Breaking: The Butler was not unfair to Ronald Reagan on race

Steven F. Hayward, Paul Kengor, Craig Shirley and Kiron K. Skinner wrote a strange Washington Post op-ed yesterday decrying the inspiro-pic “The Butler,” for its allegedly unkind portrayal of Ronald Reagan’s racial views. I was a little surprised by their complaints, since the Butler is quite kind to Reagan on a personal level.

These authors believe that the film “perpetuates an ahistorical caricature of Reagan as racially insensitive,” largely due his policy of constructive engagement regarding South Africa. Unfortunately, the historical record indicates that Reagan was….really, really racially insensitive. He received fourteen percent of the African-American vote in 1980. It’s rather surprisingly that he received even that.

Hayward and colleagues note preemptively one episode themselves:

For decades, Reagan’s legacy has been unfairly dogged by claims that his 1980 presidential campaign was marked by the use of code words and symbols that accommodated white racists. Critics point, for instance, to his post-convention appearance at the Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi. Civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner had been killed in nearby Philadelphia, Miss., in 1964, and some commentators say Reagan was insensitive to this tragedy when he said, “I believe in states’ rights; I believe in people doing as much as they can . . . at the private level.” But the former California governor, a strong believer in federalism, had been talking about states’ rights since the early days of his political career.

Hayward and company don’t explain what’s unfair in the critics’ charges. Reagan’s comments certainly were insensitive, but that hardly covers things. A subtle politician attuned to the symbolic meaning of his statements and actions, Reagan could hardly have missed the general implications of his comments. On the substance, Reagan was standing on one of best spots, within one of the best states, to exemplify why his career-long support for “states’ rights” was always profoundly inadequate.

Yesterday’s op-ed somehow failed to mention that Reagan had opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Campaigning in Georgia, Reagan stated that Jefferson Davis was “a hero of mine.” This op-ed also omitted specific mention to his many coded references to race, such as his 1976 references to a “strapping young buck” buying T-bone steaks with food stamps.

I wouldn’t deny or disparage Reagan’s personal kindnesses to individual African-Americans. He was a decent person to those he knew—something “The Butler” depicted well. This doesn’t change the much more important fact that his public record on race was abysmal.

Reagan’s difficulties go beyond various mis-statements, disagreements with civil rights leaders, or policy differences about incremental reforms in South Africa. His basic political strategy was to position himself as Barry Goldwater’s rightful heir in the GOP. Much of Reagan’s real base was among conservative Republicans in the post-1964 southern Republican Party.

I know of no evidence that Reagan himself held invidious racial views, but his limited-government views (like Barry Goldwater’s) were obviously congenial to those who did hold such views. In 1966, Reagan stated: “If an individual wants to discriminate against Negroes or others in selling or renting his house, it is his right to do so.” Such views carried over into his presidency, for example in his support for segregationist Bob Jones University’s unsuccessful effort to maintain its tax exemption.

Whatever Reagan’s inner racial views or his private behavior towards individual African-Americans, he chose to court what might politely be called race-conservative segments of the American electorate. He and his party prospered politically by making that choice.

Historians and biographers, of all people, should realize that today’s Republican Party can’t diminish or run away from that legacy. It needs to create something more inclusive and better than the party Goldwater, Nixon, and Reagan built.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

69 thoughts on “Breaking: The Butler was not unfair to Ronald Reagan on race”

  1. I wouldn’t deny or disparage Reagan’s personal kindnesses to individual African-Americans. He was a decent person to those he knew

    There’s a famous line about Reagan (I forget who came up with it, but Google is available) to the effect that he was the sort of person who, if he met a homeless man shivering on the streetcorner, would give that man the money in his pocket and the literal shirt off his back – and then would stride into the Oval Office, still shirtless, to sign legislation consigning many more people to shiver homeless and hungry on the streets.

    It’s not a perfect story – the Conservative Reagan-worshippers insist he would never dare to set foot in the Oval Office unless he was in a suit and tie and doubtless had performed arcane rituals of ablution, and I don’t see him even noticing the homeless person – but as an illustrative fable it speaks nicely to his abundant bonhomie and superficial personal kindness, together with the cruelty of his political life.

