As the Republican Party tries, however fruitlessly, to change its image to one of greater acceptance so as to avoid withering on the vine before the next national election, not everybody has gotten the memo. While some in Washington carefully tweak the language and chide each other for being insensitive, Alaska’s lone congressman, Republican Don Young, is still talking about “wetbacks.” And pretty casually at that. He dropped the term while talking to reporters about economic development in his state, making the point that some jobs had been lost to machines: “My father had a ranch; we used to have 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes,” he said. “It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine.”
The Huffington Post points out that Young has a reputation for being publicly uncouth: He once waved a walrus penis bone around at a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hearing, and he said the word “butt-fucking” in front of some students in Fairbanks. But the casual racism is a different thing altogether, and it belies an attitude from which the GOP desperately wants to distance itself.
Young knows he screwed up. A statement from his office offered this explanation: “I used a term that was commonly used during my days growing up on a farm in central California. I know that this term is not used in the same way nowadays and I meant no disrespect.”
Whatever the reason, referring to migrant workers as “wetbacks” is no way to go about “welcoming in.”