Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

November 9, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

REAGAN AND NESHOBA....In case you're looking for the post about Ronald Reagan and Neshoba that David Brooks referred to in his column today, here it is. I wrote that although "Ronald Reagan's record on civil rights was pretty abysmal," I thought he might be getting "a (slightly) bum rap" on this one particular issue.

I wrote about this at the time because Reagan had just died and the subject was in the air. Why it's popping up again, first from Bruce Bartlett and now from Brooks, I don't know.

UPDATE: Ah, Krugman talks about this in his new book. That explains it.

Kevin Drum 4:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

Bookmark and Share

Maybe someone's about to blow a racist dogwhistle again, and they want to be able to say "there you go again" if they're called out on it?

Posted by: larry birnbaum on November 9, 2007 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

It's popping up now because "republicans are all a bunch of racists" is one of the themes of Krugman's new book, and the Reagan thing is used as an example.

Posted by: sloo on November 9, 2007 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

It's popping up again because Krugman has been talking about it (in his columns and his book).

Posted by: Crust on November 9, 2007 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK


I believe this is one of those instances when the NYT columnists are talking to each other without actually addressing each other. (Usually it's Krugman-Brooks that do this trick.) This whole dustup may have been triggered by this Bob Herbert column:


Posted by: Wagster on November 9, 2007 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK

Conscience of a Liberal-Krugman p. 12, p. 65, p. 178, p. 183 would be a place to start.

Posted by: Charles Croninger on November 9, 2007 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

I think a dustup between Krugman and Bartlett started the most recent discussion. That was happening over at TPMCafe about a month ago, during Krugman's book club discussion of The Conscience of a Liberal.

Boy, Brooks and Krugman must loathe each other.

Posted by: gfw on November 9, 2007 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

Great article Kevin. I was also looking for your article David Brooks was referring to so thanks for linking to it here. You know you've finally made it to the rank of serious commentator when David Brooks is nice enough to mention you.
To the question of whether or not Ronald Reagan was a racist, of course he wasn't. Former President Reagan, like other conservatives, believes less government is better government. The big government advocated by liberals hurts everyone including African Americans. They take away money from hard working African American and give it to lazy welfare queens who don't deserve the money.
Social security also hurts African Americans because they die sooner and therefore lose the money they deserve to keep through the social security tax. Conservatives and Republicans are certainly better for African Americans, but liberals win the African American vote because they play the race card and conservatives aren't willing to fight back because they are afraid of being called racists by liberals.

Posted by: Al on November 9, 2007 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

To the question of whether or not Ronald Reagan was a racist, of course he wasn't.

"Reagan opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (calling it "humiliating to the South"), and ran for governor of California in 1966 promising to wipe the Fair Housing Act off the books. 'If an individual wants to discriminate against Negroes or others in selling or renting his house,' he said, 'he has a right to do so.'"

via JP Green, via Yglesias.

Posted by: anonymous on November 9, 2007 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

We have an example of Al/Fake Al equilibrium, where it is literally impossible to determine if the comment is mindless conservative sycophancy or droll parody.

Posted by: jimbo on November 9, 2007 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure that I even get Kevin's defense of Reagan here.

It's really hard to see anything at all of significance in the switching of Reagan's schedule so that he went to Neshoba before, instead of after, he spoke to the Urban League. Why should one be more or less "winking" than the other? Surely putting the Neshoba event first would seem if anything to attach greater import on it. (And wasn't it supposedly the very FIRST event after his nomination? Wouldn't that make it even more significant?)

So the argument that the apparent race-baiting of Reagan's speech was greatly extenuated mainly hangs on the fact that Dukakis also went to Neshoba soon after he was nominated.

While granting that Dukakis pulled his punches in Neshoba, he still did promise to "bring down the barriers to opportunity for all our people", and he at least made "passing references" to the problems of minorities. In addition, he talked about it being a "special day", and it was in fact the anniversary of the day on which the civil rights workers were killed.