    1. In a similar vein there’s David Stockman’s exasperated story about walking Reagan through the budget, in Triumph of Politics. As I remember it, Stockman had been given a target figure to reach and his memos had been rejected time after time, so he thought he’d just sit down with Reagan and cross out spending until they got there. Mostly social spending. He was dismayed and horrified at the way Reagan kept saying “no, we can’t cut that one, it would hurt too many x people,” “no, that would hurt too many y people,” and so on all the way through. Net result nothing could be cut.

      I take two observations from that. One is that Stockman should have called at least that vignette the triumph of humanity, rather than of politics– or at least a bit of both. (He’s shown more recently that he really doesn’t have any space for thinking about human beings, or none that I can see, but never mind that.) Second is that it never stopped Reagan from saying, like the teapers today, that the budget is just viscid with fat, and like them, he just couldn’t bring himself to actually identify any of it when he had the chance. But the posture was just too good to give up.

  2. Mr. Pollack, you’re being polite. This op-ed was outrageous–seemingly aimed at deceiving people who didn’t live through, and haven’t studied Reagan’s long career–and a symptom of a serious quality-control problem.

  3. How many conservatives does it take to change a light bulb for a dimmer one? Four apparently.

  4. “But the former California governor, a strong believer in federalism, had been talking about states’ rights since the early days of his political career.”

    They left out “…when it had already been well-established as a codeword for racial discrimination.”

    1. There hasn’t been a whole lot of change in the political implications of “states’ rights” since the Civil War. Anyone who used it cluelessly or casually since 1865 (Note: _NOT_ 1965) is unqualified for public office in this country. Didn’t stop Reagan (or others) from getting elected.

      The commitment of our nation to equality remains in question, despite Obama’s two victorious election campaigns, when there is the steady undercurrent of belief that such terminology represents an acceptable part of the political jargon for such a large percentage of Americans.

      1. In general, I agree. “State’s rights” typically should be followed with (to discriminate against the darker hued citizenry). But, there are some people who are generally ignorant and read that as the more literal “local politics/devolution should control more.” And some may also (ignorantly) view it in the context of medical marijuana, with states having the right to go their own ways on drug laws. But I doubt someone expects Reagan to support those ideals…
        It can go both ways. After all, it was the abolitionists who wanted the right of states to not enforce the fugitive slave act (a law the ‘federalist’ south was only to happy to insist could compel the acts of every citizen in the land).

  5. I wish the Nation writers would’ve fleshed out “Reagan opposed every major piece of civil rights legislation adopted by Congress, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968”. There are 2-3 contradictory quotes from the 1960s Reagan floating around, allegedly from the LA Times. The first two are from ’65, the last one from ’66.

    “I favor the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and it must be enforced at gunpoint if necessary.”


    “I favor the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and it must be enforced at the point of a bayonet, if necessary”


    “I would have voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964”

    1. manju, do provide your sources. Even if they are not available for free peoples,
      you should provide the internal identifier.

      1. Maybe I should’ve said “alleged quotes” instead of “allegedly from the LA Times”. I didn’t provide a source because I’m not sure they are accurate. I mean, they exist outside of the unreliable…ie the RWing blogeshphere and RR’s wiki entry (talk section). Indeed, you can find both quotes in “Philosophy: The Quest for Truth” by “Louis P. Pojman” but the author isn’t exactly doing Robert Caro type work.

        So thats why i wish the Nation provided sources.

        1. The quote in favor of the Civil Rights Act is mangled. I see it cited to the LA Times on Oct. 20, 1965. After a bunch of ProQuest searching, I’ve tracked it down: On Oct. 28, Alan Cranston (then the Democratic State Controller) said that in an Oct. 20 speech Reagan had flip-flopped to expressing support of the Civil Rights Act, saying “it must be enforced, at bayonet point if necessary.” The article I have includes the actual excerpt from Reagan’s speech (“Emergency Ambulance Fee Seems Cheapskate,” by Carl Greenberg, LA Times, Nov. 2, 1965, p. A4):

          “I think that the position of government should be that there are no hyphenated citizens and that every citizen is exactly equal before the law and entitled to everything that the Constitution guarantees any citizen, and it is the responsibility of government, at the point of bayonet if necessary, to see that every citizen gets those constitutional rights….”

