Whatever the new Republican majority does with the immense congressional power it seized in last November’s elections, it will probably be unimportant compared to the force that started to emerge in the same elections and which the national leadership of the Republican Party, and even more the Democratic Party, tried to ignore, denounce, and destroy. The emergence of the Republican majority, of course, is important in terms of the conventional politics of the nation. Not only has it converted the remaining tenure of the Clinton administration into a two-year-long sequel to Night of the Living Dead, this time with the zombies lurching around in the Oval Office, but it also represents the end of the New Deal electoral coalition and a great leap forward in the political consciousness of the Middle American Revolution.

By themselves those two developments are enough to make the elections of 1994 a major event in American history. But the end of the coalition that formed the electoral foundation of 20th century liberalism does not necessarily mean that a genuinely antiliberal coalition has permanently crystallized, nor does the Republican victory mean that the Republicans are authentic or adequate leaders of the revolution from which they have gained at least temporary congressional dominance.

Since its inception in the 19th century, the Republican Party has been wedded to the myth of Economic Man, which holds that the desire for material gain is the principal if not the only muscle that throbs in the human breast and that therefore all historical events can be explained in terms of economic motivation. Most Republicans are probably unaware that they share this myth with unemployed Russian Marxists and too-long-employed American professors, but the persistence of the myth in what passes for the Republican mind is evident in last }ear’s “Contract with America,” with all its budget-balancing, tax-cutting, welfare-reforming, economic-incentive proposals. It remains to be seen how many of the contract’s actual promises the Republican leadership was serious about, how much the leadership and the party will be able or willing to enact, and how much is even possible to implement, given what seem to be some glaring contradictions. But even if all of the contract sails through Congress, escapes the ignominious fate of a veto from the nation’s First Zombie, and latches itself onto the American wav of life as firmly as sitcoms and Social Security, it will do little to fill the tank of what is now rapidly becoming the principal motor of the Middle American Revolution.

That motor, the force that the established leadership of both parties sought to stop, is, in a word, race, and it is evident in the controversy over the most controversial issue in the November elections, California’s Proposition 187. That proposition was far more controversial than Ollie North or the role of the religious right, and unlike them, it will remain with us, shaping the practical politics and the impractical political conversation of the nation, for decades to come.

Originally, Proposition 187 was merely a proposal to prohibit illegal aliens from obtaining public services, mainly welfare, public education, and nonemergency public health care. The racial note was introduced near the end of the campaign, by the thousands of Hispanics waving Mexican flags, who occupied public buildings, screamed at policemen and anyone else who attracted their attention, and threatened to burn down the cities and the state if Americans dared vote contrary to their passions. On at least one occasion, they beat up an elderly American who had the courage to sport the American flag in expressing his support of 187. The man was luckier than the flag he bore, which the mob burned. These were clear expressions of a militant nonwhite and anti-American racial consciousness, which the press invariably described as “peaceful.” Just to show how peaceful they were, the National Guard and the Los Angeles Police Department were placed on full alert in the event that 187 actually passed.

In the event, of course, 187 passed by 59 percent to 41 percent, but it is in the ethnic and racial breakdown of the vote that the meaning of the proposition for the emergence of racial consciousness is most evident. From exit polls conducted by the Los Angeles Times during the voting, it appears that 63 percent of white Californians supported 187, while 55 percent of blacks, 53 percent of Asians, and a whopping 77 percent of Hispanics opposed it. The racial division is obvious: nonwhites voted together in opposing a measure that was portrayed by its foes as racially driven, while whites, who still make up 81 percent of the California electorate, supported it by a landslide margin. The racial division is evident also in the breakdown of the national vote, in which 63 percent of white men supported the Republicans. As Thomas Edsall wrote in the Washington Post shortly after the election, the mass defection of white males to the COP “violates a core concept at the heart of the Democratic Party as the party of working people. White men are those experiencing the largest wage declines, the brunt of defense cutbacks and the dramatic attenuation of corporate loyalty.”

The racial meaning of the vote is hardly surprising. For years now, politically organized nonwhite minorities in the United States have openly boasted of their ethnic consciousness, developed nationally powerful lobby groups to represent their interests, and have effectively legitimized the belief that it is their right to think, feel, vote, and behave according to their racial identity while delegitimizing the same belief for whites. Many, perhaps most, whites have permitted this development and even encouraged it, though some more aggressively than others. But what the vote for 187 tells us about whites is that they are now starting to vote for their own interests as a group, in opposition to the interests of other groups. If that trend continues, and there is every reason to believe it will, what will logically follow is the emergence of an overtly racial politics in the United States of a kind that we have not seen before.

