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Civil Rights

Reagan gets Racial.

“The upshot was that by 1980, race and ideology had become so commingled that one’s stand on racial issues served as a proxy for one’s partisan preference. Previously, economic issues had been the chief dividing line between the parties. By 1980, though, according to the Edsalls, the changes that followed the civil rights movement had crystallized, and racial politics figured just as strongly.Slate‘s resident historian David Greenberg weighs in on the recent furor at the NYT (and elsewhere) over Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign kickoff speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi, site of the 1964 Schwerner-Chaney-Goodman murders. (Coincidence? Sheah.) Therein, Greenberg correctly and succinctly argues that Reagan’s “I believe in states’ rights” was, in an apt turn of phrase, “a dog whistle to segregationists.

Honestly, I’m not really sure how you could dispute this, unless you want to argue that Reagan and his political handlers were completely ignorant about the civil rights struggle, massive resistance, and the significance of Philadelphia, Miss. in those struggles. (Of course, then you’d have to explain how Reagan remained blissfully unaware of the fact his 1966 gubernatorial bid often relied on similar loaded language.) Was Reagan a racist? I dunno, that’s not the issue. Did Reagan rely on coded racial messages to appeal to white conservatives, akin to what Dubya does these days with pro-lifers and Dred Scott? Obviously.

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