          Greenberg goes on to say that Reagan reaffirmed that he would have voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act because he considered certain portions unconstitutional, and notes that the Reagan speech with the bayonets doesn’t mention the Civil Rights Act.

          Looking around at other article before I found that one, Reagan’s opposition to the Civil Rights Act is consistent. Evans and Novak, “Reagan Supplanting Goldwater as “Conservatives’ National Symbol” (LA Times June 17, 1965 p. A5): “He… declared his opposition to the most important provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.”
          “Reagan Cautious About Race for Governorship” (Apr. 8 1965) in which Reagan said he opposed the Act because it was “badly written,” specifically the language about privately owned facilities, but was in favor of fair treatment.

          (I also found a statement by Reagan that the US should declare war on North Vietnam “so antiwar demonstrations could be regarded as treasonable.” A libertarian hero!)

          So that quote is misattributed (though it was at the time), and — as was pretty well known on the public record — it is entirely fair to say that Reagan opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    2. If you Google “Ronald Reagan Civil Rights Act 1964”, the first link is to this Wikipedia page; and excerpt:

      Reagan did not support federal initiatives to provide blacks with civil rights.[34] He opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964[35] and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.[34] His opposition was based on the view that certain provisions of both acts violated the US Constitution and in the case of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, intruded upon the civil rights of business and property owners.[34]
      Reagan did not consider himself a racist, and dismissed any attacks aimed at him relating to racism as attacks on his personal character and integrity.[34] He claimed his opposition to certain federal government civil rights acts were not because he was racist, but because he believed in states rights.

      The linked sources make it clear that Reagan used his opposition to civil rights legislation and to integration as a path to power: he vocally backed Goldwater in 1964, including on these issues, and wound up inheriting the movement that created Goldwater as a national figure; and he stressed this stance in 1976 and 1980 as he sought the nomination.

      Even if, as you say, there are other Reagan quotes in which he adopts the opposing position – surely that would make his calculating adoption of racism as an electoral tactic worse? His anti-civil-rights-legislation statements aren’t ambiguous or uncertain, so it seems unlikely he was wavering back and forth over the endorse/reject line. If indeed he made such forceful statements in favor only a year after he made forceful statements against (and a decade before he again made forceful statements against), he must be either (1) a total hypocrite, utterly lacking a moral compass as he hews to whatever line might work at the moment; or (2) the empty-headed moron of his worst caricatures, saying with utter sincerity whatever lines have been fed to him, and neither understanding them nor remembering them and adhering to them later.

      1. He opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 [35]

        35 doesn’t say what wiki says it says. Its a weak source to begin with, a Jaun Williams opinion piece, and even then Williams merely hints at opposition. He points out that Reagan supported Goldwater, and of course Goldwater opposed the 1964 cra.

        But many stanch segregationists, most notably Talmadge and Russell, supported Truman over Dewey and Thurmond. That of course doesn’t mean they supported the civil rights plank.

        Williams also says that Reagan’s defense of “individual rights” during the 1964 presidential campaign should be read as including “states rights” (there’s some ambiguity, but i don’t think he is claiming that Reagan actually said “states rights” in that context….since he surely would’ve produced the quote if he did). But Williams could be describing a Southern Strategy, as opposed to active opposition.

        Reagan of course is more associated with the former…which i have no illusions about in case you are wondering.

        1. Manju: “But many stanch segregationists, most notably Talmadge and Russell, supported Truman over Dewey and Thurmond. That of course doesn’t mean they supported the civil rights plank”

          If you’re not aware of the shifts within and between the Democratic and Republican Parties in the post-WWII era, then you should ask somebody who is.

          1. I don’t know what you’re trying to say. Are you doubting that staunch segregationist leaders like Talmadge and Russell supported Truman? Or are you still stuck on the falsehood that such men followed Strom Thurmond out the door?

          2. Or are you still stuck on the falsehood that such men followed Strom Thurmond out the door?

            That should be, “followed Strom Thurmond out the door after the passage of the 1964 cra”. Many Dixiecrat officials did indeed follow Thurmond in ’48…first out the door then back into the appreciative arms of liberals following the election.

