Ross Douthat's Brown-and-Beige Revenge Fantasy

This week's RightWatch takes aim at a New York Times columnist who imagines people of color cutting off benefits to elderly whites.

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Courtesy of the Observer

If there's one thing you've got to give right-wingers credit for, it's coming up with new ways to scare the pants off of white people. When it comes to playing the race card, their creativity is unsurpassed.

A recent example of this unique talent could be found the other day on, of all unlikely places, the op-ed page of the New York Times. The stink bomb dropped there by columnist Ross Douthat suggests that the right wing has come up with yet another fresh -- and seductively innovative -- strategy to ally racial paranoia with its war on taxes.

Born in 1979 and a graduate of Harvard, Douthat is too young and too smart to resort to the sort of nakedly racist sloganeering that Republicans have relied upon in the past to appeal to white folks' resentments. There's no ugly rhetoric like the Willie Horton TV spots that propelled George Bush into the White House or Ronald Reaganesque ranting about welfare queens. Instead, he wraps his devilishly devious message in cool, almost scholarly prose.

He starts by trotting out familiar conservative arguments that heavier taxes could stifle entrepreneurial incentives and make it harder for young families to climb the socioeconomic ladder. And then, with no fanfare at all, he throws all logic aside to make an incendiary assertion about the "ugly political consequences" of Barack Obama's proposals for reforming Medicare:

"Historically, the most successful welfare states (think Scandinavia) have depended on ethnic solidarity to sustain their tax-and-transfer programs. But the working-age America of the future will be far more diverse than the retired cohort it's laboring to support. Asking a population that's increasingly brown and beige to accept punishing tax rates while white seniors receive roughly $3 in Medicare benefits for every dollar they paid in (the projected ratio in the 2030s) [pdf] promises to polarize the country along racial as well as generational lines."

Say what? Is Douthat really suggesting that if Obama's ideas hold sway, blacks, Latinos and Asians would wage class warfare against elderly white people over Medicare? You betcha he is.

Hertzberg is dead right about Douthat's polemic. When you strip away its condescending veneer, Douthat's argument boils down to a claim that in the future, we black, brown and yellow folks will become as stingy and shortsighted as many whites were in the past, when they fought against paying taxes for schools and social programs that they perceived to be benefiting minorities.

There's not a shred of evidence to support these dire prognostications. In fact, the elderly white people whom Douthat claims to be so worried about are more likely to have their health benefits taken away by budget-cutting right-wingers than by more liberal nonwhites.

This is simply another case of introducing a phony racial angle into a debate to score cheap political points.

Jack White is a regular contributor to The Root.

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