This afternoon, National Review Online published an opinion piece by Jay Nordlinger that caused a lot of consternation over the use of the word “wetback,” which many consider to be a racial slur:

Truth is, some conservatives lamented that [former President Ronald Reagan] had indeed “grown” in office. He had gone out of his way to accommodate liberals and moderates, and to accommodate the Kremlin. He was raising taxes, spending like crazy, welcoming wetbacks, pursuing arms control. One common cry from the right was, “None of this would be happening if Ronald Reagan were alive.”

Anyway, that was a long time ago. He is now our Saint Ronald. We have moved on to calling Mitt Romney a marshmallow. No conservative ever said a bad word about Reagan (and all Frenchmen joined the Resistance).

Critics wasted no time in imputing the ugliest motives to Nordlinger:

It was immediately clear to most fair-minded observers, however, that Nordlinger was attempting to characterize not his own views, but the views of President Reagan’s critics at the time.

One Nordlinger critic initially scoffed at that explanation.

But he later seemed to concede the point:

Nordlinger received word of the complaints, and posted a response:

What has gotten knickers in a twist is that word “wetback.” What should have been clear is that I was reflecting a certain mentality: the mentality of Reagan’s critics, some of them, at that time. The angst over tax deals, amnesty deals, arms deals, etc.

I have no doubt that most readers knew what I was doing. But I guess you have to issue these little “clarifications” for the benefit of the dim.

Look: I am not a politician. I’m a writer. And if you don’t like what I write — for heaven’s sake, there are 8 billion others you can click on. I would further say to the complainers, using a phrase I’ve never liked, frankly: Get a life. Get a frickin’ life.

One more word: If people wet their pants on seeing the word “wetback,” this country is as far gone as the most pessimistic and alarmist people say it is.

Two more words: Good grief.

Were some of Reagan’s critics racist jerks? If by “some” Nordlinger means “more than one,” we suppose that is — technically speaking — a factually accurate statement. It is surely true that there were at least two anti-Mexican racists among the millions of critics of Reagan’s amnesty law.

We believe, however, that Nordlinger was implying that many (or most?) amnesty critics fell into the “racist jerk” category. That, it seems to us, is a terribly unfair smear. Critics of Reagan’s amnesty program had legitimate concerns at the time, and those concerns have been largely borne out by history.