          3. Manju, you’re a historical revisionist. The lines between liberals and conservatives in ’48–or, indeed, in ’63–did not follow the Democratic/Republic party lines. Your comments are simply foolish.

        2. ShadowFox, its hard to figure out which of my claims you are addressing. Since you bring up ideology, I assume its where I say that the Dixiecrats returned to the grateful arms of liberals after the ’48 election.

          I think it is perfectly accurate to claim that Northern Democrats, post the 1948 Dixiecrat revolt and subsequent reconciliation, occupied the left wing of American politics. And here are the most respected scholars in the land on the subject of ideology telling you so:

      2. Funny thing is, I’ve been assured that this particular position, (That the 1964 Civil rights act had to be opposed because it exceeded the power given Congress under the 14th amendment by reaching beyond state and local governments.) wasn’t really held by anybody of note. And now we’re told it was the exact position held by Ronald Reagan.

        Go figure.

        1. Golly, someone of importance had a bullshit reason to sanction the racism of their base voters? And it turns out to have been Reagan? What was your point again, exactly?

          For heaven’s sake, Brett: don’t willingly lie down with dogs; you’ll get fleas. In this case, don’t bend over backwards to endorse the “states rights” dodge so beloved of segregationists and perhaps their patsies.

          1. Warren, I know that the rule of law is a “bullshit reason” to hold any position in the view of a lot of liberals, but I happen to put a lot of stock in it. I don’t think private individuals should discriminate, and if STATES decide to outlaw discrimination by private citizens they are so entitled under the 10th amendment, but the fact remains that the 14th amendment says, in relevant part:

            “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

            Am I a “state”? No. Therefore the federal government is not, constitutionally, empowered to enact laws prohibiting me from engaging in discrimination.

            I do not support laws I regard as unconstitutional, no matter how noble the motives which may be behind them.

          2. Brett, where is there any evidence that the reconstruction Congress that passed the 14th Amendment did not believe that they had the power to prohibit private acts of discrimination.

            You are basically throwing up your hands and acting as though Jim Crow could not be addressed (Southern states weren’t going to do anything about it), even though there’s no evidence that THAT was the actual political resolution of the post civil war Congress.

            How many black people have to have their lives ruined so that you can hold onto a bad constitutional interpretation?

          3. Nice attempt at spin, Brett, but not good enough.

            What’s “bullshit” there isn’t “the rule of law”, it’s the claim that Reagan only opposed the 1960s era civil rights laws out of abstract constitutional principle, rather than the desire to keep black people from voting.

            It’s nice to hear that you yourself aren’t at all motivated by that desire. Give yourself a medal and pat yourself on the back for your high-minded devotion to the rule of law, and for sticking to that principle even when it, er, just happens to coincide with your partisan preferences.

          4. “For heaven’s sake, Brett: don’t willingly lie down with dogs; you’ll get fleas. In this case, don’t bend over backwards to endorse the “states rights” dodge so beloved of segregationists and perhaps their patsies.”

            Brett is the flea.

          5. Brett: “Warren, I know that the rule of law is a “bullshit reason” to hold any position in the view of a lot of liberals”–Korematsu was also “the rule of law”. Oh, wait! It wasn’t–it was a bullshit figleaf to protect the government position. So was Dred Scott. Constitutionality is considerably in the eye of the beholder–or of the Supreme Court majority at any given moment. What US conservatives consider “unconstitutional” rarely is–except in their own alternate universe.

          6. “Constitutionality is considerably in the eye of the beholder–or of the Supreme Court majority at any given moment.”

            Yes, that’s the implication of living constitutionalism, the implication of rejecting the rule of law in favor of BS ‘interpretation’ to facilitate whatever the majority in control of the government happens to want to do: For all practical purposes, you cease to have a constitution anymore.

            But it doesn’t have to be that way: Language exists to transmit meaning. It can’t transmit that meaning to somebody determined to reject it, but if you embrace a degree of objectivity in interpretation, instead of deciding that you’ll ‘interpret’ a text to mean whatever you want regardless of text and grammar, much of this supposed ambiguity vanishes.

            That is to say, ambiguity IS in the eye of the beholder, so don’t blame the text.

