Pat Buchanan Speaks for 'White America'
by Charles Lemos, Mon Feb 23, 2009 at 07:56:24 PM EST
Last week, I noted that CNBC analyst and CBOT trader Rick Santelli's televised rant presaged a revival of white ethnic politics by the right and the GOP. To prove my point that Mr. Santelli is not likely to be an isolated outburst as if on cue here's Pat Buchanan adding to our national 'conversation' with a short column for that widely read and must read publication Catholic Citizens:
Barack says we need to have a conversation about race in America . Fair enough. But this time, it has to be a two-way conversation. White America needs to be heard from, not just lectured to. This time, the Silent Majority needs to have its convictions, grievances and demands heard. And among them are these:
First, America has been the best country on earth for black folks. It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity blacks have ever known. Wright ought to go down on his knees and thank God he is an American.
Second, no people anywhere have done more to lift up blacks than white Americans. Untold trillions have been spent since the ' 60s on welfare, food stamps, rent supplements, Section 8 housing, Pell grants, student loans, legal services, Medicaid, Earned Income Tax Credits and poverty programs designed to bring the African-American community into the mainstream. Governments, businesses and colleges have engaged in discrimination against white folks -- with affirmative action, contract set-asides and quotas -- to advance black applicants over white applicants. Churches, foundations, civic groups, schools and individuals all over America have donated their time and money to support soup kitchens, adult education, day care, retirement and nursing homes for blacks.
We hear the grievances. Where is the gratitude???
Barack talks about new 'ladders of opportunity' for blacks. Let him go to Altoona ? And Johnstown Pa, and ask the white kids in Catholic schools how many were visited lately by Ivy League recruiters handing out scholarships for 'deserving' white kids.? Is white America really responsible for the fact that the crime and incarceration rates for African-Americans are seven times those of white America ? Is it really white America 's fault that illegitimacy in the African-American community has hit 70 percent and the black dropout rate from high schools in some cities has reached 50 percent?
Is that the fault of white America or, first and foremost, a failure of the black community itself?
As for racism, its ugliest manifestation is in interracial crime, and especially interracial crimes of violence.. Is Barack Obama aware that while white criminals choose black victims 3 percent of the time, black criminals choose white victims 45 percent of the time?
Is Barack aware that black-on-white rapes are 100 times more common than the reverse, that black-on-white robberies were 139 times as common in the first three years of this decade as the reverse?
We have all heard ad nauseam from the Rev. Al about Tawana Brawley, the Duke rape case and Jena . And all turned out to be hoaxes. But about the epidemic of black assaults on whites that are real, we hear nothing.
Sorry, Barack, some of us have heard it all before, about 40 years and 40 trillion tax dollars ago...
Mr. Santelli's rant and Mr. Buchanan's litany of complaints are also nothing new. We have heard them all before beginning in the 1970s. Even the terminology, the phrasing and the theatrics used is borrowed from that earlier era. Mr. Buchanan goes so far as to resurrect the term "silent majority."
In my post last week, I mentioned briefly President Nixon's 'northern' strategy that began to take shape in July 1970 when Rocco Siciliano, a veteran of the Eisenhower Administration, was summoned to meet with the President and with the Secretary of Transportation John Volpe. The purpose of the meeting was for the President to ascertain how his Administration could better reach out to Italian-Americans and other ethnic minorities especially northern urban Catholics. As historians Thomas Sugrue and John Skrentny noted in their essay "The White Ethnic Strategy", Nixon "had discovered 'white ethnics' - and believed that their support was essential to his political future."
Nixon was right. His courting of white ethnics was one of the pillars of his 1972 landslide re-election but more importantly Nixon set the ground work for the GOP to capture a segment of voters we now call "Reagan Democrats" that until this past election favoured the GOP more often than not. Again Mssrs. Sugrue and Skrentny observed "white ethnics burst onto the American burst onto the American scene in the early 1970s, grabbing the attention of politicians, policymakers, pundits and activists. These second- and third-generation descendants of European immigrants became the embodiment of Nixon's 'Silent Majority,' a group alienated by the civil rights movement, betrayed by liberals and simmering with 'middle-class rage.'"
Santelli's rant and Buchanan's tirade certainly qualify as rage but it's certainly not middle-class nor interested really in serving the interests of the middle class. Their comments form the basis of wedge politics that Lee Atwater invented and Karl Rove refined. These comments are at their core an attempt to recapture the ground recently lost by appealing with arguments that have worked brilliantly for the GOP in the past.
Historian Matthew Frye Jacobson wrote the definitive tome on the white ethnic phenomenon, a classic work entitled "Roots Too." Here's a portion of a review of the book by Whitney Strub:
Jacobson frames the ethnic revival as largely (but not entirely) congruent with the post-LBJ resurgence of conservatism, identifying three points of intersection: white ethnic voters have favored the Republican Party as it has captured all three branches of the federal government; white ethnics staff much of the New Right, from neoconservative intellectuals to Rudy Giuliani; and the ethnic mythology of immigration and uplift structures the rhetoric and substance of many contemporary policy debates, from welfare to affirmative action.
It is to that final point that Jacobson turns his main focus, with sharp insight. Ethnic revival shifted the iconography of Americanism from WASPy Plymouth Rock to downtrodden Ellis Island, which in turn normalized a narrative of immigration, poverty, hardscrabble work and sacrifice, and eventual uplift over the generations into educated, suburban comfort. The political use-value of this story is immense. First, it gives white ethnics an excuse to oppose social welfare programs: "my grandfather didn't get any handouts, he worked for a living," etc. Second, it legitimizes opposition to affirmative action programs or plans for slavery reparation on similar grounds, since most ethnic immigrants arrived after the WASP elite had eradicated many Native Americans and instituted and abolished slavery: this time, "my grandparents didn't own any slaves/kill any Indians," etc. The unspoken but obvious implications of these arguments are obvious; in the hands of politicians like Richard Nixon, they take aim at the inner-city black underclass (already excluded from the Ellis Island narrative by virtue of Africans' coerced means of entrance to America), blaming it for its own poverty and thus absolving white voters of any moral obligation to lend help. If Italians, Jews, and others could climb up the social ladder on their bootstraps alone, why can't African Americans?
Neither Mr. Santelli nor Mr. Buchanan seem to realize that what allowed for their and that of the white ethnics' jump up in American society were the policies enacted by FDR collectively called the New Deal that led to what economic historians call the "Great Compression". Income inequality declined drastically from the late 1930s to the mid 1940s, with the wealthy losing ground while working class Americans saw unprecedented gains becoming in a less than a generation the backbone of a burgeoning middle class. While the Great Compression benefited an urban, northern and a largely immigrant working class, African-Americans were largely left behind. And when LBJ attempted to remedy that situation, white ethnics fled the party of their parents and grandparents responsible for bringing their new affluence for Nixon and Reagan.
It is also important to note what drove this Great Compression was essentially three factors: strong unions, a high minimum wage, and a progressive tax system. These conditions are absent in the America of 2009. It's time to restore them and let Mr. Santelli and Mr. Buchanan howl to the moon ad nauseum.