A Cadillac Queen By Any Other Name

American History, Republican Party

Today the Keyboarding Vegetable makes excuses for Ronald Reagan:

The distortion concerns a speech Ronald Reagan gave during the 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Miss., which is where three civil rights workers had been murdered 16 years earlier. An increasing number of left-wing commentators assert that Reagan kicked off his 1980 presidential campaign with a states’ rights speech in Philadelphia to send a signal to white racists that he was on their side. The speech is taken as proof that the Republican majority was built on racism.

The truth is more complicated.

Of course it is. For example, one little tidbit that Brooks left out is that this same Philadelphia, Mississippi, was already infamous as a place where three civil rights activists were murdered.

I’ve already explained here that “states’ rights” was universally recognized as code for “white supremacy” back in those days. If Reagan didn’t understand what message he was sending, then he was an idiot. You know how upset righties get when you say Reagan was an idiot. And, truly, he was a genius compared to George Bush.

And the moral is: Context is everything.

Instaputz and Bark Bark Woof Woof nicely take down Brooks in more detail. I just want to add one more point to what they’ve written.

I realize it is possible nowadays to favor stronger state sovereignty on principle without being a racist. But Jim Crow and states rights’ were so tightly woven together back in the day that a politician who didn’t want to send winks and nudges to white racists would never have used the phrase “states rights.” I might understand how someone (especially someone not old enough to appreciate the, um, nuances of the times) might be persuaded to think that the Philadelphia speech was just a misstep. But as Paul Krugman wrote of another apologist,

Bruce Bartlett’s attempt to explain away Reagan’s Philadelphia speech as an innocent misunderstanding would be more plausible if it were out of character for Reagan’s career. But tacit appeals to racial politics – often taking the form of tall stories about welfare cheats, culminating in the Cadillac-driving welfare queen — were, in fact, a staple of Reagan’s political career.

Two issues were critical to the Reagan landslide in 1980. One was Iran, and the other was the Cadillac Queen. Iran probably got more media coverage, but IMO it was Reagan’s stories about the Cadillac Queen that won the deal. During the 1980 campaign I can’t tell you how many times I overheard whites say “I’m voting for Reagan because he’s going to kick the n—— off welfare.”

So don’t bother arguing with me that Reagan didn’t run on an appeal to racism. I watched him do exactly that.

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Evan  •  Nov 9, 2007 @12:49 pm

    Brooks: “Philadelphia, Miss., which is where three civil rights workers had been murdered 16 years earlier.”

    Maha: “one little tidbit that Brooks left out is that this same Philadelphia, Mississippi, was already infamous as a place where three civil rights activists were murdered.”

    I’m not sure what you meant to say here, but there seems to be an error.

  2. maha  •  Nov 9, 2007 @1:09 pm

    Thanks for pointing that out. I missed it, obviously.

  3. b billy marse  •  Nov 9, 2007 @1:11 pm

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  4. biggerbox  •  Nov 9, 2007 @1:25 pm

    Maha, are you still wasting minutes of your life reading Brooks?

    It surprised me that Brooks thinks no one actually remembers that far back. I’m a white northerner, and I clearly remember Reagan’s appearance, and the message at the time. Despite what the Keyboarding Vegetable would have us think, if Ronnie had really wanted to reach out to African-Americans, he would have gone to the Urban League first. Or given a speech in favor of civil rights, taking note of the awful history of Phila., Miss. as a foil. He did not. Nor did he do anything to suggest that he was laying aside his history on race.

    Instead he DID say ‘states’ rights’, and he did it near the place where people who used that same phrase killed civil rights workers. It didn’t take rocket scientists, even in the North, to hear that dog whistle. It was a trumpet fanfare.

    Next week perhaps Brooks will work up high dudgeon about the lie that Ronnie liked jelly beans.

  5. lucidity  •  Nov 9, 2007 @3:26 pm

    Ah, that old chestnut, the “welfare queen.” I bet all those black women on welfare were living just like royalty!

    I think Maha has quoted from this article before (“What Is Conservatism and What Is Wrong with It?” by Philip Agre):

    Conservative remapping of the language of aristocracy and democracy has been incredibly thorough. Consider, for example, the terms “entitlement” and “dependency”. The term “entitlement” originally referred to aristocrats. Aristocrats had titles, and they thought that they were thereby entitled to various things, particularly the deference of the common people. Everyone else, by contrast, was dependent on the aristocrats. […] Yet in the 1990’s, conservative rhetors decided that the people who actually claim entitlement are people on welfare.

  6. c u n d gulag  •  Nov 10, 2007 @7:34 am

    Maha,
    “Why, “Little Missy,” there was no ‘Southern Strategy!” No ‘State’s Right’s.'” Why, Reagan LOVED the little black and brown children!!!
    Actually, Reagan thought he was in Philadelphia, PA, and mis-spoke! He meant to say he wanted “State’s Kite’s – flying high,” with welfare for Queen’s, King’s and corporations.”

    Reagan apologist’s just kill me. I mean literally – just KILL ME! I can’t take anymore of the coronation of one of the worst President’s in history (of course, GWB makes him look like Washington, Lincoln, FDR and Teddy, combined!). They want to put his face on the dime. I’m all for it! That’s about right – that’s what a dollar will be worth after 27 years of Republican BS rule! If we’re lucky…

    I lived through the Reagan year’s. The night of the election, one of my best friend’s (who’s an African American – but please don’t tell anyone!) and I watched the result’s come in. I think I can say that in my life, I have never gotten as drunk as I did that night.
    He and I still talk about that night and what we thought was going to happen to this country after Reagan was elected (I was drunk, but I can’t forget the horror of those thought’s).
    And you know what we saw happening? Look around!
    The horror… The horror…