When House Republican leader (and would-be Speaker) John Boehner claimed the other day that Democrats were “snuffing out the America I grew up in,” it didn’t cause much reaction (or at least far less than his remarks on Social Security and on financial regulation), since it’s the kind of thing conservatives say all the time. But as Mike Tomasky quickly noted, it was a very strange statement if you actually think the problem with Democrats is their addiction to big government and their subservience to unions:
Boehner was born in November 1949. Let’s take a look at the America he grew up in.
In the America John Boehner grew up in, the top marginal tax rate on wealthy earners was 90%. It had gone up there during the war, and five, 10, 15 years after armistice, no sizable group, Democrat or Republican, felt any strong urge to lower it.
In the America John Boehner grew up in, private-sector union membership was around or above 30%. Today’s figure is 7%. The right to form a union was broadly accepted. Outside of a few small turbulent pockets, there was no such thing as today’s union-busting law firms hired by management to go into workplaces and intimidate workers.
That’s all very true. But as Matt Yglesias observes, the country was in fact a lot more conservative back then on the cultural front:
[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?
What indeed? Let’s all remember Boehner’s regret for the passing of the good ol’ days of high taxes, strong unions, Jim Crow and homophobia next time we are told that the GOP wants to declare a truce in the culture wars, or only cares about economic or fiscal issues.