So David Brooks thinks that Ronald Reagan's invocation of "states' rights" at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Mississippi, in 1980, was not an appeal to white racism -- because, as best I can figure, Reagan's appearance at Neshoba was not planned in advance, and because he also spoke to African-Americans, and because he was "cheerful," and because the Reagan campaign was "famously disorganized," and well -- just because.
Paul Krugman makes short work of this sloppy nonsense without ever mentioning Brooks by name:
So there’s a campaign on to exonerate Ronald Reagan from the charge that he deliberately made use of Nixon’s Southern strategy. When he went to Philadelphia, Mississippi, in 1980, the town where the civil rights workers had been murdered, and declared that “I believe in states’ rights,” he didn’t mean to signal support for white racists. It was all just an innocent mistake.
Indeed, you do really have to feel sorry for Reagan. He just kept making those innocent mistakes.
When he went on about the welfare queen driving her Cadillac, and kept repeating the story years after it had been debunked, some people thought he was engaging in race-baiting. But it was all just an innocent mistake.
When, in 1976, he talked about working people angry about the “strapping young buck” using food stamps to buy T-bone steaks at the grocery store, he didn’t mean to play into racial hostility. True, as the New York Times reported,
The ex-Governor has used the grocery-line illustration before, but in states like New Hampshire where there is scant black population, he has never used the expression “young buck,” which, to whites in the South, generally denotes a large black man.
But the appearance that Reagan was playing to Southern prejudice was just an innocent mistake.
Similarly, when Reagan declared in 1980 that the Voting Rights Act had been “humiliating to the South,” he didn’t mean to signal sympathy with segregationists. It was all an innocent mistake.
In 1982, when Reagan intervened on the side of Bob Jones University, which was on the verge of losing its tax-exempt status because of its ban on interracial dating, he had no idea that the issue was so racially charged. It was all an innocent mistake.
And the next year, when Reagan fired three members of the Civil Rights Commission, it wasn’t intended as a gesture of support to Southern whites. It was all an innocent mistake.
Poor Reagan. He just kept on making those innocent mistakes, again and again and again.