The Birthers and Jim Crow 2.0

The manufactured anger driving the birthers and health care town halls is the same white rage that has divided poor white people from poor black people for all of our history.

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Webb wants Democrats to finally free the poor white mind from the grip of its self-defeating fear. “If this cultural group could get at the same table with black America, you could rechange populist American politics,” he told Morning Joe viewers. “Because they have so much in common in terms of what they need out of government.”

Webb wasn’t the first to make the point, but he’s been the only one to get away with it. In the 2004 primary, Howard Dean got maligned by fellow Dems for saying it; Obama tried and failed to make the point during the great “bitter” debate of 2008. The anxieties of poor whites have become the third rail of Democratic politics.

But Democrats cannot avoid the conversation. Indeed, poor white anxiety will only grow as the nation becomes ever more demonstrably multiracial. Either profiteering white elites like Limbaugh will whip them into violence, or someone will finally figure out how to build the populist coalition of Webb’s dreams.


Kai Wright is The Root’s senior writer.

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