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Comments by YACCS
Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Why black folks don't remember Reagan with fondness

He made black people's lives harder

Reagan's death has met with less than awed reverence by black America. Sure, you have the toadies of the right like Armstrong Williams praising Reagan to the skies, but for most of black America, if good riddince is too strong, a general shock and disgust with the deification of Reagan is common. Except for the soldiers, most of Reagan's public mourners have been white. The DC streets were deep with tourists for a block or two, but even in America's blackest city, the crowds were white.

That doesn't mean people don't have compassion for the Reagan family. I was touched to see Nancy Reagan walking behind her husband's casket and touching his coffin while it lay in the Capital Rotunda. Only a monster couldn't have sympathy for the Reagan family's last decade. It must be horrible to see someone you love slip away slowly.

But symapthy for the family doesn't abrogate what Reagan stood for and what he sponsored while President.

Here's a piece on why blacks and Reagan were an uncomfortable fit

At one time, the GOP was the party of blacks, and they religiously voted for the "party of Lincoln." They were attracted to its message of freedom and self-help. While black voting for the GOP decreased after Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, blacks still had high regard for the Republican Party, especially since the Democratic Party had long been in the grip of the "boll weevils" – Southern senators like Stennis, Eastland and Bilbo – who blocked nearly all civil rights legislation for the first half of the 20th century. Black people voted Republican by a 60-40 margin in the 1956 election that returned Eisenhower to the presidency for a second term.

This changed, however, when race become central to the Republican Party's national strategy, especially in the South, now the main region of power for the GOP. Arizona senator Barry Goldwater began the Republicans' catering to Southern racism in his 1964 presidential race against Lyndon Johnson. Realizing a large share of the black vote was going to Johnson, who was working on crafting the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act, Goldwater came out against it, and went for states' rights instead. This helped him ride the wave of white backlash, and he carried the five Deep South (Dixiecrat) states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. This was unheard of for a Republican at the time.

That same year, Strom Thurmond, the then segregationist Democratic senator from South Carolina, saw the writing on the wall and switched to the Republican Party. "The Democratic Party has forsaken the people," said Thurmond at the time. "It has become the party of minority groups, power-hungry union leaders, political bosses and big businessmen looking for government contracts and favors."

Four years later in 1968, Richard Nixon's "Southern strategy" used tactics from the Goldwater and the Dixiecrat playbook of George Wallace to play on white fear and resentment by labeling blacks "welfare cheats" and "laggards." The white backlash to the Civil Rights Movement and to LBJ's Great Society programs (which, paradoxically, gave poor Southern white people unprecedented access to health care, education, and job training) helped elect Nixon, and the party wrote off black voters completely.

"Substantial Negro support is not necessary to national Republican victory," said Kevin Phillips, the mastermind behind the Nixon strategy. "The GOP can build a winning coalition without Negro votes. Indeed, Negro-Democratic mutual identification was a major source of Democratic loss and Republican party profit in many sections of the country."

Since then, some Republicans across the country have played to these fears to gather white votes. Ronald Reagan declared that he "believed in states' rights" when he kicked off a presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where civil rights martyrs Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman were murdered, fighting states rights and attempting to help blacks get registered to vote. Once in office, Reagan used the racialized image of "welfare queens" who drive Cadillac's, and he led an all out assault on affirmative action laws calling them "reverse racism."

Time's Jack White wrote a piece in 2002 about Reagan's racial legacy:

The same could be said, of course, about such Republican heroes as, Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon or George Bush the elder, all of whom used coded racial messages to lure disaffected blue collar and Southern white voters away from the Democrats. Yet it's with Reagan, who set a standard for exploiting white anger and resentment rarely seen since George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door, that the Republican's selective memory about its race-baiting habit really stands out.

Space doesn't permit a complete list of the Gipper's signals to angry white folks that Republicans prefer to ignore, so two incidents in which Lott was deeply involved will have to suffice. As a young congressman, Lott was among those who urged Reagan to deliver his first major campaign speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers were murdered in one of the 1960s' ugliest cases of racist violence. It was a ringing declaration of his support for "states' rights" — a code word for resistance to black advances clearly understood by white Southern voters.

Then there was Reagan's attempt, once he reached the White House in 1981, to reverse a long-standing policy of denying tax-exempt status to private schools that practice racial discrimination and grant an exemption to Bob Jones University. Lott's conservative critics, quite rightly, made a big fuss about his filing of a brief arguing that BJU should get the exemption despite its racist ban on interracial dating. But true to their pattern of white-washing Reagan's record on race, not one of Lott's conservative critics said a mumblin' word about the Gipper's deep personal involvement. They don't care to recall that when Lott suggested that Reagan's regime take BJU's side in a lawsuit against the Internal Revenue Service, Reagan responded, "We ought to do it." Two years later the U.S. Supreme Court in a resounding 8-to-1 decision ruled that Reagan was dead wrong and reinstated the IRS's power to deny BJU's exemption.

Now, as I have said, I don't think Reagan bore a personal animus towards blacks. But he completed the job Nixon started in driving the GOP into the arms of racists. Reagan had only limited contacts with blacks as he grew richer and older. So he was eager to embrace the lies of the neo-segregationists. They wanted to support Bob Jones University and end affirmative action.

Maybe they were right, Seeing how the perpetually unqualified George W. Bush has benefited from affirmative action at every turn in his life, including special breaks in business, it might be time to end it for the people who have always gotten it, the legacies of the rich. That might lead to a fairer America.

The reality was that Nixon played at a cynical view of race, and personally hated blacks, Jews and most humans. Reagan didn't hate anyone, but made it much harder to live in an imperfect America. Reagan liked money and security, yet never saw the role it played in other people's lives. He thought welfare was some plot to steal from the government, and it wasn't. It was a crappy way to live. And Reagan began to make it worse. leaving the purely evil, like Giuliani, free reign to use welfare laws to torture people.

Reagan used race cynically. He pandered to racists to get their votes, while not sharing their views in his life. Reagan even opposed the Martin Luther King holiday until he realized he looked like a redneck for doing so, and stood by while Jesse Helms slandered King's memory in public by calling him a communist. Helms was a racist and didn't hide it. Reagan, was at worst, indifferent to blacks, but willing to pander to the worst in whites. Which is even more cynical than hating people for their skin color.

posted by Steve @ 9:36:00 PM

9:36:00 PM

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