Reagan the Racist

I was too busy with grants to respond, but I’ll now get on this nonsense.

Modern conservatives – the majority of which are certainly not racist – have successfully ignored the racist foundations of much of modern conservative political power and even thought. It’s not so much that the doctrines remain racist today – or that they lack non-racist interpretations. It’s that they are historically rooted in racist backlash. In this respect, Reagan’s dark side is simply one part of a much larger pattern.

Always be leery of something that goes so far out of its away to back off from acccusing its opponents of racism.


It is certainly true that Reagan and the Republicans used language to support conservative views that appealed to racists. But it’s not because law and order was a racist thing or that Republicans were racist. They were politicians and if they could support sensible things like law-and-order with a race-baiting Willy Horton ad, that was fine by them. It was lamentable — and they are still paying for it at the pollls. But it was hardly unusual.

Race was not, however, the primary reason people backed Republicans on these issues. I hate to break to publius, but when Nixon came to office, we were in the middle of a national crime wave. People were getting mugged outside the Capitol. When Reagan came to office, we’d just “enjoyed” four years of massive federal bloat. These were real issues, independent of anyone’s racial take on them.

One thing I want to address specifically is the “welfare queen” comments and the idea that Republicans were opposing welfare out of racism. We’ve forgotten this, but liberals were the first to racialize welfare. Welfare programs were retooled in the 1960’s specifically to address black poverty and anyone who opposed them was branded a racist. The reason Republicans opposed them, at least initially, was not because they were a bunch of racist crackers but because they thought, correctly as it happens, that it would be an expensive disaster that would create a class of people wholly dependent on the government.

Moreover, why do only Republicans have something to apologize for? The Democrats continue to race-bait today. For God’s sake, liberals ran an anti-Bush commercial in 2000 that simulated a man being dragged to death behind a truck. And they have continued (as publius does) to try to make Katrina about race instead of incompetence. The reason that Barack Obama is so popular is that, despite being black, he is the first Democrat in decades who isn’t trying to racialize every issue.

That’s why the term “Reagan Democrats” should actually be “Wallace Democrats.”

Garbage. Utter garbage. I grew up with Southern racists and Wallace supporters. They always voted Democrat. Because their “deadies” had. It was not until the 90’s that the South really went Republican. State legislatures and governships were still controlled by Democrats when Reagan was in office. Did you miss all those announcements in the 90’s about how states were going Republican for the first time since Reconstruction?

Moreover, the Democrats had a “southern strategy” of their own which was very effective. They would race-bait to blacks in the cities, and race-bait to whites in the country. The reason they stopped doing it is not because they wised up or purged the racists or that Reagan stole their message. It was because mass media made it impossible for them to talk out of both sides of their mouth.

The roots of modern conservatism are not in George Wallace. They are in Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley and George Will. Saying George Wallace invented federalism is like saying Leni Riefenstahl invented documentaries.

Brooks’ column attempts to help otherwise good, non-racist people avoid nasty cognitive dissonance about St. Reagan. But acknowledging the source of this cognitive dissonance would be a welcome first step. Much better than ignoring it, anyway.

In other words, when conservatives espouse conservative views, they always need to acknowledge that some of those views were held by racist shitheads. This is nonsense. Whenever a general talks about mechanized warfare, does he need to acknowledge that its foundations were laid by Hitler? Whenever a Christian talks about his faith, does he need to acknowledge the Inquisition? What the hell does it have to do with anything that racist glommed onto ideas like federalism and law-and-order? When Democrats talk about welfare, do they need to acknowledge that part of its origin was in white Northern racists who, like Jefferson, thought blacks incapable of taking care of themselves?

This is pure guilt by association. Just because someone is an idiot on one issue does not invalidate his view on other issues. Many of the people talking global warming today are former socialists who see it as a path to marxism. That doesn’t make global warming bullshit. It just makes their proposed solutions bullshit.

Moreover, why isn’t publius demanding that Democrats acknowledge their racist history? I’ve never understood why the Democratic Party gets off so easy when they have whole-heartedly supported the four things — slavery, Jim Crowe, welfare and publicly-controlled schools — that have done the most harm to black people. Yeah, they passed the Civil Rights Act. But over their own party’s record-setting filibuster.

The Republican Party did some dumb things in the 70’s and 80’s, such as welcoming segregationists like Trent Lott, David Duke and Strom Thurmond into the party (although the Dems *still* admire Robert “Sheets” Byrd). But what publius is doing is basically smearing conservatism — saying that because some of its views were once agreed upon (not thought up by) racists, the Party has to acknowledge this.


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