Smearing Reagan, Again

Normally I don’t ever jump to the step-and-fetchit demands of our many lefty trolls, but I’ll make an exception for the story rocketing around right now that way back in 1971 Governor Reagan made a crude racist comment in a private conversation with (checks notes). . . Richard Nixon.  You can listen to the audio here (about the halfway mark). Here’s how Timothy Naftali (a nasty piece of work whom I’ve unfortunately met—I wonder if he’s spent as much time scouring and cataloging LBJ’s voluminous—and much worse—racist epithets, not to mention Harry Truman’s?) describes it in The Atlantic:

The day after the United Nations voted to recognize the People’s Republic of China, then-California Governor Ronald Reagan phoned President Richard Nixon at the White House and vented his frustration at the delegates who had sided against the United States. “Last night, I tell you, to watch that thing on television as I did,” Reagan said. “Yeah,” Nixon interjected. Reagan forged ahead with his complaint: “To see those, those monkeys from those African countries — damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!” Nixon gave a huge laugh.

As I say, this was a private conversation, with a “complicated” man who Reagan always struggled to relate to. It’s not like he said it on national television or something. Seriously? This is all the left has? Out of Reagan’s entire record? Even Naftali concedes, “Reagan’s racism appears to be documented only once on the Nixon tapes, and never in his own diaries.” Or anywhere else for that matter.

Understand that for the left, anyone who disagrees with the left’s policy preferences is a racist by definition. Hence, the left thinks Reagan was a racist because—gasp!—he criticized the Great Society! (More than once arguing this case at length before the NAACP, the horrid man.) And as the higher learning on race on campus these days holds that every single white person in America is a racist, it is hard to get very excited about this just now.

The other piece of evidence the left tries to use to tar Reagan with their racist paint-roller was his 1980 campaign appearance in Philadelphia, Mississippi, right after the GOP convention. Philadelphia is near where civil rights activists Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney were murdered in 1964.  In the course of his remarks, Reagan said:

What we have to do is bring back the recognition that the people of this country can solve its problems. I still believe the answer to any problem lies with the people. I believe in state’s rights and I believe in people doing as much as they can for themselves at the community level and at the private level. I believe we have distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended to be given in the Constitution to that federal establishment.  (Emphasis added.)

To be sure, it is difficult to imagine that Reagan was oblivious to the historical baggage of the phrase “states’ rights” in Mississippi, and it cannot be ruled out that he was conscious of the problematic implication of his choice of words, just as Jimmy Carter was not presumed innocent of his use of “ethnic purity” in 1976. (Never mind for now Carter’s shameful race-baiting in every single one of his Georgia campaigns.) In fact, I later learned from Reagan’s pollster Richard Wirthlin that Reagan was not happy to have been scheduled there; it was Trent Lott’s idea, but the campaign knew as a general matter that defeating Jimmy Carter would require stealing back some of the southern states that put him over in 1976. Wirthlin told me it was one of only three occasions he could remember of Reagan being visibly angry.

And is Mississippi supposed to be off limits to Republican candidates in perpetuity? I’m sure the left thinks so. Now, about “state’s rights.” Reagan was clearly reiterating his well-known opinion against centralized government power, similar to his 1976 pledge to return control of many social programs to the states. “Most of those at the rally,” the New York Times (!!!) reported the next day, “apparently regarded the statement as having been made in that context.” And as a westerner Reagan had fully associated himself with the “Sagebrush Rebellion,” for whom “states’ rights” meant wresting control of land from Washington.

The same day Reagan made his “states’ rights” remark, the National Governors Association issued what the Associated Press described as “a militant call for reduced federal involvement in state and local affairs.”  Arizona Governor Bruce Babbitt, while affirming his liberal and Democratic credentials, nonetheless wrote in the New York Times that “It is time to take hard look at ‘states’ rights’—and responsibilities—and to sort out the respective functions of the federal government and the states.”

But it’s different when a liberal Democrat says that, because reasons.

For a more complete treatment of this latest trumped (heh) up “scandal,” see Paul Kengor’s fine article over at The American Spectator.

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