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.
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.