Ronald Reagan: Overcoming a Fierce First Draft of History
Table of Contents:
Reagan and Race
One common media-elite attack on Reagan’s domestic policy was the notion that Reagan was waging “war on the poor,” and that was often a shorthand way of saying a war on black Americans. Using their definition of “civil rights”—anything which adds government-mandated advantages for racial minorities is “civil rights” progress – liberal journalists suggested to less sophisticated readers and viewers that somehow Ronald Reagan was against liberty for minorities. But it often grew worse, with inaccurate psychoanalysis which suggested Reagan was somehow gunning for blacks, encouraging bitter white supremacists by speaking of color-blindness.
Perhaps because they take all their race cues from liberal activist groups, the media ignored how blacks actually prospered in the Reagan years. Even the liberal Joint Center for Political Studies estimated the black middle class grew by one-third from 1980 to 1988, from 3.6 million to 4.8 million. In addition, black employment from 1982 to 1987 grew twice as fast (up 24.9 percent) as white employment. Real black median family income rose 12.7 percent from 1981 to 1987, 46 percent faster than whites. But reporters evaluated Reagan based on the evaluations of liberal friends, not hard data.
“I’m kind of surprised at President Reagan, because
based on his personal history in Hollywood, I’m surprised he has not
been an advocate of civil rights....I had heard that he was very open
minded, broad minded person, that he cared about human rights....But
the record is abysmal.”
— CBS News correspondent Lesley Stahl on Howard Cosell’s Speaking of Everything, April 10, 1988.
“At the same time, some experts said, years in which
the Reagan administration questioned the value of racial quotas and
affirmative action made speaking out against such programs acceptable.
This, they contend, made it easier for racists to openly express their
attitudes. Groups like the Klan and the Skinheads have both begun
targeting the young for recruitment.”
— Kirk Johnson in The New York Times, August 27, 1989.
“The right gets away with blaming liberals for their
efforts to help the poor, but what the right is really objecting to is
the fact that the poor are primarily black. The man who sits in the
White House today opposed the Civil Rights Act. So did Ronald Reagan.
This crowd is really fighting a retroactive civil rights war to prevent
the people they dislike because of their color from achieving success
in American life.”
— PBS’s Bill Moyers in an interview with Washington Post Magazine reporter Eric Alterman, September 1, 1991.
“The gap between white and black [life spans] has
remained stubbornly wide, and it increased sharply during the Reagan
years, when many social programs that helped minorities were slashed.”
— Time magazine staff writer Christine Gorman in her article from September 16, 1991, “Why Do Blacks Die Young?”
“We keep looking for some good to come out of this.
Maybe it might help in putting race relations on the front burner,
after they’ve been subjugated for so long as a result of the Reagan
— Bryant Gumbel on the Los Angeles riots, April 30, 1992 Today. (With WMV video/MP3 audio)
“The Republicans, for 25 years, have seldom avoided the
temptation to play the race card politically in this country....In the
‘70s, Ronald Reagan, and the late ‘70s, he ran for President in 1980
talking about welfare queens, associating the Great Society programs
with minorities, and with waste, and with crime in the streets. There
has been a consistent impulse, Willie Horton was just a continuation of
that, to use this issue to divide people.”
— U.S. News & World Report Senior Writer Steven Roberts on Washington Week in Review, May 8, 1992.
“Emboldened by a sea change during the Reagan-Bush era,
conservatives scolded, ‘it’s all your fault.’ Dismissively this camp
insisted that what blacks need are mainstream American values — read
white values. Go to school, get a job, get married, they exhorted, and
the family will be just fine.”
— Newsweek General Editor Michele Ingrassia, August 30, 1993.
“In the wake of the somewhat new hostilities bred in
the Reagan ‘80s, how do you assess the state of race relations in this
— Bryant Gumbel to National Urban League President Hugh Price, July 28, 1994 Today.
“The sad truth is that many Republican leaders remain
in a massive state of denial about the party’s four-decade-long
addiction to race-baiting. They won’t make any headway with blacks by
bashing Lott if they persist in giving Ronald Reagan a pass for his
racial policies....It’s with Reagan, who set a standard for exploiting
white anger and resentment rarely seen since George Wallace stood in
the schoolhouse door, that the Republican [Party]’s selective memory
about its race-baiting habit really stands out.”
— Time’s Jack E. White in a column posted on Time.com on December 14, 2002.