Yep. He did. And he says Kevin Drum agrees with him. Oh, Brooks starts by the standard unsourced argument that Ronald Reagan really did not mean to send a message to white Southerners on civil rights when he gave a speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi where defense of “states rights” figured prominently. He calls those of us, including his colleague Bob Herbert, purveyors of a “heinous conspiracy theory.” But the truth is Brooks has been a pernicious, mendacious apologist for the GOP throughout his career and this is no different.
Brooks provides NO evidence to buttress his claims. Indeed the version he provides buttresses the argument that the Philadelphia speech was in fact an exercise in dogwhistle politics in the Deep South:
Lou Cannon of The Washington Post reported at the time that this schedule reflected a shift in Republican strategy. Some inside the campaign wanted to move away from the Southern strategy used by Nixon, believing there were more votes available in the northern suburbs and among working-class urban voters.
But there was another event going on that week, the Neshoba County Fair, seven miles southwest of Philadelphia. The Neshoba County Fair was a major political rallying spot in Mississippi (Michael Dukakis would campaign there in 1988). Mississippi was a state that Republican strategists hoped to pick up. They’d recently done well in the upper South, but they still lagged in the Deep South, where racial tensions had been strongest. Jimmy Carter had carried Mississippi in 1976 by 14,000 votes.
So the decision was made to go to Neshoba. Exactly who made the decision is unclear. The campaign was famously disorganized, and Cannon reported: “The Reagan campaign’s hand had been forced to some degree by local announcement that he would go to the fair.” Reagan’s pollster Richard Wirthlin urged him not to go, but Reagan angrily countered that once the commitment had been made, he couldn’t back out.
Well, that settles it no? Sheesh. Brooks ACCEPTS that Nixon ran a Southern Strategy, ACCEPTS that the Reagan campaign was looking to make inroads in the Deep South against the Southerner Carter and even accepts that:
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.
So this is the “evidence” that absolves the Reagan campaign? This is what allows a man with a history of mendacity to slur people like his colleague Herbert as “heinous?” Oh and what of the evidence that Brooks ignores? Like this:
Ronald Reagan on the subject of welfare. He cited a Chicago “Welfare Queen” who had ripped off $150,000 from the government, using 80 aliases, 30 addresses, a dozen social security cards, and four fictional dead husbands. The country was outraged; Reagan dutifully promised to roll back welfare; and ever since, the “Welfare Queen” driving her “Welfare Cadillac” has become permanently lodged in American political folklore.
Unfortunately, like most great conservative anecdotes, it wasn't really true. The media searched for this welfare cheat in the hopes of interviewing her, and discovered that she didn't even exist.
As a bit of class warfare, however, it was brilliant. . . .
Except in was not class warfare only. It was mainly RACE warfare.
Ronald Reagan was key to the South's transition to Republican politics. Goldwater got the ball rolling, but Reagan was at his side from the very beginning. During the 1964 campaign, Reagan gave speeches in support of Goldwater and spoke out for what he called individual rights — read that also as states' rights. Reagan also and portrayed any opposition as support for totalitarianism — read that as communism.
In 1976, Reagan sought the Republican nomination against the incumbent President Gerald Ford. Reagan's campaign was on the ropes until the primaries hit the Southern states, where he won his first key victory in North Carolina. Throughout the South that spring and summer, Reagan portrayed himself as Goldwater's heir while criticizing Ford as a captive of Eastern establishment Republicans fixated on forced integration.
. . . After he defeated President Carter, a native Southerner, Reagan led an administration that seemed to cater to Southerners still angry over the passage of the Civil Rights Act after 16 years. The Reagan team condemned busing for school integration, opposed affirmative action and even threatened to veto a proposed extension of the Voting Rights Act (the sequel to the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed a year later and focused on election participation). President Reagan also tried to allow Bob Jones University, a segregated Southern school, to reclaim federal tax credits that had long been denied to racially discriminatory institutions.
Of course this is just a sample of what Reagan said and did on race issues throughout his political career. But Brooks would have it that the Phildelphia, Mississippi speech was NOT intended to be consistent with Reagan's entire political history. It was just an accidental bit of “callousness.”
David Brooks has been a mendacious and despicable charcter in our political discourse for many years now. But this column today sinks him to a new low.