          7. Brett, I embrace a degree of objectivity in interpretation.

            And I think you can make an argument that Katzenbach v. McClung was wrongly decided. It’s not a slam dunk– as I said, the Reconstruction Congress clearly thought the federal government had the power to bar private acts of discrimination. But it’s a plausible argument.

            But I don’t think there’s any doubt that Heart of Atlanta Motel was correct, and that the federal government has the power to bar all forms of racial discrimination within the scope of interstate commerce. There’s no subjectivity there– that’s exactly what the Commerce Clause says. It doesn’t enact Mr. Herbert Spencer’s Social Statics, and it doesn’t prohibit the federal government from barring quite a lot of private racial discrimination.

          8. “There’s no subjectivity there– that’s exactly what the Commerce Clause says.”

            Sure, if you ‘interpret’ the interstate commerce clause to just be a “commerce” clause, by using sophistry to abolish the qualifiers on the power…

          9. Brett, is it your contention that a hotel in Atlanta that serves a lot of travelers from other states is not a part of interstate commerce?

            You really are just talking out of your ass here.

          10. Dilan: Is it YOUR position that, if my son sets up a lemonaide stand on our front porch, and somebody from another state happens to buy a glass, my son is suddenly engaged in interstate commerce? That if the lemons we bought down the street happened to originate in another state, my 4 year old is engaged in interstate commerce, even though HE got them from the kitchen counter?

            This is a ‘one drop’ version of interstate commerce, which was created to make EVERYTHING interstate, turning the interstate commerce clause into just a commerce clause. Actually, just a “to regulate” clause, in as much as the current ‘interpretation’ doesn’t even require that the thing being regulated be commerce itself, just that it in aggregate with similar things might hypothetically have some effect on something with one drop of interstate in it’s commerce.

            Sometimes hotels are engaged in interstate commerce, such as when I, in South Carolina, go online to make a reservation in Georgia. Sometimes they’re not, as when I, from South Carolina, walk in the door in Georgia, having no reservation. just being another customer in the same state. Basically, to be interstate commerce, it has to be an instance of buying something in one state, and selling it in another, or at least be providing the service of transporting them across the relevant boundaries. It’s fact and case dependent, not all hotels engage in interstate commerce, and not all the time.

            But, of course, under current legal sophistry, if anything you do might, in combination with others, have the possiblity of effecting interstate commerce, by commission OR omission, it’s called “interstate commerce”. Regardless of whether it actually is commerce, or interstate. Backyard gardening, for instance, because you might otherwise have bought produce from another state, so gardening in your back yard effects interstate commerce by ommission.

            This isn’t reasonable interpretation, it’s nothing but sophistry designed to render an extremely limited power all encompassing.

        2. When the constitutionality of the public accommodations provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was, you know, litigated, the controversy was not about the Fourteenth Amendment. The seggers there challenged the Act contending that Congress had exceeded its power under the Interstate Commerce Clause.

          The noxious phrase, “States’ Rights” has over the years been associated with slavery, armed rebellion (a/k/a treason), de jure segregation, refusal to criminalize lynching, disenfranchisement of blacks who wished to vote, resistance to lawful court orders, and the perpetuation of Jim Crow policies and customs.

          Has any other maxim in history been linked to as many different varieties of evil? Why would any decent person associate himself with such putrid language?

          1. As Brett says: I do not support laws I regard as unconstitutional, no matter how noble the motives which may be behind them.

    3. Manu,

      You have been misled. The only reference I see to Reagan in any of Lou Cannon’s bios of Reagan (there are 3 of them) using the words about the “point of bayonet” is when he was trying to keep open San Francisco State during a student demonstration. See: page 291 of Lou Cannon’s “Governor Reagan: Rise to Power.”

      The quote you may have gotten this from is here: and it cites the LA Times from October 20, 1965 and Reagan supposedly saying: “”I favor the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and it must be enforced at the point of a bayonet, if necessary.” But right below it, the same website shows Reagan supposedly and more likely said: “I would have voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” and it cites Reagan’s quote from the June 17, 1966 LA Times. Lou Cannon and all Reagan biographers I’ve seen credit the second quote but do not make mention of the first.

