The America John Boehner grew up in

THE AMERICA JOHN BOEHNER GREW UP IN…. The interview House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) did with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review this week turned out to be a pretty big deal. His remarks comparing the global financial crisis to “an ant” continue to be the subject of debate, as do his comments about raising the Social Security retirement age in order to pay for the wars in the Middle East.

But I’m also glad to see interest in another quote linger. In reference to Democrats, Boehner said, “They’re snuffing out the America that I grew up in.”

Nostalgia for the 1950s and 1960s isn’t uncommon, but it’s worth considering exactly what Boehner wants to go back to.

Michael Tomasky, for example, had a great item yesterday noting some of the policies that were common during Boehner’s youth.

In the America John Boehner grew up in, the top marginal tax rate on wealthy earners was 90%. It had gone up there during the war, and five, 10, 15 years after armistice, no sizable group, Democrat or Republican, felt any strong urge to lower it.

In the America John Boehner grew up in, private-sector union membership was around or above 30%. Today’s figure is 7%. The right to form a union was broadly accepted. Outside of a few small turbulent pockets, there was no such thing as today’s union-busting law firms hired by management to go into workplaces and intimidate workers.

Is this the American Boehner wants to return to? I imagine Democrats would be happy to talk about it.

For that matter, America in the 1950s and 1960s was also heavily regulated — airlines didn’t even set their own prices — and there weren’t many complaints about “big government”‘ or “excessive spending” when a Republican president (Eisenhower) launched one of the biggest domestic infrastructure projects in history (the interstate highway system). Is this the American Boehner wants to return to?

What’s more, politically, the Republican Party was very moderate — indeed, it had plenty of northern liberals — and, when it came to congressional votes, partisanship was a historic low. The GOP establishment was aware of right-wing nuts who wanted to eliminate Social Security and the rest of the New Deal reforms, but Republicans considered them bizarre kooks, better left ignored, or as the Republican president of the era labeled them, “stupid.” Is this the American Boehner wants to return to?

Socially, America in the 1950s and 1960s was a repressive place for African Americans, Jews, and gays, and by any reasonable standard, women were second-class citizens in every aspect of American life. Is this the American Boehner wants to return to?

That’s not really a rhetorical question. If the would-be Speaker wants to argue publicly that Democrats are trying “snuff out” the America that he grew up in, the public should know exactly what it is about that era he wants to fight to protect, or more to the point, bring back.