House Minority Leader John Boehner recently complained that Barack Obama and congressional Democrats “are snuffing out the America that I grew up in.”
Mike Tomasky observes that this is in many ways an odd statement. The America that John Boehner grew up in—the America of the 1950s and early 1960s—was in many respects a much more statist and left-wing America. Certainly it was an America with dramatically higher top marginal income tax rates, much less income inequality, and much higher levels of unionization, especially in the private sector. Tomasky might have added along these lines that it was a much more regulated America. Prices for all kinds of goods and services were set by government commissions. A bank in Maryland couldn’t open a branch in Virginia or Delaware.
But of course 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?