David Brooks Denies GOP Had Southern Strategy

Yep. He did. And he says Kevin Drum agrees with him. Oh, Brooks starts by the standard unsourced argument that Ronald Reagan really did not mean to send a message to white Southerners on civil rights when he gave a speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi where defense of "states rights" figured prominently. He calls those of us, including his colleague Bob Herbert, purveyors of a "heinous conspiracy theory." But the truth is Brooks has been a pernicious, mendacious apologist for the GOP throughout his career and this is no different.

Brooks provides NO evidence to buttress his claims. Indeed the version he provides buttresses the argument that the Philadelphia speech was in fact an exercise in dogwhistle politics in the Deep South:

Lou Cannon of The Washington Post reported at the time that this schedule reflected a shift in Republican strategy. Some inside the campaign wanted to move away from the Southern strategy used by Nixon, believing there were more votes available in the northern suburbs and among working-class urban voters.

But there was another event going on that week, the Neshoba County Fair, seven miles southwest of Philadelphia. The Neshoba County Fair was a major political rallying spot in Mississippi (Michael Dukakis would campaign there in 1988). Mississippi was a state that Republican strategists hoped to pick up. They’d recently done well in the upper South, but they still lagged in the Deep South, where racial tensions had been strongest. Jimmy Carter had carried Mississippi in 1976 by 14,000 votes.

So the decision was made to go to Neshoba. Exactly who made the decision is unclear. The campaign was famously disorganized, and Cannon reported: “The Reagan campaign’s hand had been forced to some degree by local announcement that he would go to the fair.” Reagan’s pollster Richard Wirthlin urged him not to go, but Reagan angrily countered that once the commitment had been made, he couldn’t back out.

Well, that settles it no? Sheesh. Brooks ACCEPTS that Nixon ran a Southern Strategy, ACCEPTS that the Reagan campaign was looking to make inroads in the Deep South against the Southerner Carter and even accepts that:

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.

So this is the "evidence" that absolves the Reagan campaign? This is what allows a man with a history of mendacity to slur people like his colleague Herbert as "heinous?" Oh and what of the evidence that Brooks ignores? Like this:

Ronald Reagan on the subject of welfare. He cited a Chicago "Welfare Queen" who had ripped off $150,000 from the government, using 80 aliases, 30 addresses, a dozen social security cards, and four fictional dead husbands. The country was outraged; Reagan dutifully promised to roll back welfare; and ever since, the "Welfare Queen" driving her "Welfare Cadillac" has become permanently lodged in American political folklore.

Unfortunately, like most great conservative anecdotes, it wasn't really true. The media searched for this welfare cheat in the hopes of interviewing her, and discovered that she didn't even exist.

As a bit of class warfare, however, it was brilliant. . . .

Except in was not class warfare only. It was mainly RACE warfare.

And this:

Ronald Reagan was key to the South's transition to Republican politics. Goldwater got the ball rolling, but Reagan was at his side from the very beginning. During the 1964 campaign, Reagan gave speeches in support of Goldwater and spoke out for what he called individual rights -- read that also as states' rights. Reagan also and portrayed any opposition as support for totalitarianism -- read that as communism.

In 1976, Reagan sought the Republican nomination against the incumbent President Gerald Ford. Reagan's campaign was on the ropes until the primaries hit the Southern states, where he won his first key victory in North Carolina. Throughout the South that spring and summer, Reagan portrayed himself as Goldwater's heir while criticizing Ford as a captive of Eastern establishment Republicans fixated on forced integration.

. . . After he defeated President Carter, a native Southerner, Reagan led an administration that seemed to cater to Southerners still angry over the passage of the Civil Rights Act after 16 years. The Reagan team condemned busing for school integration, opposed affirmative action and even threatened to veto a proposed extension of the Voting Rights Act (the sequel to the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed a year later and focused on election participation). President Reagan also tried to allow Bob Jones University, a segregated Southern school, to reclaim federal tax credits that had long been denied to racially discriminatory institutions.

Of course this is just a sample of what Reagan said and did on race issues throughout his political career. But Brooks would have it that the Phildelphia, Mississippi speech was NOT intended to be consistent with Reagan's entire political history. It was just an accidental bit of "callousness."