      I think that is because the first quote about the enforcing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with a bayonet is wrong. Reagan did eventually say something like this, but it was more general and said in May 1983 according to this NY Times editorial:

      He supposedly said per the editorial: ”My belief has always been . . . that wherever in this land any individual’s constitutional rights are being unjustly denied, it is the obligation of the Federal Government – at point of bayonet if necessary – to restore that individual’s constitutional rights.” And of course, he could be talking about 2nd Amendment rights or a religious group’s right…to discriminate, such as Bob Jones University.

      Still, the quote from the LA Times of October 20, 1965 is all over the web, but we just don’t know till we check the original source whether it is truly accurate.

      1. See above — I checked the original source and it is not accurate, but Alan Cranston was responsible for the mangle quote.

      1. I don’t think Brett really appreciates the meaning of that statement. It means exactly the opposite of what he thinks.

      2. I think it’s “if you hear a literal dog whistle, as in one that operates at a frequency above the range of human hearing, you are a dog.”

        1. I think the point is, if you’re decoding secret messages, you’re the one with the decoder ring. Even if you claim they’re directed at somebody else.

          It’s become something of SOP for the left, to attempt to mold debate in their favor by making it impossible to express the arguments against their position. For instance, by liberal decree, I’m barred from refuting accusations of racism by citing any of my black friends. Even being in an interracial marriage is doubtless a strike against me.

          You’ve got a lot of tools for this. One of the ways you do this is by declaring facially innocent language to connote something awful. To declare that they’re “dog whistles”.

          But you’re the ones hearing the dog whistle, while the right is hearing the arguments actually being expressed. You’re the dog, the “whistle”, generated on the left, is that superimposed meaning intended to immunize you against arguments from the right using whatever term has been so designated.

          Somebody on the right says “states rights”, they are understood on the right to be referring to the reserved powers of the 10th amendment. On the left they are understood to be talking about Jim Crow. So, who’s hearing a dog whistle? You are.

          1. Such as the hard Radical Right’s constant referral to the Dred Scott Decision, correct? It is facially obvious that we need to be on guard for the reenactment of the Fugitive Slave Law. That’s all that discussion is about; no subtext. Sure.


          2. Brett Bellmore says:

            “I think the point is, if you’re decoding secret messages, you’re the one with the decoder ring. Even if you claim they’re directed at somebody else.”

            Noooooooooooooooooooooo, because things eventually out. And in many cases the goal is plausible deniability. See Lee Atwater’s infamous ‘N*gger, N*gger’ confession.

          3. See, that’s what I’m saying. That I have black friends, ought, rationally, be considered evidence against my being a racist. Not definitive evidence, of course, but still evidence. But you’ve created rules where pointing out this evidence in my favor actually, contrary to all reason, gets counted against me.

            Liberals have a standard procedure of ‘winning’ arguments by barring the use of evidence and lines of arguments contrary to them, rather than refuting them.

            “Dog whistles” are a part of this strategy. They’re a sort of vaccination you use for marginal members of the liberal community: By programing them with horrible implications for language likely to turn up in conservative discourse, (Even if they’re implications the conservatives don’t actually mean when they use those terms.) you protect the marginal members of your side from being persuaded to adopt conservative views. A conservative starts making a rational argument, perhaps having to do with the limits of federal power, and the extent of the powers reserved to the states by the 10th amendment. Predictably, one of the phrases you’ve programed your followers to react badly to comes up. And suddenly, they stop listening, convinced they’re in the presence of a raving racist.

            It’s mematic immunization, that’s all. But the dog whistles are yours, not ours.

          4. Brett, I’m not calling you a racist. But please, please, for your own dignity, can the “Black Friends” argument. Having Black friends proves you have soe sort of manners and an ability to get along with people – it doesnt prove you’re not a racist. Lots of bigots have had friends, or people they called friends, belonging to the groups they despised; a professed failure to understand this actually weakens your assertion not to be a racist. Indeed, just on the “Milady Doth Protest Too Much” basis you might want to wait until someone calls you a racist – after all, in general one would no more get away with calling another a racist straight out of the blue than they would get away with accusing them of kicking puppies.

            On the other hand, if you bend over backwards to defend the segregationists’ States Rights fig leaf; if you are so committed to insane, incoherent, inexplicable, and utterly unfounded claims that our notably melanized President might have been grown in a vat on one of Jupiter’s moons that you resort to the freaking Ontological Question in defense of this notion – people are going to wonder why you’re so eager to embrace assertions beloved of openly racist folk.

