One reason for this expanded definition of racism is that the Right is no longer racist as the word has been traditionally understood. Republicans don’t believe in the superiority of the white (or any other) race, in a racial hierarchy, in the separation of the races, in separate but equal, in states’ rights (as they impinge on civil rights or racial justice), or in any of the other expressions of white supremacy as they have obtained in U.S. history. When they did believe in those things, moreover, they believed in them less fervently and less practically than did the Democrats. Today, only a relative handful of white Americans are racist in the way that millions once were — and they are a dying breed. Most Americans under the age of about 55 have internalized the idea of an easygoing racial and social equality. So if the Democrats are to accuse their opponents of racism, they have to define the word in an extravagant way — or not define it at all — so as to have it available to scapegoat anything that stands in their way politically.
As it happens, the Democrats and liberals increasingly find charges of racism essential to their electoral campaigns. They are today the minority/majority party — that is, their coalition consists of the minority of the (white) majority plus majorities of the minorities. (The GOP in turn is the party uniting the majority of the majority with minorities of the minorities.) Hispanic Americans, black Americans, and recent immigrants have apparent economic interests that align them naturally with progressive Democrats proposing the extension of government programs. But these shared interests are not always sufficient to get poor people and new citizens to the voting booth even in good times. When Democratic administrations fail to deliver the social and economic improvements they have promised, moreover, their supporters lose enthusiasm. Black Americans, for instance, face severe social disadvantages, starting with very poor public schools; but what stands in the way of their improvement is not white racism but the teachers’ unions, which happen to be allied with the Democrats. That example could be multiplied across the whole range of social and economic policy, from immigration to unemployment. So candidates and campaigns exploit accusations of racism to strengthen the ethnic loyalties that provide social cement for blocs of the Left and to fire up their supporters on Election Day. President Clinton, for instance, misinterpreted church bombings as racist attacks on black America and simultaneously exaggerated their extent for the purpose of getting out the maximum black vote. It was a seedy kind of success.