The limited practical benefits of xenophobia

THE LIMITED PRACTICAL BENEFITS OF XENOPHOBIA…. Twelve years ago, Alabama voters grew so weary of then-Gov. Fob James’ (R) nonsense — he seemed far more interested in promoting the Ten Commandments than governing — that they gave him the boot after one term. This year, his son Tim is running for the same job, and he appears to be a chip off the old block.

In his first TV ad, the younger James asks, “Why do our politicians make us give driver license exams in 12 languages? This is Alabama. We speak English. If you want to live here, learn it. We’re only giving that test in English — if I’m governor. Maybe it’s the business man in me, but we’ll save money. And it make sense. [lengthy pause] Does it to you?”

That was probably a rhetorical question, but actually, no, it doesn’t.

Tim James may or may not have thought to look into this before using it as the basis for a television ad, but Alabama administers the test in multiple languages in order to qualify for federal transportation funding. If a James administration insisted on dropping the current standards, it wouldn’t “save money” for Alabama; it would do the exact opposite. For that matter, courts have, more than once, rejected efforts to mandate English-only exams.

What’s more, as a substantive matter, the reason officials want the exam to be available in multiple languages in the first place is because they want drivers to get drivers licenses and demonstrate proficiency when it comes to operating a vehicle and understanding the rules.

But these details aren’t really what matter to Alabama Republicans. As Tim Fernholz explained, “Maintaining federal funding, keeping the roads safe, or even simple nondiscrimination don’t seem to matter to James. He’d rather exploit racial tension and hostility toward the national government to get ahead.”