Reagan in contrast, came there to talk about "States rights". (And of what matter is it that he had talked about states rights before? Does that make it any less of a codeword?).

Really, I see very, very little exculpation of Reagan here in what Dukakis did or said. Clearly, Dukakis was delivering the precise opposite in his message from what Reagan was delivering, even though he toned it way down for the audience.

Posted by: frankly0 on November 9, 2007 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

Here's the difference between Dukakis and Reagan: Dukakis was trying to pass a message across to his all white audience that was very much against what they wanted to hear, and so he toned it down. Reagan, in contrast, gave them exactly the red meat they most wanted to hear, using the codewords he knew they understood.

So how on earth does what Dukakis said and did exculpate Reagan?

Posted by: frankly0 on November 9, 2007 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK


I've been reading Drum since he was calpundit and I lost track of Al/Not Al distinction years ago. It's remarkable how subtle the differences are!


Posted by: gfw on November 9, 2007 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin and Readers
You should always be worried when you find yourself on the same side of any argument as "their Mister Brooks", Kevin.
Reagan went to Philadelphia Miss (the county fair may have been in Neshoba) to deliver to racist southerns a message of solidarity on state's rights and resistance to integration and/or the improvement of black opportunity in their states. Reagan's message was loud and clear. JP Green's post is also accurate. He walked like a duck, he acted like a duck consistantly= As a politician, Ronald Reagan was a functioning performing racist; I am sure he was personally polite to the wait staff, but that ain't the point.
Besides, what other prez campaign has ever been kicked off within 300 miles of Philadelphia Miss?

Posted by: tonyjoe from Baltimore on November 9, 2007 at 5:20 PM | PERMALINK

Obviously, Kevin Drum, you have hit the big time. A scolding by an op-ed columnist in the New York Times.

Congratulations, Thats pretty good for a blogger.

Now would be a good time to post the Quote from Atwater.

Atwater: As to the whole Southern strategy that Harry Dent and others put together in 1968, opposition to the Voting Rights Act would have been a central part of keeping the South. Now [the new Southern Strategy of Ronald Reagan] doesn’t have to do that. All you have to do to keep the South is for Reagan to run in place on the issues he’s campaigned on since 1964… and that’s fiscal conservatism, balancing the budget, cut taxes, you know, the whole cluster…
Questioner: But the fact is, isn’t it, that Reagan does get to the Wallace voter and to the racist side of the Wallace voter by doing away with legal services, by cutting down on food stamps…?
Atwater: You start out in 1954 by saying, 'Nigger, nigger, nigger.' By 1968 you can't say 'nigger' - that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.

Posted by: jimmy on November 9, 2007 at 5:24 PM | PERMALINK

I guess it's my turn.

Al, if reagan believed in less government, then why did every single federal budget he proposed increase the size of government.

Not one republican house, not one republican senate, not one republican president has ever proposed shrinking the size of the federal government. Not once.

And when the republicans got all three branches-- an explosion of spending.

Yes, it is true that Reagan started the party down its path to Soviet style government, introducing the Big Lie as a central part of governance, but it took Bush to really bring it home, installing comissars in all federal agencies, spending money on corruption and cronies and running a gulag.

But it did start with Reagan.

Oh, yeah, and yes, of course Reagan had to go and blow the dogwhistle while he was in a week of attending urban league events. this is how it works. Lee Atwater described it long ago.

Posted by: jayackroyd on November 9, 2007 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

Pardon me, but I don't think that Krugman's point in his book was that Republicans are all a bunch of racists, but rather that they pandered to a bunch of racists in order to become a national party. It's much easier to dismiss the argument when you prop up the straw man version, and if anyone has actually read Before the Storm, they know it's really not a debatable point.

This being said, I agree that this particular complaint may not be quite as valid as some think. My impression is that Reagan gave a speech in Philadelphia, MS more to stir up liberal anger at him (thus endearing him to Southerners) without actually saying things along the lines of "segregation was a good thing". And it was pretty damned effective, since it's still being bloviated about today.

