No, Ronald Reagan Was Not a Racist
Leftist revisionist history strikes again based on one crass remark by a good man.
The Left wants voters to retain a simple message: Republicans are racist. It’s a tired refrain, but leftists just keep beating the drum louder. Earlier this week, it was the “revelation” that Ronald Reagan once made a racist comment over the phone to President Richard Nixon in 1971. Cue the Leftmedia pontificating about racism “woven into the U.S. presidency” or opining about how Reagan’s comment “echoes strongly today.” The only echoes are in the Left’s echo chamber.
What did Reagan say? Tim Naftali, the former head of the Nixon Presidential Library, recounted it in The Atlantic: “The day after the United Nations voted to recognize the People’s Republic of China, then-California Governor Ronald Reagan phoned President Richard Nixon at the White House and vented his frustration at the delegates who had sided against the United States. ‘Last night, I tell you, to watch that thing on television as I did,’ Reagan said. ‘Yeah,’ Nixon interjected. Reagan forged ahead with his complaint: ‘To see those, those monkeys from those African countries — damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!’ Nixon gave a huge laugh.”
Reagan was human. We all say things — in public and/or in private — that we wish we hadn’t, or that we hope other people never hear. Reagan’s comment was ugly venting of frustration about how China was undermining U.S. interests in Africa. It was an unguarded moment dealing with very real policy problems.
That is not to defend the comment; only to say that it did not define Reagan or permeate what he did.
As Naftali insinuated, however, this was the “Aha — we knew it!” moment leftists have been waiting for. “The 40th president has not left as dramatic a record of his private thoughts. Reagan’s racism appears to be documented only once on the Nixon tapes, and never in his own diaries.” One rude, angry outburst is not even in the category of a “dramatic record,” and the assumptive assertion about “Reagan’s racism” is completely unfounded and mendacious.
Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis, agrees. “If I had read his words as a quotation, and not heard them, I’d have said they were fabricated,” she wrote. “That he would never say such things. Because I never heard anything like that from him. In fact, when I was growing up, bigotry and racism were addressed in my family by making it clear that these were toxic and sinister beliefs that should always be called out and shunned.”
Moreover, Reagan’s actual record as president reflected no racism whatsoever — despite leftist attempts to rewrite history. Reagan signed the law making Martin Luther King Jr.‘s birthday a national holiday, for heaven’s sake.
Which brings us to the perfect hypocritical example of the Left’s smear effort: CNN featured the above linked article about “echoes” of racism. In it, Peniel Joseph asserts, “Reagan’s racial politics proved to be both substantive and symbolic.” This “monkeys” comment was just part of the whole, ugly story, Joseph says, as he accuses Reagan of the “trickle-down economics” that “devastated poor black and brown communities.”
Well, who is Peniel Joseph? The founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.
Do you know who was a racist president? Lyndon B. Johnson. LBJ advocated his “Great Society” programs by saying that such income redistribution to blacks would “have those n—gers voting Democratic for the next 200 years.” That racism was the substantive strategy behind the policy he pushed — the same policy that has blacks 60 years later stuck on urban poverty plantations. It wasn’t Reagan’s free-market, low-tax policies that hurt blacks. It was and remains Democrat efforts to use blacks as pawns in a gambit for political power. And to blame Reagan for rampant racism based on one distasteful remark is an assault on his legacy of Liberty that we cannot allow to stand unchallenged.