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Tuesday, November 13, 2007


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Holy Crap. I had no idea any of that went on with Reagan. (I was in junior high when he was re-elected and I campaigned against him in our school election). It doesn't surprise me that he was a white power sympathizer. That's how I look at him.

My son was the only white child in an all-African-American school last year. It taught him more about being different but being treated the same than any words I could use. It shames me that there are still people in this world who think they are different by virtue of their skin color or money or anything other than their own abilities. Thanks for posting this. I'm just sorry that we have to admit Reagan was once part of the Democratic party.


One of the things that is truly, TRULY messed up about this country - in every awful way possible - is that hardly anyone today can place the names Goodman, Chaney, or Schwerner. And it should be every American's duty to know whose these three brave kids were, what they were doing, and why they died. They are as deserving of having their names and legacies known as Nathan Hale. Maybe more.

And hardly anyone knows who the hell they were. And we vote for Nixon and Reagan and Bush 43 while forgetting about them year after year, generation after generation.

And that is just so damn sad.

Tom E.

Know who the Dixiecrats were? Well, they bolted the party over Truman's progressivism on the race issue. (Remember, it was he who sighnd the executive order desegregating the armed forces.)They ran a third-party candidate for president that year on a segregationist ticket. Who was he? Strom Thurmond. Thurmond left the Democratic Party for the same reasons Big Dutch did. Ever wonder where the Dixiecrats went? Look no further than the fact the most prominent Republicans in the country all seem to have a pronounced Southern drawl.

Tom E.

Then there's this from the inestimable Dr. Krugman:

So there’s a campaign on to exonerate Ronald Reagan from the charge that he deliberately made use of Nixon’s Southern strategy. When he went to Philadelphia, Mississippi, in 1980, the town where the civil rights workers had been murdered, and declared that “I believe in states’ rights,” he didn’t mean to signal support for white racists. It was all just an innocent mistake.

Indeed, you do really have to feel sorry for Reagan. He just kept making those innocent mistakes.

When he went on about the welfare queen driving her Cadillac, and kept repeating the story years after it had been debunked, some people thought he was engaging in race-baiting. But it was all just an innocent mistake.

When, in 1976, he talked about working people angry about the “strapping young buck” using food stamps to buy T-bone steaks at the grocery store, he didn’t mean to play into racial hostility. True, as The New York Times reported,

The ex-Governor has used the grocery-line illustration before, but in states like New Hampshire where there is scant black population, he has never used the expression “young buck,” which, to whites in the South, generally denotes a large black man.

But the appearance that Reagan was playing to Southern prejudice was just an innocent mistake.

Similarly, when Reagan declared in 1980 that the Voting Rights Act had been “humiliating to the South,” he didn’t mean to signal sympathy with segregationists. It was all an innocent mistake.

In 1982, when Reagan intervened on the side of Bob Jones University, which was on the verge of losing its tax-exempt status because of its ban on interracial dating, he had no idea that the issue was so racially charged. It was all an innocent mistake.

And the next year, when Reagan fired three members of the Civil Rights Commission, it wasn’t intended as a gesture of support to Southern whites. It was all an innocent mistake.

Poor Reagan. He just kept on making those innocent mistakes, again and again and again.

PS: It has been pointed out to me that Reagan opposed making Martin Luther King Day a national holiday, giving in only when Congress passed a law creating the holiday by a veto-proof majority. But he really didn’t mean to disrespect the civil rights movement - it was just an innocent mistake.

This is in reference to a New York Times column in which conservative pundit David Brooks tried to offer a favorable explanation for Ronald Reagan's blatant 1980 appeal to those racist conservatives who had not yet bolted the Democratic Party for a far more congenial home in the GOP.

Did David Brooks Tell the Full Story About Reagan's Neshoba County Fair Visit?

By Joseph Crespino

Mr. Crespino is the author of In Search of Another Country: Mississippi and the Conservative Counterrevolution (Princeton, 2007). He teaches American history at Emory University.

In his November 9, 2007, column in the New York Times, David Brooks discussed Ronald Reagan’s appearance at the Neshoba County Fair in 1980 and his use of the term “states’ rights.” Brooks absolved Reagan of racism, but he ignored the broader significance of Reagan’s Neshoba County appearance.

A full account of the incident has to consider how the national GOP was trying to strengthen its southern state parties and win support from southern white Democrats. Consider a letter that Michael Retzer, the Mississippi national committeeman, wrote in December 1979 to the Republican national committee. Well before the Republicans had nominated Reagan, the national committee was polling state leaders to line up venues where the Republican nominee might speak. Retzer pointed to the Neshoba County Fair as ideal for winning what he called the “George Wallace inclined voters.”

