Robert C. Smith

 

On his book Conservatism and Racism and Why in America They Are the Same

Cover Interview of December 06, 2010

A close-up

A section of Chapter 8 on the ascendancy of Reagan to the presidency is titled “It’s the Ideology, Stupid.”  President Reagan is a central character in the book, because he is undoubtedly the most significant conservative leader of the present era and one of the most significant in American history.

Reagan was frequently accused of being a racist.  Nothing angered him more.  As he writes in his presidential memoir “the myth that has always bothered me the most is that I am a bigot who somehow surreptitiously condones racial prejudice…  Whatever the reason for this myth that I am a racist, I blow up every time I hear it.”

In close, careful study of the biographical and historical records, I found no evidence that Reagan was a racist or white supremacist.  It was Reagan’s principled, ideological conservatism that led him to oppose every civil rights bill enacted in the 1960s.

Reagan’s opposition to the Civil rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was based on the conservative principles of limited government and states’ rights.  In California he opposed the state’s Fair Housing Act on the conservative principles of individualism and property rights, declaiming that the right of an individual to dispose of his property as he wished was “a basic human right.”

Reagan prioritized these conservative ideological principles over the human rights of African Americans to be served at a Georgia BBQ joint, to vote for president in Alabama or to purchase a house in California.  In doing so, he clearly made conservatism and racism the same.

As if to symbolize this relationship, Reagan’s first campaign appearance after he received the Republican nomination in 1980 was in Philadelphia, Mississippi.  Philadelphia was the site of the 1964 murder of three civil rights workers by the Ku Klux Klan.  In his Philadelphia speech Reagan invoked states rights, code words in the South for the right of whites to oppress blacks.