David Brooks has been a mendacious and despicable charcter in our political discourse for many years now. But this column today sinks him to a new low.

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    Ahem (5.00 / 2) (#1)
    by andgarden on Fri Nov 09, 2007 at 09:24:35 AM EST
    "I will not read David Brooks."

    "I will not read David Brooks."

    "I will not read David Brooks."

    "I will not read David Brooks."

    "I will not read David Brooks."

    "I will not read David Brooks."

    And I don't. (5.00 / 2) (#8)
    by Molly Bloom on Fri Nov 09, 2007 at 02:55:44 PM EST
    He is so intellectually dishonest

    As you, of all people, must know, (none / 0) (#5)
    by oculus on Fri Nov 09, 2007 at 01:14:57 PM EST
    it is uncool to comment if you haven't read all the links!

    It seems the Welfare Queens (5.00 / 2) (#2)
    by annefrank on Fri Nov 09, 2007 at 09:50:00 AM EST
    are now the Corporate lobbyists roaming Congress distributing influence that promotes Corporate Welfare.

    Yup (none / 0) (#3)
    by Wile ECoyote on Fri Nov 09, 2007 at 11:41:25 AM EST
    and Murtha and Stevens are the welfare kings.

    Typical intellectual dishonesty (5.00 / 4) (#4)
    by tnthorpe on Fri Nov 09, 2007 at 12:14:00 PM EST
    from a shallow GOP shill.
    "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," so DB says.
    Pretty threadbare stuff, and no mention that Trent Lott helped to set up that event, nor of Lee Atwater, who pushed Repub race baiting to extremes. "Race played a role": welcome to the United States of Amnesia.

    From someone who was there:
    Ronald Reagan obviously understood these southern politics when he launched his presidential campaign at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Alabama civil rights attorney J.L. Chestnut heard the speech. Below are his comments:

    "One sunny afternoon in late 1978 or early 1979, driving back from a Court Martial trial at a Mississippi Air Force Base I heard on the car radio that Reagan would kick off his presidential bid in Philadelphia, Mississippi later that afternoon. That infamous little redneck town is where three young civil rights workers were brutally murdered by law enforcement people and Klu Kluxers during the 1960s. I had not one scintilla of a doubt why Reagan had chosen this little racist symbol of a town, but wanted to hear the actor-politician lie about why he didn't begin his presidential effort in his native state, Illinois, or in his adopted state, California. I was about 100 miles from the town and decided to head for Philadelphia.

    I was more than aware that, Reagan as Governor of California, and District Attorney Ed Meese, (later Reagan's Attorney General) had treated civil rights demonstrators in California almost as badly as Bull Connor and Jim Clark had treated us in Alabama. I also knew that Reagan had stolen almost all of George Wallace's coded and demagogic speech about law and order, limited government and states rights. Like Wallace, Reagan never mentioned the word race. They didn't have to say the word. The message was clear. After Reagan's speech in Philadelphia, I drove away both sad and angry.

    The Reagan rally took place in the town square on the unkempt Main Street, and I would guess that every racist nut in the town was crowded into the square. This writer and only one other black person were present, and he was pushing a gray haired old white man in a wheelchair who appeared already dead. Reagan delivered the most racist speech I had heard since Wallace's "segregation today, tomorrow and forever "foolishness. Hiding behind the Reagan smile, he proclaimed that without a doubt the South will rise again and this time remain master of everybody and everything within its dominion." The square came to life, the Klu Kluxers were shouting, jeering and in obvious ecstasy. God bless America."

    Reagan won all of the deep South states in 1980 with the exception of Georgia, that supported its native son Jimmy Carter. His Mississippi speech was noted as pivotal in both his presidential election and Republican victory in the South. Reagan helped to solidify the reunion of whites in America that has been on-going since the Compromise of 1877 when the federal government ended reconstruction in the South. This gave the southern elite the green light for implementation the oppressive Jim Crow policies that destabilized the freedom movement in the South for half a century. The Republican party sold its soul to racist sentiments in the South to take the region officially into the Republican fold.

    The bigots (5.00 / 2) (#7)
    by Alien Abductee on Fri Nov 09, 2007 at 02:39:12 PM EST
    often find it convenient to hide behind the honest streak of libertarianism in American discourse.

