Come On, Folks, Give Nikki Haley a Break

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My Twitter feed has been alight with mockery of the latest from South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley: “We’ve never, in the history of this country, passed any laws or done anything based on race or religion,” she said at a press conference today. What an idiot!

But, you know, always click the link. Here’s the full quote:

When you’ve got immigrants who are coming here legally, we’ve never in the history of this country passed any laws or done anything based on race or religion. Let’s not start that now.

This still isn’t quite correct: After World War I a series of immigration restrictions were passed that explicitly favored northern European whites; limited immigration of Southern and Eastern Europeans; and banned Asian immigrants almost entirely. Still, Haley can be forgiven for not knowing about this or other examples of restrictive immigration laws. It’s not especially common knowledge these days. In any case, she obviously wasn’t pretending that Jim Crow and its ilk never existed.

So let’s dial down the faux outrage. Haley was doing the Lord’s work here, criticizing Donald Trump’s call to bar Muslims from entering the country. In fact, given the context, she might have meant to refer not to immigrants at all, but merely to people visiting the country on ordinary visas—in which case she didn’t really say anything wrong at all. Either way, though, she did nothing worse than betray an incomplete knowledge of American history while talking off the cuff. It’s hardly a big deal.

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