The New Republic editorializes against some Republican candidates’ anti-amnesty ads:
And, in many ways, these spots are far cruder than the racial code words used by the GOP back when it relied on its vaunted post-segregation Southern strategy. But the connection between these ads and the old Willie Horton-style productions is clear enough. In 1990, for instance, Jesse Helms, seeking reelection against a black candidate, aired an ad that blared: “You needed that job, and you were the best qualified. But they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota.” While the target of Republican ads has shifted, the language remains nearly identical. “You needed that job, and you were the best qualified,” Vernon Robinson’s inflammatory ad announces, as the viewer witnesses a white woman cradling her head in her hands. “But they gave it to an illegal alien so they could pay him under the table.”
Now it may be that Vern Robinson is a rough customer, and other parts of the ad–and other ads of his–do seem objectionable. But the bit I’ve just quoted–and, for that matter, the bit from the old Helms ad–strike me as within the bounds of political debate. Racial preferences do sometimes have the effect depicted in the Helms ad; employers do sometimes prefer illegal labor in order to pay low wages; and there is nothing illegitimate about appealing to the people who lose out from these tendencies. Or, at least, if there is, it’s not clear to me what.