Andrew Sullivan quotes a chunk of Ronald Reagan’s 1967 rhetoric on race in America, and concludes that “Yes, Reagan was a skeptic about legislating tolerance. But these are not the words of a racist”.
So let’s juxtapose Reagan’s words with the symbolic politics of where he chose to say what he said on these kinds of subjects. Here’s Roger Wilkins, on American telly the other night:
Well, Reagan was an incredible combination of a person who was very optimistic, upbeat, but underneath there were some really ugly parts of his politics.He was, I said once before on this program, he capitalized on anti-black populism by going to Philadelphia, Mississippi, for example, in the beginning of his campaign in 1980. Nobody had ever heard of Philadelphia, Mississippi outside of Mississippi, except as the place where three civil rights workers had been lynched – in 1964 – he said “I believe in states’ rights.” Everybody knew what that meant.
He went to Stone Mountain , Georgia , where the Ku Klux Klan used to burn its crosses, and he said “Jefferson Davis is a hero of mine.” He was rebuked by the Atlanta newspapers – they said we don’t need that any more here.
He went to Charlotte, North Carolina one of the most successful busing for integration programs in the country and he said I’m against busing and again the Charlotte papers rebuked him.
And the impact of that plus his attacks on welfare women, welfare queens in Cadillacs, for example. And his call for cutting the government. He didn’t cut the government; the military bloomed in his time. But programs for poor people diminished entirely and America became a less civilized and less decent place…
That sounds about right.