To paraphrase the late Biggie Smalls: Mo Brooks, mo’ problems.
The two-term Alabama Republican congressman finds himself in a media firestorm for accusing Democrats of waging a “war on whites.” He subsequently dug in by saying whites are now “the one race that can be discriminated against.”
Huffington Post’s Jason Linkins captured the general reaction well when he crowned Brooks the new king of the “Nativist Crank Caucus.”
Brooks’ phrasing was unfortunate, though he did at least have the good fashion sense not to declare a war on whites after Labor Day. (I’m tempted to say that if the war on whites is as effective as the war on drugs or the war on poverty, we palefaces have little to worry about.)
His rhetoric was problematic first of all for the obvious reasons: it seems to suggest a hankering for the “good old days” on race in America, which unfortunately never existed.
It also betrays a certain tone-deafness. Reading ponderous Joan Walsh essays about white privilege, awful as that is, isn’t quite in the same league as the indignities faced by black Americans for much of this country’s history. Even the real unfairness and injustice of some race-conscious affirmative action programs is far less brutal and systematic than Jim Crow.
A political party that wants communities of color to believe it understands their everyday struggles should not have leaders who speak as if the average white suburbanite lives like Tom Robinson in “To Kill A Mockingbird.”
But Brooks’ war was ill-advised for another, less conventional wisdom-compliant reason: it obscured some of the more sensible things that he had to say.
First, Brooks argued that issues like immigration are not — if you’ll pardon the expression — really a war between whites and everyone else. “[I]f you look at the polling data, every demographic group agrees with the rule of law, enforcing and securing our borders, and every one them understands that illegal immigration hurts every single demographic group,” he told Laura Ingraham.
“It doesn’t make any difference if you are a white American, a black American, a Hispanic American, an Asian American, or if you’re a woman or a man,” Brooks continued. “Every single demographic group is hurt by falling wages and lost jobs.”
Much of our current appetite for low-wage, relatively low-skilled immigration seems driven by a desire to import workers for a disproportionately white upper class at the expense of working-class Americans who are themselves disproportionately black and Latino. I’ve never heard a good explanation for why opposing such a policy is inherently racist.
Brooks, however, does attempt to explain why this position might be described as racist. “So the Democrats, they have to demagogue on this and try and turn it into a racial issue, which is an emotional issue, rather than a thoughtful issue,” he argued. “If it becomes a thoughtful issue, then we win and we win big. And they lose and they lose big.”
In other words, liberals sometimes treat legitimate policy disputes as proclamations of racial hatred. They have done so almost from the moment modern American conservatism became ascendant as a political force, treating any disagreement as “white backlash.”
That’s not to say that liberals were always wrong. George Wallace really existed. So did all those segregationist voters in the Deep South who voted Republican for the first time in their lives after Barry Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
There were even more people who meant well but didn’t fully comprehend the nuances of race in America that fell outside their personal experience. Who weren’t articulate and whose words could give offense, intentional or not. People, perhaps, like Mo Brooks.
But there were also millions of Americans who were legitimately tired of high taxes and high crime, who thought the Great Society didn’t deliver on its promises, for reasons that had nothing to do with hatred of anybody. The failure of liberals to appreciate this is a major reason the Democratic Party went from carrying 44 states in the 1964 presidential election to only one state (plus the District of Columbia) eight short years later in 1972.
Fifty years later, racism is invoked as the all-purpose explanation for why some Americans would prefer Ben Carson or Herman Cain as president to Barack Obama. Nativism is said to be the sole reason some Americans believe their government has a fiduciary duty to lawful residents of the United States, a group of people who come in all colors and are not always native-born.
That doesn’t necessarily add up to a war on whites. But it’s no way to run a country.
W. James Antle III is the editor of The Daily Caller News Foundation and author of the book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter.