Could it really be about race after all?


According to the reviews (Paul Krugman and Robin Wells in NYRB and Michiko Kakutani in the NYTimes) Thomas Edsall, in The Age of Austerity, claims that the Republican focus on “the debt crisis” is a masque for something else:  Race.  Because talk about race is obviously unfair and unseemly, anyone who wants to use it as a wedge in political discourse has to find a surrogate for it, and according to Edsall the new surrogate is the national debt.  As he sees it, the national debt argument has  nuances in it – deniable insinuations – that suggest that the problem is people of color. 

This is how Kakutani summarizes Edsall’s argument:  

“Though it has won elections for four decades ‘by mobilizing white voters, especially white married Christians,’ [Edsall] says, this base is ‘steadily eroding, while Democratic voting blocs — Hispanics, African-Americans, other minorities, and single women — are expanding as a share of the electorate.’ ” … Because of these changing demographics, . . .  Republican leaders “see the window closing on the opportunity to dismantle the liberal state.”

This how Krugman and Wells put it:  

[According to Edsall], “this changing face of the electorate has had the effect of radicalizing the GOP. ‘For whites with a conservative bent,’ he writes . . . ‘the shift to a majority-minority nation [i.e., a nation in which minorities will make up the majority] will strengthen the already widely held view that programs benefiting the poor are transferring their taxpayer dollars to minority recipients, from first whites to blacks and now to ‘browns.’””[W]hat he portrays is a Republican Party that has been radicalized not by a struggle over resources—tax rates on the wealthy are lower than they have been in generations—but by fear of losing its political grip as the nation changes.  [He documents] . . . the extent to which immigrants and their children are, literally, changing the face of the American electorate.Why, exactly, must there be a “death struggle” over resources when the US economy could, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates, be producing an extra $900 billion worth of goods and services right now if it would only put unemployed workers and other unused resources back to work? Why must there be a bitter struggle over the budget when the US government, while admittedly running large deficits, remains able to borrow at the lowest interest rates in history?. . . We have a depressed economy in large part because Republicans have blocked almost every Obama initiative designed to create jobs, even refusing to confirm Obama nominees to the board of the Federal Reserve. (MIT’s Peter Diamond, a Nobel laureate, was rejected as lacking sufficient qualifications.) We have a huge battle over deficits, not because deficits actually pose an immediate problem, but because conservatives have found deficit hysteria a useful way to attack social programs.

Deficit hysteria in order to attack social programs, which are by insinuation programs for blacks and browns — this is the Republican strategy, says Edsall.  This emphasis, he says, is a charade that conceals nuances of race inside discussions about economics. 

Could it really be?  Debate over the debt crisis is, for one side, merely a rhetorical ploy?

Consider what this says about the way leadership operates in this case.  The argument says that 
[1] the core leadership of the party considers the long term possibilities for the party in terms of the demographic trends of race (whites versus blacks and browns); and that 
[2] they frame their political agendas so as to get the ordinary people who identify with their party (in this case whites?) to vote for their cause and even, especially, to become the troops of the party program by alarming them over the rising power of the darker elements of our population.

Many aspects of this kind of agenda are indeed unseemly.  It assumes that the ordinary American people who identify with the Republican Party are racist or can be activated over issues that imply  race.  I hope not.  I would like to believe that the American people are better than that.