Ronald Reagan and Race
by Big Tent Democrat, Fri Jul 27, 2007 at 02:55:44 PM EDT
More than anything else, it is the issue of race--the constant sticking point in all claims to America's moral transcendency--that thwarts any effort to simplify Ronald Reagan. Was he a racist? Hayward insists that "Reagan never wanted to win an election on a racial appeal." Yet when the struggle for civil rights hung in the balance, Reagan opposed both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965--the bills that ensured black Americans of their most fundamental rights to sit on a public bus and to cast a ballot. He was one of the pioneers of the Republican "Southern strategy," breaking off white Democratic voters through thinly veiled racist appeals, and all four of his presidential campaigns depended heavily upon the support of unrepentant racist politicians, such as North Carolina's Jesse Helms.
Most egregious of all was Reagan's first speech after the 1980 convention, in Philadelphia, Mississippi. It was in Philadelphia that, just sixteen years earlier, the young civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner had been murdered by local Klansmen, but Reagan's speech failed to make even the slightest reference to the murders. Instead, it contained the usual code words--"I believe in states' rights and I believe in people doing as much as they can for themselves at the community level and at the private level."
The Philadelphia speech--like the rest of the disagreeable past--has been expunged from conservative annals. Hayward at least has the integrity to bring it up, though he still tries to insist that Reagan was only "clearly reiterating his well-known opinion against centralized government power."
That was Reagan on race.