Bob Herbert Slams David Brooks' Revisionism of Reagan's Racist Legacy
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This post, written by Amanda Marcotte, originally appeared on Pandagon
Bob Herbert joins in the spanking of David Brooks for trying to whitewash over Ronald Reagan's racist legacy, particularly his non-subtle signaling of support for the murders of 3 civil rights workers in Neshoba County, Mississippi in 1964. Reagan opened his campaign for President there in 1980 with a lot of loaded language about "states' rights", the rallying cry for the Confederacy to paper over the fact that they were separating in an attempt to escape an impending ban on slavery. "States' rights" then became the battle cry for those who didn't appreciate the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and were casting around for code language to oppose it without making directly racist statements. Sayeth Herbert:
The murders were among the most notorious in American history. They constituted Neshoba County's primary claim to fame when Reagan won the Republican Party's nomination for president in 1980. The case was still a festering sore at that time. Some of the conspirators were still being protected by the local community. And white supremacy was still the order of the day.
That was the atmosphere and that was the place that Reagan chose as the first stop in his general election campaign. The campaign debuted at the Neshoba County Fair in front of a white and, at times, raucous crowd of perhaps 10,000, chanting: "We want Reagan! We want Reagan!"
Reagan was the first presidential candidate ever to appear at the fair, and he knew exactly what he was doing when he told that crowd, "I believe in states' rights."
Emphasis mine. Brooks is playing off the fact that, from our vantage point, those murders happened a long time ago, and don't loom so large. In 1980, however, the murders had only happened 16 years before. The cases were still open. ( No action was taken against the murderers until 2005, 41 years after the murders and 25 years after Reagan gave his nod of approval.) To put that into perspective, it would be like Rudy Giuliani kicking off his campaign in Jasper, TX with a speech about how he wants to "clean up" the nation like he cleaned up New York. No one would be under any illusions that barely concealed racist messages were being sent out.
The notion that there's some deep philosophical underpinnings to the "states' rights" argument--that many people actually have a fervent belief that state authority should override federal authority, even (and especially) when it comes to questions of basic human rights--is so transparently false that the only people I've ever seen fiercely defend it where more defending their right to be giant racists without having to defend racism directly. Not that there's no support from a few ideological libertarians who believe their own bullshit for actual state sovereignty on issues not relating to oppressing racial minorities, women, or gays, but it's pretty meager and certainly not the same as the Republican base that licks Reagan's ass. The federal "partial birth abortion" ban is a perfect example--anti-choicers run around bleating about states' rights strictly because they have traditionally thought that the states were more likely to pass abortion bans than the federal government. But the second that wasn't so, the solid commitment to states' rights flew out the window.