Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Misfiring Cannon?

Over at The New York Times, Lou Cannon has entered the fray about Ronald Reagan's alleged racism and the "misstep" of the famed Neshoba County Fair speech in Mississippi.

There is precious little to indicate Mr. Reagan was a racist--virtually nothing, if the examples Cannon gives are trustworthy.

That, however, Dear Gentle Reader(s), is somewhat beside the point. Reagan's personal biases aside, the real issue is the rise of the Republican Party in the late 20th century, and the part played in that rise by the Republican politicians utilizing the "Southern Strategy" devised, originally, if conventional wisdom is to be believed, by Barry Goldwater.

As reported by Cannon, this Reagan comment: At the fair, Mr. Reagan told a cheering and mostly white audience, “I believe in states’ rights” and that as president he would do all he could to “restore to states and local governments the power that properly belongs to them” is the source of the allegations against Reagan.

The key words are "states' rights." These two little words in virtually any other section of the country would mean education, water, roads, forestry, etc.

In the South many felt they meant a continuation of segregation, a meaning which Cannon disputes. Ask a Democrat, and they mean veiled racism; ask a Republican, and they mean education, water, roads, forestry, etc.

About two-thirds of the way through his column, Cannon has this to say: "The Neshoba appearance hurt Mr. Reagan with these voters in the target states of Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania without bolstering his standing among conservative Southern whites."

Really? In the 1980 presidential election, of all the Southern states, only Georgia sent its electoral votes to Mr. Carter. The political Reagan benefitted from this misstep; the Southern Strategy became an institution for the next political generation.

Mr. Cannon chooses to write that Mr. Reagan's success was based on a repudiation of Carter policies, and that could well be true. In the South, however, that "states' rights" comment carried just as much weight as economics--because it was based, in part, and in the South, on class (which is economics).

If one wasn't a member of the Southern body politic in the 20th century up until, say, 1970, one really doesn't have a clue about the class divide and how race affected it.

Trust Mr. Cannon if you must, but verify.

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