Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Brooks to the Rescue of the Reagan Myth

It seems that pundit and Republican apologist David Brooks could not sit idly by and listen to the truth about his hero Ronald Reagan. Because of the recent talk surrounding the Reagan visit to Mississippi to kick-off his campaign and its racist overtones, Mr. Brooks is trying once again to write revisionist history concerning “The Gipper”. I wrote an essay detailing this phenomenon called “Revisionist History”, it seems the Republicans have to keep the image of Reagan as the populist hero because of the damage done by the Bush clan. It explains why all of the candidates are falling all over themselves to be the “next Reagan”. So, needless to say his image must not be tarnished by a small little detail like the truth.

The current complaint of Brooks and other revisionists revolves around a speech Reagan gave to kick-off his presidential campaign following the Republican convention. The speech took place in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers had been murdered just 16 years earlier. In the speech Reagan used the term “states rights” stating that, “I believe in states’ rights.” The term states’ rights has a long history in America and in the South particularly. States’ rights was the false justification used by the Confederacy to secede from the Union and to condone slavery.

The term "states' rights" has been used as a code word by defenders of segregation, and was the official name of the "Dixiecrat" party led by segregationist presidential candidate Strom Thurmond. George Wallace, the Alabama governor, who famously declared in his inaugural address, "Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!", later remarked that he should have said, "States' rights now! States' rights tomorrow! States' rights forever!" Wallace, however, claimed that segregation was but one issue symbolic of a larger struggle for states' rights; in that view, which historians dispute, his replacement of segregation with states' rights would be more of a clarification than a euphemism.[1]

Mr. Brooks would have us believe that Mr. Reagan and his campaign were unaware of these facts at the time of the scheduling of this stop or the location of the stop. For Mr. Brooks to make this claim is incredulous and completely dishonest, you would have had to be a moron not to know the implications of being in Philadelphia, Mississippi and making a statement concerning states’ rights. If there is one thing we do know the campaign staff for Reagan were no idiots, they carefully fashioned a brand that is still being used today as the standard bearer for Republican and conservative ideas. A brand that began with this speech and as we have gained more insight into the Reagan years it has become obvious that every speech, every movement was carefully choreographed. The idea that this was some campaign oversight or slip up flies in the face of reality.

In reality, Reagan strategists decided to spend the week following the 1980 Republican convention courting African-American votes. Reagan delivered a major address at the Urban League, visited Vernon Jordan in the hospital where he was recovering from gunshot wounds, toured the South Bronx and traveled to Chicago to meet with the editorial boards of Ebony and Jet magazines.

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.[2]

Based on his own argument Mr. Brooks makes the case that race played a major role in the rise of the Republican Party, so how did this rise take place? Why would millions of voters flock to a party that didn’t support their views concerning race? According to his article the goal of the Reagan campaign was to move away from the racists roots of the “Southern Strategy” begun by Nixon. I’m sorry you want to move away from racism by going to Mississippi and giving a speech on states’ rights the day your general election campaign begins, am I the only one who is missing something here? That would be like me trying to court the Hispanic vote by going to a rally given by the Minutemen declaring my support of native-born rights and then attending a Cinco de Mayo celebration the same day. How stupid do these people take us for?

Despite their attempts to whitewash history, the truth is that Reagan and his staff knew exactly what they were doing and it is borne out by the policies of his administration. Mr. Brooks states that Reagan could have done something wonderful that day by instead of supporting states’ rights he had said he supported civil rights, but imagine how that would have played with that crowd, so he didn’t. These brand preservers forget one tiny detail, we have a historical record of Mr. Reagan’s policies and legislative agenda and they contain outright pandering and inward support for racist policies. Has Mr. Brooks forgotten about South Africa and Bob Jones University? To have a serious debate it requires a certain amount of honesty, honesty that Mr. Books and his ilk refuse to display.

The Reagan brand is a myth and like all good myths it requires fabricators to keep it alive and flourishing. I can’t say that Reagan was a racist or he wasn’t; only God can know a man’s heart, but I can say that he supported policies that had racist overtones. Mr. Brooks calling a duck a chicken doesn’t make it one.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/States'_rights
[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/09/opinion/09brooks.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin

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