This Republican leader knew that the segregationist Alabama governor was the symbol of southern white resentment against the civil rights struggle. Richard Nixon had angled to win these voters in 1968 and 1972. Mississippi Republicans knew that a successful Republican candidate in 1980 would have to continue the effort.

On July 31st, just days before Reagan went to Neshoba County, the New York Times reported that the Ku Klux Klan had endorsed Reagan. In its newspaper, the Klan said that the Republican platform “reads as if it were written by a Klansman.” Reagan rejected the endorsement, but only after a Carter cabinet official brought it up in a campaign speech. The dubious connection did not stop Reagan from using segregationist language in Neshoba County.

It was clear from other episodes in that campaign that Reagan was content to let southern Republicans link him to segregationist politics in the South’s recent past. Reagan’s states rights line was prepared beforehand and reporters covering the event could not recall him using the term before the Neshoba County appearance. John Bell Williams, an arch-segregationist former governor who had crossed party lines in 1964 to endorse Barry Goldwater, joined Reagan on stage at another campaign stop in Mississippi. Reagan’s campaign chair in the state, Trent Lott, praised Strom Thurmond, the former segregationist Dixiecrat candidate in 1948, at a Reagan rally, saying that if Thurmond had been elected president “we wouldn’t be in the mess we are today.”

[The same sentiments later cost Lott his position as Senate Majority Leader]

Brooks’s defense of Reagan seemed to be a response to his fellow Times columnist Paul Krugman, who in his book, The Conscience of a Liberal,mentions the Neshoba County visit several times. Krugman’s account of modern conservatism is not without problems. He reduces the success of modern conservatism to the fact that “southern whites started voting Republican.” Such a formulation singles out white southerners alone as providing the racist element in conservative politics. It ignores the complex intersection of racial issues with cultural and religious concerns to which liberals have not always been sufficiently sensitive. And it obscures the fact that Democrats continued to win elections in the South after the 1960s by appealing to populist economic issues—a history that Democrats today should recall before they start “whistling past Dixie.”

Brook’s column, however, is a good example of conservatives’ discomfort with their racial history. Reagan is to modern conservatism what Franklin Roosevelt was to liberalism, so it’s not surprising that Brooks would feel the need to defend him. But Brooks’s throwaway remark that “it’s obviously true that race played a role in the GOP ascent” understates what actually happened.

Throughout his career, Reagan benefited from subtly divisive appeals to whites who resented efforts in the 1960s and 70s to reverse historic patterns of racial discrimination. He did it in 1966 when he campaigned for the California governorship by denouncing open housing and civil rights laws. He did it in 1976 when he tried to beat out Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination by attacking welfare in subtly racist terms. And he did it in Neshoba County in 1980.

Reagan knew that southern Republicans were making racial appeals to win over conservative southern Democrats, and he was a willing participant. Despite what Brooks claims, it’s no slur to hold Reagan accountable for the choice that he made. Neither is it mere partisanship to try to think seriously about the complex ways that white racism has shaped modern conservative politics.


I am so glad this is finally coming out in the open. I was beginning to think dh and I were the only ones left scratching our heads when suddenly Reagan went from being remembered as a sleazy, elitist jerk to being revered as St Ronald the Great. When the heck and HOW did THAT happen? What mind-numbing drug has the powers that be been slipping in the nation's water supply that can selectively erase our collective memories so efficiently? Or perhaps it is just the steady diet of bullsh*t they've been feeding us these past 7 years.

Tom E.

Or perhaps it is just the steady diet of bullsh*t they've been feeding us these past 7 years.



Thanks for this illuminating post.


I would just like to point out, however, that in certain areas of the south there is still a strong tradition of Southern progressivism... And that the entire south doesn't hate black people. And that it just seems like, as per usual, the stupid people talk more loudly then the smart ones around here.



I was born in Dallas, went to college for five years in Virginia, met the insanely perfect Top Management there, she then moved down to North Carolina to get her master's, and then after about ten years in New York City and its surrounding areas we moved back down to the unspeakably gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains. My folks live in North Carolina and Top Management's folks are from Georgia and Alabama.

I love the south and its peoples. And it, like pretty much every other part of the country, is far, far, far more liberal in many, maybe most, respects than you'd ever guess from the politicians it elects or the moronic talking heads we see on television.

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