LIKE some back-of-the-dust-jacket circle blurb, Cannon shows up in Sunday's Op-Ed pages to restate the position David Brooks ascribed to him, either because 1) Brooks is feeling some heat for that ill-advised November 9 column; 2) Bob Herbert joined in last week, necessitating some faux-balance in the flesh; or 3) Cannon thought using eight times as many words as Brooks spent on him would tip the balance.
POLITICAL mythologies endure. One myth that is enjoying a revival in a year when Republican presidential candidates are comparing themselves to Ronald Reagan, their iconic hero, is the notion that Mr. Reagan defeated President Jimmy Carter in 1980 by a coded appeal to white-supremacist voters.
Again, nobody says this, or if they do the answer is a single-sentence brush-off. (It takes a whole paragraph or two to deal with people who claim Reagan won by stealing Carter's debate book or horse-trading with the hostage-holding Ayatollah, but that's another story.) What is claimed is that the modern "conservative" Republican party--the one Reagan's victory cemented in place-has been making such appeals for forty-five years, that it is a sizable, and often unspoken part of its electoral prowess, and that his first public act as Candidate Reagan--that trip to Klanland where he told the assembled crowd that Rinse-O™ with Extra Bluing Crystals got his sheets their whitest--serves as a fine metaphor for the whole enterprise. Small wonder both Brooks nor Cannon feel compelled to inflate the claims made about the incident, seeing as how the facts are undeniable and undeniably not on their side.
And again: going into Mississippi in 1980 and declaring for States' Rights was not "speaking in code," any more than saying "I'm pro-life" at that Values Voters Bash is.
He had been talking this way for two decades as part of his pitch that the federal government had become too powerful.
And in those two decades not one person ever imagined he was talking about the Commerce Clause.
In the wake of Neshoba, Mr. Reagan’s critics pounced. President Carter’s campaign operatives portrayed Mr. Reagan as a divisive racist.
Well, he had been talking like that for twenty years, Lou...I'm really somewhat at a loss, though, to explain why opponents portraying Reagan as racially divisive redeems his comment. And if he'd issued a retraction, a clarification, or an apology in response we wouldn't be having this conversation now, would we?
The mythology of Neshoba is wrong in two distinct ways. First, Ronald Reagan was not a racist. Second, his Neshoba speech was not an effective symbolic appeal to white voters. Instead, it was a political misstep that cost him support.
Okay, if I understand this line of reasoning correctly, people who claim Reagan won the 1980 elections due to a racist appeal are wrong because 1) the appeal backfired; 2) it wasn't racist; and 3) what th' fuck are you talking about?
Any fair-minded look at Mr. Reagan’s biography and record demonstrates that he was not a bigot. In 1931, when Mr. Reagan was on the Eureka College football team, two black players were refused admission to a hotel in Elmhurst, Ill., where the team was playing. Mr. Reagan took them with him to Dixon, Ill., to spend the night at his parents’ home. He and one of the players, William Franklin Burghardt, remained friends and correspondents until Mr. Burghardt died in 1981.
Hey, Lou, sometime, have somebody introduce you to an African-American and try that one on him. Whatever his political stripe. I'm sure the two players involved appreciated the gesture, but we aren't talking about his college career, and it ain't exactly sitting in protest at a Whites Only lunch counter while inbred yahoos burn you with cigarettes. This is part of the transparent fradulence of the argument. Reagan did not have to personally espouse racism to appeal to racists for votes; he didn't have to personally support segregation to be a racist. It's a really touching story an' all about how, way back in the 1930s Reagan didn't imagine he'd catch the Black Plague by inviting two African-Americans into his parent's house. But the issue is whether, fifty years later, he and the Republican party he helped reshape consciously appealed to white racism in the wake of Lyndon Johnson ramrodding the Civil Rights Act of 1964, et. seq., and whether Reagan's campaign-kickoff speech in Philadelphia is a fair example of the process.
And the answer is, as the kids say today, Well, duh!
As a sports announcer in Iowa in the 1930s, Mr. Reagan opposed the segregation of Major League Baseball. As an actor in Hollywood he quit a Los Angeles country club because it did not admit Jews.
And joined the Jewish one (by the way, did Hillcrest admit blacks, Mr. Cannon?) And he was a Commie, until he married Mommy. What any of that has to do with the campaigns of '64 or beyond I'm not sure. We doff the bowler to any and all of Reagan's principled stands against discrimination, but we also point out that the remarks of a sportscaster and the acts of a President are not measured on the same efficiency scale. Lots of people in the 1930s and 40s who believed in some notion of equality, or who opposed Jim Crow on principle, so long as they were outside the South, were not exactly crazy about open housing, or their own schools being integrated, or Sweet Susie's black swain turning up for Thanksgiving dinner. We don't know about Reagan. We don't presume to judge. We know he presided over the realization of Nixon's Southern Strategy. We know his Cadillac-drivin' Welfare Queen, fictional except in his telling of it, remains an icon of the operation. We know that's enough.
In fact, maybe now is a good time to cut the shit, huh? I'm a white Northerner born in 1953, exactly twenty years after Lou Cannon. Anybody of my age bracket and climatological repose knows what kind of racism festers just below the surface in non-slave holding, non-segregated white America. It's a little less open and a little less virulent than a generation ago. But it's also true that it's less acceptable in public than it was. All the improvement is due to remarkably brave people who stood up against it and sometimes paid with their lives. And while that was going on--while black churches burned across the South, while Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman were being disinterred from their Mississippi mass grave, while Lt. Colonel Lemuel Penn, USA, was shotgunned to death and while his killers awaited their perfunctory acquittal, while the infected gunshot wounds in his stomach--wounds he'd received from Alabama state troopers as he'd tried to stop them beating his 82-year-old grandfather--took a week to kill Jimmy Lee Jackson, while Jonathan Daniels lay dead on the ground in front of Varner's Grocery Store, while his killer awaited his perfunctory acquittal, while Viola Liuzzo was being shipped back to Detroit and John Edgar Hoover was insinuating that she'd been givin' those black bucks more than a ride in her car, just between us, now...Ronald Reagan and the extremist wing of the Republican party, soon to adopt the single-wing set, opposed them. Because of States' Rights, y'know.