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Monday, November 12, 2007

St. Ronnie and the Southern Strategy

Brad DeLong says the debate between David Brooks and Paul Krugman is over, it's clear Krugman was right:

Game, Set, and Match to Paul Krugman..., by Brad DeLong: It appears that Paul Krugman wins his fight with David Brooks, who had written this about Paul Krugman's invocation of Ronald Reagan in Philadelphia, Mississippi:

David Brooks: History and Calumny: Today, I’m going to write about a slur. It’s a distortion that’s been around for a while, but has spread like a weed over the past few months. It was concocted for partisan reasons: to flatter the prejudices of one side, to demonize the other and to simplify a complicated reality into a political nursery tale.... But still the slur spreads. It’s spread by people who, before making one of the most heinous charges imaginable, couldn’t even take 10 minutes to look at the evidence. It posits that there was a master conspiracy to play on the alleged Klan-like prejudices of American voters, when there is no evidence of that conspiracy. And, of course, in a partisan age there are always people eager to believe this stuff.

Here, via Rick Perlstein, is Joseph Crespino:

Did David Brooks Tell the Full Story About Reagan's Neshoba County Fair Visit?: In his November 9, 2007, column in the New York Times, David Brooks discussed Ronald Reagan’s appearance at the Neshoba County Fair in 1980 and his use of the term “states’ rights.” Brooks absolved Reagan of racism, but he ignored the broader significance of Reagan’s Neshoba County appearance.... Consider a letter that Michael Retzer, the Mississippi national committeeman, wrote in December 1979 to the Republican national committee.  Well before the Republicans had nominated Reagan, the national committee was polling state leaders to line up venues where the Republican nominee might speak.  Retzer pointed to the Neshoba County Fair as ideal for winning what he called the “George Wallace inclined voters.”...

On July 31st, just days before Reagan went to Neshoba County, the New York Times reported that the Ku Klux Klan had endorsed Reagan.  In its newspaper, the Klan said that the Republican platform “reads as if it were written by a Klansman.”  Reagan rejected the endorsement, but only after a Carter cabinet official brought it up in a campaign speech.  The dubious connection did not stop Reagan from using segregationist language in Neshoba County.

It was clear from other episodes in that campaign that Reagan was content to let southern Republicans link him to segregationist politics in the South’s recent past. Reagan’s states rights line was prepared beforehand and reporters covering the event could not recall him using the term before the Neshoba County appearance.  John Bell Williams, an arch-segregationist former governor who had crossed party lines in 1964 to endorse Barry Goldwater, joined Reagan on stage at another campaign stop in Mississippi. Reagan’s campaign chair in the state, Trent Lott, praised Strom Thurmond, the former segregationist Dixiecrat candidate in 1948, at a Reagan rally, saying that if Thurmond had been elected president “we wouldn’t be in the mess we are today.”

Brooks’s defense of Reagan seemed to be a response to his fellow Times columnist Paul Krugman.... Brook’s column, however, is a good example of conservatives’ discomfort with their racial history.  Reagan is to modern conservatism what Franklin Roosevelt was to liberalism, so it’s not surprising that Brooks would feel the need to defend him.  But Brooks’s throwaway remark that “it’s obviously true that race played a role in the GOP ascent” understates what actually happened.... [Reagan] did it in 1966 when he campaigned for the California governorship by denouncing open housing and civil rights laws.  He did it in 1976 when he tried to beat out Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination by attacking welfare in subtly racist terms. And he did it in Neshoba County in 1980.

Reagan knew that southern Republicans were making racial appeals to win over conservative southern Democrats, and he was a willing participant.  Despite what Brooks claims, it’s no slur to hold Reagan accountable for the choice that he made.  Neither is it mere partisanship to try to think seriously about the complex ways that white racism has shaped modern conservative politics.   

For more on the subject from Rick Perlstein, see St. Ronnie and the 11th Commandment.

    Posted by on Monday, November 12, 2007 at 11:25 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (15)

          

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