Posted by: Lev on November 9, 2007 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks Jimmy. That was, of course, the quote I was referring to.

Posted by: jayackroyd on November 9, 2007 at 5:30 PM | PERMALINK

Conservatives get all giddy and worked up over the mention of Ronald Reagan, as gay men do over the mention of Judy Garland.

Posted by: Joe Bob Briggs on November 9, 2007 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

And, of course, the GOP doesn't really want to cut government. They've done little in the past quarter century toward that goal. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid--they're all still around. Reagan did some union busting and some deregulation, but the GOP doesn't really want to take a big chunk out of government, because it is unpopular. Hence Supply Side Economics. If they really wanted to shrink government, they'd be making the argument that they'll save your tax dollars by closing down Social Security. They can't do that politically, so they take us further into debt to give tax breaks to their friends.

Posted by: Lev on November 9, 2007 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

If Brooks wanted to set the record straight on an more current convenient misrepresentation, he might right the wrong being done to Hillary Clinton over the Wellesley speech. Susan Faludi wrote a great column on it, and prompted me to read the entire transcript. She never uttered a word that could be interpreted as "stop picking on poor me." But you'd never know that by what we've read and heard in the echo chamber all week. Amazing.

Posted by: Dodger on November 9, 2007 at 5:39 PM | PERMALINK


And Ronald Reagan never said a word that could be directly interpreted as encouraging racism. He spoke about "States Rights".

Maybe Faludi should write a column defending Reagan's speech at Neshoba?

Posted by: frankly0 on November 9, 2007 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

Al: "Social security also hurts African Americans because they die sooner ..."

Fuck you, Al -- and the closeted GOP congressmen you're blowing.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on November 9, 2007 at 5:47 PM | PERMALINK

Man, How desparate is Brook? To defend a dead man from a rumour?

These Republican are desparate to talk about anything besides Bush

Posted by: jimmy on November 9, 2007 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK

Do you know what god God himself worships? Ronald Reagan, that's who. In heaven, he has the highest throne.

You liberals are just jealous that the greatest human since Jesus was a Republican. Your stupidity and hatred knows no bounds.

Posted by: Free Lover of Freedom and Free Liberty on November 9, 2007 at 6:28 PM | PERMALINK

Brooks is really a dishonest fellow. "Proving" that Ronald Reagan was a racist has nothing to do with Krugman's argument and Krugman certainly never called him a racist. All that Krugman needs is what Brooks himself wrote in the column today:

"You can look back on this history in many ways. It�s callous, at least, to use the phrase �states� rights� in any context in Philadelphia. Reagan could have done something wonderful if he�d mentioned civil rights at the fair. He didn�t. And it�s obviously true that race played a role in the G.O.P.�s ascent."

I guess we shouldn't expect someone who feels the need to lie about the cost of dinner in Franklin County, PA.
What was that phrase that another Times columnist used? Ah, congenital liar, that's it.

Posted by: jonm on November 9, 2007 at 7:12 PM | PERMALINK

Oh yeah, that Republican Jesus: "Give your money to the rich. They don't have enough." Right there in scripture.

Posted by: MaxGowan on November 9, 2007 at 7:17 PM | PERMALINK

"Even the liberal Kevin Drum."

Kevin: You've made it to the ranks of the "even the liberal New Republic."

Brooks didn't just mention you. His piece is almost entirely based on your post.

You can't give these creeps a centimeter. Even from three years ago. There's no serious debate that the GOP gained power through appeal to Southern racism. LBJ predicted it, and many political scientists have documented it.

Posted by: Upper West on November 9, 2007 at 9:42 PM | PERMALINK

Reagan went to Philadelphia and he didn't mention Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman. He talked about states' rights, the slogan of the murderers. They were walking free in the community. None of them served more than six years, and two of them served no time at all. Reagan went to Philadelphia and he made common cause with the killers. If he had spat on the graves of the dead he would not have made his message more clear.