Of course, not all whites supported 187, and most prominent among those who attacked it were presidential perennial Jack Kemp and Bill “Mr. Virtue” Bennett himself. The two neoconservatives hastened to California to harangue the masses with their insight that “the American national identity is not based on ethnicity, or race, or national origin, or religion. The American national identity is based on a creed, on a set of principles and ideas.” Of course, that is a common view of the American identity, one that has been repeatedly expressed throughout our history, but there are at least two problems with it. In the first place, it happens to be untrue. In the second place, it happens to be dangerous and even suicidal.

It is untrue because the major fact about American national identity is that it is an identity created by British settlers and later European immigrants and therefore is almost exclusively the achievement of white Europeans. Whatever pleasantries of universalism may turn up in the patriotic oratory and public documents of American history, no one can claim that the American identity is really the watery abstraction the Kemp-Bennett statement purports it to be. Behind those pleasantries lie the concrete identity, experience, and aspirations of a homogeneous people “of a common blood,” as Jefferson put it in his draft of the Declaration of Independence, and to reduce that essentially racial as well as cultural heritage to the bloodless “principles and ideas” that Kemp and Bennett tout is not only a confession of the most dismal ignorance but also a trumpeting of the most brazen betrayal.

Moreover, the Kemp-Bennett claim is dangerous because it fundamentally misrepresents the nature of a nation or of any collective political identity other than a debating society. If indeed being an American were “based on a creed, on a set of principles and ideas,” then any person in the world who adhered to that creed would be an American. That might be fine with the open borders crowd whom the Kemp-Bennett statement was designed to please, but it also means that any person who does not adhere to the creed is not an American, and in asserting the creedal identity of the United States, the Kemp-Bennett statement comes close to formulating the grounds of a new totalitarianism. The Soviet Union was “based on a creed,” and Russians who dissented from the creed were punished severely. How else could a state defining itself through a creed cohere? So far from opening the national gates to anyone who wants to come here, defining American national identity in terms of a creed actually guarantees a closed and perhaps brutally repressive regime and implies nothing whatsoever about what kind of welcome we might give to immigrants.

In the first place, if you believe in the creed, you can be a perfectly good American in the slums of Buenos Aires or the jungles of Rwanda, just as you can be a perfectly good Christian or a perfectly good libertarian or a perfectly good communist, and there is no reason at all for you to come here or go anywhere. In the second place, if adhering to the creed is what makes you an American, then why not give creed tests to all immigrants, or indeed to native Americans, and if they do not subscribe to the Gospel according to Jack and Bill, why not round ’em up and send ’em back? No one knows what any of the immigrants to this country, legal or illegal, past or present, believe or have believed, and there is no reason for anyone to be examined or tested as to what he believes before being admitted. The creedal basis of national identity that Kemp and Bennett blather about may sound both high-minded and broad-minded, but upon examination, it (like so much else of what they have to say) turns out to be false and, if it were taken any more seriously than most of the slogans and bumper-stickers that pass for high political theory among neoconservatives, it could serve as the basis of a far more restrictive regime than any nativist has ever conceived.

Despite the defection of white neoconservatives and the left, the emergence of an overtly racial politics among whites in the vote for 187 suggests that in the future, race will become a significant element in what it means to be an American, and that is hardly unprecedented. As the late M.E. Bradford pointed out in an essay on immigration, the very first congressional naturalization statute in 1790 restricted American citizenship to “any alien, being a free white person,” and Bradford commented that “all of the Framers clearly expected that it would be Europeans who presented themselves for ‘membership’ here.” Stephen Douglas, in his opening shot in the Lincoln-Douglas debates, said to the cheers of his Illinois audience that “I believe this government was made on the white basis. I believe it was made b)- white men for the benefit of white men and their posterity forever, and I am in favor of confining the citizenship to white men—men of European birth and European descent, instead of conferring it upon Negroes and Indians, and other inferior races.” Douglas, of course, won the election, though his opponent did all he could to persuade the voters that he did not disagree on such points. As late as 1965, the federal immigration code restricted immigration on the basis of “national origin” (largely a circumlocution for race), and the repeal of the law was possible only because supporters of repeal denied it would alter the ethnic and racial composition of the nation.

The vote for Proposition 187 goes far to relegitimize the racial aspect of the American national identity, and the overwhelming white support for the measure suggests that an overt racial identity is now emerging as part of Middle American political and cultural consciousness. If other races and ethnic groups identify themselves and act in terms of their own racial identities, it should hardly surprise them and their white allies that whites themselves sooner or later will also begin to do so. But the larger meaning of the emergence of racial politics in America is that it directly challenges the myth of Economic Man in which both the left and the right cloak themselves. Their own allegiance to that myth is the real reason why Kemp and Bennett denounced 187 so bitterly and why the Republican Party as a whole finds immigration such a difficult issue. The emergence of racial politics means that there is something besides material gain that drives human beings, and those who adhere to the mythology of Economic Man have no room for that something in their worldview. As racial consciousness begins to mature among white Americans as it has among nonwhites. Economic Man and those elites that work for him are likely to find themselves in the ranks of the permanently unemployed.