          5. “But you’ve created rules where pointing out this evidence in my favor actually, contrary to all reason, gets counted against me.”

            I have done no such thing. But it is indisputably the case that some racists at some points in time have invoked the same arguments.

            “That I have black friends, ought, rationally, be considered evidence against my being a racist.”

            Indeed it is evidence. As you readily admit, it’s not “definitive”. Such evidence ought to be considered in broader context.

            The best you seem to be able to offer in this thread are outrage, false accusations, calumny, and meaningless generalizations. Yet somehow, you appear to believe that these are weighty arguments that just get dismissed out of bigotry. You occasionally offer rigorous and persuasive arguments – but not here.

  6. Reagan won the endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan for his 1984 campaign for President. Oh, he went through the motions of saying he didn’t want or accept it, but that entirely missed the point. It’s not whether Reagan liked the Klan, it’s the fact that the Klan liked Reagan (for good reasons) that should have been a scandal.

    1. Don, I agree that Reagan’s acts and words were often subtly or not so subtly racist. But endorsements like the Klan’s don’t really tell us anything meaningful about the candidates. My recollection is that the USSR used to issue official “endorsements” of Democratic candidates in US presidential elections, which said candidates would then reject or ignore. (I’m not able to find evidence of this with a few seconds of google searches; I may be mis-remembering this, though I feel that my memory is pretty clear on this point). But it would be nonsense to say “It’s not whether Mondale liked the USSR, it’s the fact that the USSR liked Mondale (for good reasons) that should have been a scandal.” Candidates are not always to blame for the people who endorse them.

      1. In general, I agree with you: there are all sorts of truly vile people out their, they will have political opinions and offer endorsements (or will pretend to, in order to deliberately smear the recipient by association), and their support or professed support is not the fault of its recipient, who rightfully abhors them and never solicited such an endorsement.

        … except, take a look at this instance: Ronald Reagan started his general-election campaign in 1980 with a states-rights speech in flipping Neshoba, MS. Such an action is tantamount to a signed letter of application to the endorsements committee of the KKK. Sure, he probably wanted his actions to remain in dog-whistle territory, and not to be openly blessed by the Klan – but he made it pretty damn clear he endorsed their ideas, using their code-phrase at the site of one of their most notorious murders. If the Klan chose to publicly reciprocate, it was a bit late for Reagan to repudiate the association.

        1. In 1980, any Southerner of voting age who was paying the slightest attention to politics and recent history knew what “States’ Rights” meant.

          I doubt that Ronald Reagan wound up on the other side in the same place as James Cheney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, but I wonder what he would have said to them if he had.

      2. Correct, not always to blame. But the President is in a position of power with respect to enforcement of anti-discrimination law in general, and can direct resources toward investigations/enforcement against domestic terrorist groups like the Klan. A President who was serious about it, could make life very difficult for violent hate groups. He could be their worst nightmare, an existential threat.

        Reagan was none of those things. Under Reagan the FBI spent its time knocking on the doors of peaceful activists who were members of groups like CISPES. He earned the Klan’s appreciation.

        1. CISPES

          This thread is bringing back all kinds of bad memories of the 80s. If someone were to ask me who was worse for the country and the world, Reagan or GWB, it would be a tough choice.

  7. How can we forgot the ‘Welfare Queen with a Cadillac’?

    Who never existed.

    There were 10s of millions of voters who heard *Black* Welfare Queen. This was surely the most egregious example of Reagan’s ‘dog whistle politics’.

    I mean how many people in 1980 America believed there were white women, driving Cadillacs, who were ripping off the welfare system? We all knew that blacks drove big Cadillacs if they had money.

    So H George Bush was no racist. But he let Roger Ailles put ‘Willy Horton’ out there. Another blatantly racist appeal to the electorate. I mean a *black* murder and rapist, and you put his photo in the ad?

    1. It all boils down to accusing one politician of being a bastard. The two are not the same. There are a lot of too-clever-by-half stances taken by politicians that don’t amount to a broad knowing wink to the Klan.

