David Brooks Defends Reagan on Racism, Sinks Bank Shot Against Krugman

Is Paul Krugman reading this? "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."

Resident non-liberal columnist David Brooks blows a hole into the left-wing myth of Ronald Reagan appealing to Southern racists to kick off his 1980 presidential campaign. Brooks column isdoubly valuable because it's a bank-shot sinking of fellow Times columnists Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert.

Brooks' "History and Calumny" defends then-candidate Ronald Reagan from leftists like Krugman who have long slurredhis 1980 campaign kick-offin Philadelphia, Miss. as a racist appeal.

"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.

"The distortion concerns a speech Ronald Reagan gave during the 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Miss., which is where three civil rights workers had been murdered 16 years earlier. An increasing number of left-wing commentators assert that Reagan kicked off his 1980 presidential campaign with a states' rights speech in Philadelphia to send a signal to white racists that he was on their side. The speech is taken as proof that the Republican majority was built on racism.

The truth is more complicated."

Reagan did visit the Neshoba County Fair, a common stomping ground for politicians, on August 3, 1980, but stuck mostly to talking about the failures of President Jimmy Carter, with one line about states rights. (Strangely, back in 1980 the Times covered Reagan's appearance without mentioning the three slain civil rights workers.) Reagan then went to New York and spoke to the National Urban League and dedicated much of his first campaign week to making appeals to blacks.

Brooks concluded:

"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."

Who could Brooks be referring to?

From Paul Krugman's column of September 24, 2007:

"Republican politicians, who understand quite well that the G.O.P.'s national success since the 1970s owes everything to the partisan switch of Southern whites, have tacitly acknowledged this reality. Since the days of Gerald Ford, just about every Republican presidential campaign has included some symbolic gesture of approval for good old-fashioned racism.

"Thus Ronald Reagan, who began his political career by campaigning against California's Fair Housing Act, started his 1980 campaign with a speech supporting states' rights delivered just outside Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights workers were murdered. In 2000, Mr. Bush made a pilgrimage to Bob Jones University, famed at the time for its ban on interracial dating."

Thesoporific Times columnist Bob Herbert used the same smear in his column the very next day:

"In one of the vilest moves in modern presidential politics, RonaldReagan, the ultimate hero of this latter-day Republican Party, went out of his way to kick off his general election campaign in 1980 in that very same Philadelphia, Miss. He was not there to send the message that he stood solidly for the values of Andrew Goodman. He was there to assure the bigots that he was with them.

"'I believe in states' rights,' said Mr. Reagan. The crowd roared."

Brooks went out of his way to say the use of the "states rights" phrase "didn't spark any reaction in the crowd."