It's always something
John Harwood of the New York Times discovers that race is at the heart of much of our political polarization. Imagine that:
Whites tend to hold negative views of Obamacare, while blacks tend to like it. Specifically, 55 percent of whites, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found this year, consider Mr. Obama’s health care law a bad idea, while 59 percent of blacks call it a good idea. On immigration, 51 percent of whites oppose legal status for illegal residents, but 63 percent of blacks and 76 percent of Hispanics favor it.
The statistics mirror the core philosophical division in Washington’s fierce battles over taxes, spending and debt. Whites say government does too much, while blacks and Hispanics say it should do more to meet people’s needs.
Those attitudes, and the continued growth of the nonwhite population, have produced this sometimes-overlooked result: American politics has grown increasingly polarized by race, as well as by party and ideology.
Overlooked by the mainstream media, maybe. But it's been obvious to the rest of us for well... forever.
Remember this stuff from about 10 years ago?
Bill explains that he "slid into the Minutemen" because he was disturbed by the way his neighborhood was changing, and the other Minutemen standing with him nod in agreement. "Dormitory-style homes" have popped up on their streets, Bill says, and the residents come and go at strange hours. Their neighbors' children are intimidated and no longer like to play outside, in part because "we've got about 17 cars coming and going from our neighbors' houses." Matt, another Minuteman who lives in nearby Manassas, claims that the police have busted prostitution rings operating out of nearby properties.
A moldy oldie from me:
Bill doesn't want his name printed, he tells me, because he worries about retaliation from the local Hispanic gang, MS-13. Pointing to the cluster of day-laborers across the street, he explains to me that the Herndon 7-11 is "a social gathering place, too." Taplin has publicly objected to a regulated day-laborer site set to open in Herndon on December 19--proposed in order to combat the trespassing, litter, and nuisance complaints that have arisen in conjunction with the informal 7-11 site--because he worries that even a regulated locale wouldn't change "their behaviors." Even on the coldest mornings, more than 50 workers often convene at the 7-11, and Bill judges that sometimes only 10 or 20 get hired. "When," he asks me, "is it ever a good thing for 40 men to hang out together?"
These anxieties may be overblown, in some cases borderline racist; but they are not, unfortunately, outside the mainstream. In Mount Pleasant, the predominantly Hispanic, rapidly gentrifying Washington neighborhood where I live, complaints have begun to surface about the groups of men that congregate on stoops or outside of convenience stores at night. Those who have complained call it loitering, but one Hispanic resident told the Post that when the men gather outdoors, "[t]hey're having coffee; they talk about issues. ... It's part of our community." For the neighborhood's Hispanic population, this practice is a cultural tradition; for its newer batch of hip, ostensibly liberal urbanites, it is disturbing, and too closely resembles something American law designates a crime.
These are people who would never admit they share anything in common with the Herndon Minutemen. But like it or not, the Minutemen are acting on anxieties many Americans share--anxieties about the challenge of enforcing the law in towns that are swelling in size due to immigration; anxieties about the challenge of integrating and accommodating an immigrant culture. Border states like California have been grappling with these issues for years, in court battles about day-laborer sites and debates over concepts like bilingual education.
Often in these conflicts those who have presented cultural, as opposed to legal, objections to uncontrolled immigration are condemned as xenophobic or racist. But as my Mount Pleasant neighbors have shown, it can be tricky to disentangle legal from cultural discomfort.
1955 - They are an inferior race
What's astonishing is that the media seems to discover this every decade or so and then assumes it's gone away. And yeah, it is the basis for "the core philosophical division in Washington’s fierce battles over taxes, spending and debt. Whites say government does too much, while blacks and Hispanics say it should do more to meet people’s needs." And there's nothing new about it.
1965 - They aren't good workers
1975 - They make old white customers uncomfortable
1985 - Affirmative action means their diplomas are bogus
1995 - They're the victims of a culture of dependency
2005 - They're culturally out of step with the mainstream
It's always something.