    A whole generation of conservative movement propaganda has been dedicated to doing exactly that, in increasingly sophisticated and institutionalized ways. Brooks is just another in a long line of smooth talking obfuscators of ugly truths about race and class in America. They'll keep on doing it as long as it works for them politically with people who'd rather not examine what's really driving their voting behavior.

    Bitburg Redux (none / 0) (#9)
    by RedHead on Fri Nov 09, 2007 at 04:04:24 PM EST
    I love this part:

    Reagan's pollster Richard Wirthlin urged him not to go, but Reagan angrily countered that once the commitment had been made, he couldn't back out.

    it's the same excuse they used for Bitburg.

    Goodwin, Chaney, and Schwerner (none / 0) (#10)
    by RedHead on Fri Nov 09, 2007 at 04:08:05 PM EST
    when discussing Reagan and Philadelphia, Mississippi one must never leave out the kidnappings and murder of civil rights workers, Goodwin, Chaney, and Schwerner, only 15 years earlier.

    strategies (none / 0) (#12)
    by diogenes on Fri Nov 09, 2007 at 07:31:20 PM EST
    And the Democrats don't have a "African-American stragegy" somehow playing to race in some sort of way?

    a rose is a rose.... (none / 0) (#14)
    by CripDyke on Sat Nov 10, 2007 at 07:08:13 AM EST
    The "southern strategy" has an innocuous name, but neither I nor any1 i've read on this site has protested or criticized any1 for merely addressing racial implications of different issues.

    No, what is being criticized primarily is David Brooks current lie about past events. The past events are actions around the southern strategy, true, but the strategy itself is not the main point of the criticism here.

    As for racial strategies in politics: I, as a white person, want - demand! - a racial strategy from all politicians who want my vote. I demand that politicians seeking my support actually notice that the playing field in the US of A is not equal for all races, religions, and genders. I ask them to look at the facts - the complicated facts - and do their best to come up with a strategy that reflects their ethics and/or morals.

    In critiquing the so-called "southern strategy," I have not heard anyone criticize Reagan or the GOP for noticing inequality.

    Instead, they have been criticized for noticing the inequality and deciding that their morals and ethics led them to (1) visit the site of a lynching designed to perpetuate black subservience in the US of A.

    Their morals and ethics further led them to (2) say not one word in opposition to the lynching - or lynchings in general.

    Their morals and ethics further led them to (3) praise the point of view of the murderers.

    And further, their morals and ethics led them to (4) advocate policies that would undo controversial and somewhat problematic efforts to end black subservience without replacing those programs with new and different efforts that might try to end that subservience in a different way.

    In short, their morals and ethics led them to a memorably symbolic center of pro-racist action of the worst kind (murder), led them to appeal to those sympathetic to the murderers without criticizing the violence itself, led them to promise action that would retrench racism rather than remove it.

    ....to go back: I would have been fine with - even applaud - the morals and ethics of a person driven to visit that small town had they done it for a different purpose.

    I find the "southern strategy" repugnant not because it speaks to African Americans, or whites, or the most abused and marginalized racial minority in the US today - Native Americans; but instead because of what it says.

    I do not reject speech or action because of the color of its cover, but because of the character of its content.


    ended the boycott (none / 0) (#13)
    by sip1983 on Fri Nov 09, 2007 at 07:50:58 PM EST
    Two important points contra Brooks, on top of what others have said:

    1. Anyone fully looking at the history of this all would know that Reagan's speaking at the Neshoba fair wasn't just a big deal because of the symbolism of the place alone. It was a big deal because, in recognition of what went on there and the fair's historic role as a political must-stop in MS often being used to pump up the good ole boys, NO PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE had spoken there since the murders of Goodman/Cheney/Schwerner in 1964. And that went for both parties. Including Nixon. So Reagan, by going there, speaking about his commitment to "states' rights," and getting introduced by Strom Thurmond, was actively breaking that taboo.

    2. I could have sworn reading around the time of Trent Lott's deposal as Majority Leader that he was the emcee for this event, and that he pretty much uttered the same words introducing Thurmond to the crowd were NEARLY IDENTICAL to the ones that would get him in trouble two decades later. Yeah, the whole part about if they'd elected Strom president. Obviously saying that the Southern Strategy wasn't present at that event is even more ridiculous in that light.