Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2012, April 24: St. Reagan and segregation

These days a revisionist view of Ronald Reagan and his politics have settled in among the punditocracy. The latest variant has him being a much more responsible fellow than these wild Tea Partiers today.

So it's worth remember that Ronald Reagan built his political career on pandering to segregationists. The fact that the segregationist mentality is now fully triumphant within today's Republican Party is due in major part to Reagan, now regarded as more of the saint of the Republican Party than Abraham Lincoln.

Lou Cannon wrote in his excellent President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime (1991):

But Reagan never supported the use of federal power to provide blacks with the civil rights systematically denied to them by southern states since the end of Reconstruction in the nineteenth century. He opposed the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was overwhelmingly supported by congressional majorities of both parties. Reagan cited constitutional grounds for his position, but many suspected that his position also involved an element of political calculation. Reagan avidly courted the support of white southerners during the mid-1960s, and he consistently refused during his abortive campaign for the presidency in 1968 to criticize George Wallace's segregationist advocacies. This seemed to me like political pandering, although Reagan always denied any such motive. But Reagan told Laurence Barrett in 1980 that the Voting Rights Act had been "humiliating to the South." While he made political points with white southerners on this issue, Reagan was extremely sensitive to any suggestion that his stands on civil rights issues were politically or racially motivated, and he typically reacted to such criticisms as attacks on his personal integrity. [my emphasis]
Today we hear this constantly. Every time a Republican elected official or Party operative or professional propagandist is called out over some racially prejudiced or outright bigoted remark, they profess to be deeply offended at the slur on their personal integrity. It's part of the standard whiny-white-people repertoire. With his acting experience, Reagan became quite adapt at appealing to whiny white folks with this schtick.

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