Posted by: Bloix on November 9, 2007 at 10:50 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, politics and diplomacy (foreign politics) is based on "sending messages". You are not making much sense here. I think you probably know that, but I am trying to figure out why.

I find it hard to be a Reagan apologist, particularly on racism, or anything societly communal.

Any ideas?

I think there is mounting evidence that you are not near as liberal or Democratic as you would have us to believe.

Posted by: notthere on November 10, 2007 at 2:18 AM | PERMALINK


Without a doubt that was your worst most idiotic post ever.

I hate to say it, but it puts all tour writing on race issues through a different prism for me.

Insensitivity is a kind word for what you exhibited.

Posted by: Armando on November 10, 2007 at 2:52 AM | PERMALINK

When President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he handed one of the pens to a young aid, and said to him, "I just handed the country over to the GOP for the next 50 years." Yup, that's what he said.

Which is worse? Being a racist, or not - but pandering to the worst racial elements? Reagan grew up in a house where bigotry was utterly rejected, where Black people were regular guests in their house. There is not much evidence in his bio of Reagan ever being a racist. (Kevin, to your credit, you understand this.) But there was not a single civil rights bill he wasn't hostile to. He knew what the way to the White House and being a post-1964 Republican involved. Nixon would have won in '68 by a landslide were it not for Wallace. (Humphrey would have won were it not for the left voting for Dick Gregory or sitting on their hands.)

LBJ knew.

Posted by: MaxGowan on November 10, 2007 at 8:35 AM | PERMALINK

The aide was Jack Valenti.

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 10, 2007 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

I’ve yet to track down what Krugman said, but I can tell you straight out that Reagan had played a big part himself in making “states rights” the code words they became, long before his speech at Neshoba. There is no doubt about this.

The Reagan campaign was going after conservative votes, which in Mississippi meant plenty of white Democrats. The Reagan campaign could not have cared less about offending Blacks.

Suddenly, you had 90% of the White vote going to Reagan and 90% of the Black vote going against Reagan, and I mean against Reagan because they were not fooled by him. These amazing numbers were no coincidence.

Brooks would like to rewrite history. He would like to continue the rehab of Reagan’s legacy. But Reagan played to the bigots big time. Period.
I grew up in Mississippi, attended the Neshoba county fair, and the Reagan campaign could not have picked a better place to get their message across. The message was this: “Whites have a lot of reasons to be resentful and downright mad. If I (Reagan) am elected, there will be no more federal government interference in the affairs of Mississippi. Screw all that civil rights legislation.”

The Whites loved it and believed him and voted for him in numbers (percentages) that, prior to that time, were almost unheard of.

Posted by: little ole jim from red state on November 10, 2007 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

Heard on a 1980s-vintage CSPAN broadcast thw night of November 9-10 a complaint from a panelist that Reagan's Attorney General Ed (remember the Pillsbury Doughboy?) Meese had declared in a recent (c. 1987) speech that the 1954 school integration decision was unconstitutional. Hmmm ... one's thoughts could wander to (a) Reagan in Philadelphia MS and (b) our current Supreme Court.

Posted by: modaca on November 10, 2007 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think people outside the South truly appreciate the meaning that "states' sights" has there. It's code. Code that speaks loudly. Code that says, "I think what happened here in the 60's was a mistake." Code that says, "you guys were right during the Civil War."

Even if Reagan didn't truly believe it, he was knowingly appealing to people who would think he did.

Kevin, you're naive if you think Reagan wasn't playing the race card.

Posted by: Jake on November 11, 2007 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

Ronald Reagan...One of my favorite quotes: A people free to choose will always choose peace.

Posted by: CNA Certification on November 17, 2010 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

Ronald Reagan...One of my favorite quotes: Freedom prospers when religion is vibrant and the rule of law under God is acknowledged.

Posted by: Certified Nursing Assistant on November 17, 2010 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK
Post a comment

Remember personal info?



Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM

buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly