[Marxism] George Curry: Reagan Made Racism Respectable
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Tue Jun 8 11:08:52 MDT 2004
Reagan Made Racism Respectable
by George E. Curry
Originally posted 6/7/2004
In a 1980 presidential debate against Jimmy Carter, the
late Ronald Reagan will forever be remembered for having
asked, "Are you better off today than you were four years
ago?" If African-Americans were to ask themselves if they
are better off today than they were before eight years of
Ronald Reagan in the White House, the answer would be an
Ronald Reagan was an amiable figurehead who made racism
respectable. Efforts to re-write history, even by
newspapers with so-called liberal editorial pages, cannot
change that fact. I didn't say he was a racist - I said had
he made racism respectable. And he did so by launching an
all-out attack on civil rights, all while smiling, tilting
his head to the side, and doing a better acting job in the
White House than he ever did in Hollywood.
Reagan made his White House mission clear by kicking off
his 1980 general election campaign in Philadelphia, Miss.,
where three civil rights workers had been murdered in 1964.
Reagan appointed William Bradford Reynolds as assistant
attorney general for civil rights. Not only did Reynolds
make it clear that the administration would no longer use
goals and timetables to help eradicate racial
discrimination, he went so far as to seek the invalidation
of voluntary affirmative action programs around the
Reynolds wasn't Reagan's only bad appointment. He selected
William H. Rehnquist, then the most conservative member of
the Supreme Court, to become chief justice. Reagan
appointed Antonin Scalia, who was even more conservative
than Rehnquist, to a seat on the court. He also picked
Sandra Day O'Conner, a conservative who slightly moderated
some of her views after being elevated to the High Court,
and Anthony Kennedy, who remained a true conservative.
At the executive level, Clarence Pendleton, a divisive
Black conservative, was appointed chair of the U.S.
Commission on Civil Rights. His selection ended what had
been a history of bi-partisan cooperation on the
commission, which had been created under Dwight D.
Eisenhower, a Republican. Initially, Reagan had sought to
disband the commission, but Congress overruled him.
Clarence Thomas, was first appointed to a post in the
Department of Education before being named to head the
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Reagan's
lone Black cabinet member, Secretary of Housing and Urban
Development Sam Pierce was so ineffectual that he was
called "Silent Sam." He was such a non-entity that Reagan
didn't even recognize him at a reception for mayors,
greeting him as "Mr. Mayor."
When I was covering the White House for the Chicago Tribune
during the Reagan years, aides would concede off the record
that Reagan's I.Q. was lower than room temperature.
It has always amused me to see people struggle to say the
same thing in a more sophisticated manner.
Fred I. Greenstein, a political scientist, refers to
Reagan's "hands-off" quality. Reagan biographer Lou Cannon
observed: "Often, he held the reins of power so lightly
that he did not appear to hold them at all. He kept busy,
without taxing himself. And he was a happy president -
pleased with script, his cue cards and his supporting
Clark Clifford, an adviser to a long line of Democratic
presidents, was more direct, describing Reagan as "an
The lavish praise being heaped upon Reagan this week
ignores his fiscal legacy. As head of a party that had come
to symbolize fiscal responsibility - in words, if not deeds
- Reagan entered office with a federal deficit of less than
$1 trillion. But because of Reaganomics, when he left
office, the deficit was three times larger. He pledged to
reduce the size of government, but increased it by 200,000
Reagan presided over the worst recession since the Great
Depression. He pushed through a cut in federal taxes but
balanced those cuts on the backs of the poor, slicing
nearly $50 billion from the budget the first year.
Reagan's determination to overthrow the Sandinista regime
in Nicaragua marked one of his greatest failures. In what
was called the Iran-Contra affair, Reagan authorized the
secret sale of arms to Iran in exchange for the release of
kidnapped Americans held in Beirut. Top administration
officials lied to Congress about the scheme that played a
part in the GOP losing control of the Senate in 1986.
As you are deluged with Reagan platitudes this week, don't
be duped about the real Ronald Reagan. When they ask if
Blacks are better after eight years of Reagan, adopt Nancy
Reagan's anti-drug slogan: "Just say no."
George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service
and BlackPressUSA.com. His most recent book is "The Best of
Emerge Magazine," an anthology published by Ballantine
Books. Curry's weekly radio commentary is syndicated by
Capitol Radio News Service (301/588-1993). He can be
reached through his Web site, georgecurry.com.
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