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"White-Bread"—The Ethnic Slur That Nobody Notices Is an Ethnic Slur
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June 26, 2016, 06:40 PM
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Nicholas Lemann, former head of the Columbia School of Journalism, reviews Yuval Levin’s new book The Fractured Republic in the New York Times:
Why Conservative Intellectuals Hate Trump

By NICHOLAS LEMANN JUNE 21, 2016

THE FRACTURED REPUBLIC

Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism

By Yuval Levin

262 pp. Basic Books. $27.50.

Every so often, a well-timed political manifesto comes out near the beginning of a presidency and functions as a kind of billboard for whatever new era the administration believes it is ushering in. …

Yuval Levin’s “The Fractured ­Republic” could have been one of these books — but that would require not only that the ­Republican Party recapture the White House this year, but also that it produce a different nominee than Donald J. Trump.

Levin aims to rescue the country from the big-­government tendencies of the Clinton and Obama administrations; and ­although he doesn’t say so explicitly, there is an unmistakable strain of disapproval for George W. Bush’s presidency here too (for such grand gestures as the Iraq war, No Child Left Behind and the vastly expensive Medicare prescription drug benefit). Levin, whose previous book was in large part about Edmund Burke, wants us above all, in Burke’s famous phrase, “to love the ­little platoon we belong to in society.” And his own little platoon is such — he is the very plugged-in editor of the journal ­National Affairs and, as The New Republic put it in 2013, “the conservative movement’s great intellectual hope” — that his views would be sure to get a high-level hearing in a non-Trump Republican Washington.

Levin believes that both parties, in their different ways, are caught up in the fundamental mistake of wanting to restore such features of post-World War II America as steadily rising incomes and low economic inequality, hegemony in the global economy, growing government, broad membership in the mainstream religions and a white-bread mass culture.

The term “white-bread,” I discovered a couple of years ago, has had an interesting evolution over the generations from a goal of consumer health and safety advocates to the ethnic slur that virtually nobody notices is an ethnic slur. The use of “white-bread” as an ethnic slur broke through into mass culture by its use by comedians such as Milton Berle, Mel Brooks, Jackie Mason, Woody Allen, and Harry Shearer. Of course, the irony in the phrase “white-bread mass culture” is that these comedians were about as “mass culture” as you could get in the era of 3-4 networks. For example, in 1951, NBC signed Uncle Miltie to a million dollar per year contract for 30 years.

[Comment at Unz.com]