      1. It’s a tough call between being a “bastard” and a “senile fool”. It’s not clear how much control Reagan actually had over policy and actions of his appointees, but, at one point, he surely would have approved of most of them. The usual response to the “revelation” that Reagan had Alzheimer’s is “Which term?” Both Reagan and Goldwater turned out to be considerably more mellow in their old age than they were in the mid-60s. Reagan was not a very good actor, but there’s one aspect of acting that he could do very well–delivering well rehearsed lines. In film, he could not sell them, because they were largely fiction, with no particular target in mind. In politics, the lines were written with a narrow purpose and clear target audience. The rest of his success was due to managing to mobilize the angry mob. In 1976, he was the radical laughingstock. In 1980, his delivery changed little, but the message became more subtle–better speech writers, I guess–but we should not lose track of the fact that he was remarkably lucky to be running against an unpopular incumbent with huge economic baggage. The rest was really all theater.

  8. “Much of Reagan’s real base was among conservative Republicans in the post-1964 southern Republican Party.”
    Really? I would have thought much of his real base was among southern conservative Democrats. Despite Nixon’s Southern Strategy, the transition of the racist white South from Democrats to Republicans really wasn’t complete until well into Reagan’s second term, when quite a number of high-profile Southern Democrats politicians switched parties. And when people talk about “Reagan Democrats”, they tend to forget that most of them did not come from Michigan and Ohio (as they are usually portrayed–“Middle America”, white, blue-collar), but from the South and from Appalachia. And quite a bit of that change had to do with race. They might have voted for Reagan initially because they hated Carter, but they stayed with him and the GOP for quite a different reason…

    1. the transition of the racist white South from Democrats to Republicans really wasn’t complete until well into Reagan’s second term, when quite a number of high-profile Southern Democrats politicians switched parties.

      Could you please name these “high-profile Southern Democrats politician” Democrats, preferably segregationists, who switched during Reagan’s 2nd term?

    2. Here’s a list of the 33 Governors and Senators from the 11 former confederate states in 1987, late into RR’s 2nd term:

      D George Wallace
      D Howell Heflin
      D Richard Shelby
      D Bill Clinton
      D David H. Pryor
      D Dale Bumpers
      R Bob Martinez
      D Lawton Chiles
      D Bob Graham
      D Joe Frank Harris
      D Sam Nunn
      D Wyche Fowler
      D Edwin W. Edwards
      D Bennett Johnston, Jr.
      D Russell B. Long
      D William Allain
      D John C. Stennis
      R Thad Cochran
      R James G. Martin
      R Jesse Helms
      D Terry Sanford
      D Ned McWherter
      D Jim Sasser
      D Al Gore, Jr.
      R Bill Clements
      D Lloyd Bentsen
      R Phil Gramm
      R Carroll A. Campbell, Jr.
      R Strom Thurmond
      D Fritz Hollings
      D Gerald L. Baliles
      R Paul S. Trible, Jr.
      R John Warner

      I see 23 Dems and 10 Repubs. And I see such luminaries as George Wallace, Fritz Hollings, Russell Long, John Stennis, and Howell Heflin on the Dem side, accompanying Helms and Strom on the R one.

      This data does not substantiate your thesis.

  9. Why the surprise? Reagan’s whole career was built on selling out to the rich and powerful, then breezing past questions with a cheesy grin and a folksy buffoon act. see Screenwriters Guild, Governor, Iran-Contra and more. The interesting part is why so many people, so often, accepted the grin as evidence that he was a nice guy over the repeated betrayals. Same thing worked for George W. and, in a different vein, for Maggie Thatcher (as it was England, a good handbagging substituted for the amiable back pat).

  10. If you want to know about Reagan, America and race, this Reagan quote from the 1980 debate is a good place to start:

    I am eternally optimistic, and I happen to believe that we’ve made great progress from the days when I was young and when this country didn’t even know it had a racial problem.

    What an ignorant, privileged prick. And how racist is your media when it doesn’t consider such a statement a gaffe?

    1. That’s not a gaffe; it’s a standard conceit of the resentful white conservatives that the real race problem wasn’t Jim Crow and other injustices but the emergence of a nationwide movement committed to their abolition. Troublemakers, the lot of them. A bit openly stated, perhaps, but if it’s a gaffe it’s a Kinsley Gaffe.

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