mid-sixties, but I wouldn’t want to return to an America with almost no immigrants or to an America with a single monopoly provider of telecom services. I’m glad airlines can set their own ticket prices and I’m glad black people can sit in the front of the bus. What is it that Boehner misses?
I thought that Yglesias was making more of Boehner’s comment than was fair, given that he was speaking about healthcare policy at the time. But it looks a little different to me now, in light of Reihan Salam’s op-ed for “The Daily.” The stated purpose of Salam’s editorial is to defend Rick Perry’s record in Texas and it concludes with this remarkable paragraph:
One thing that is undeniably true is that American conservatives are overwhelmingly white in a country that is increasingly less so. As the number of Latinos and Asian-Americans has increased in coastal states like California, New York and New Jersey, many white Americans from these regions have moved inland or to the South. For at least some whites, particularly those over the age of 50, there is a sense that the country they grew up in is fading away, and that Americans with ancestors from Mexico or, as in my case, Bangladesh don’t share their religious, cultural and economic values. These white voters are looking for champions, for people who are unafraid to fight for the America they remember and love. It’s unfair to call this sentiment racist. But it does help explain at least some of our political divide.
Salam titled his op-ed “Don’t call it Racism.” But why not, exactly? In the absence of evidence for his claim that nonwhite Americans “don’t share the religious, cultural and economic values” of white Americans — he offers none — racism seems to be the best available word. Or perhaps tribalism would serve. But, either way, how is it good for the United States to destigmatize either of these consummately human, but odious (and fallacious) tendencies?