November 13, 2007

Whatever other judgments history may pass on the Reagan administration, one is already beyond dispute — that a great deal of Reagan’s early success with the core conservative movement came from his use of coded appeals to racism. It’s there, kids. When Reagan launched his presidential campaign at the Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi, in the vicinity of Klan firebombings and the murder of three civil rights workers, and used the “state’s rights” rhetoric of George Wallace and all the other creeps, he was giving us a glimpse of the reptilian character slithering behind that charming smile and affable demeanor.

We shouldn’t have to be arguing this point any more, but David “Babbling” Brooks, keeping his conservative credentials nice and shiny on the New York Times op-ed page, has been hard at work treating the historical memory the way the Romans dealt with Carthage — by erasing it. And fellow Times columnist Bob Herbert, god bless him, ain’t having it:

Everybody watching the 1980 campaign knew what Reagan was signaling at the fair. Whites and blacks, Democrats and Republicans — they all knew. The news media knew. The race haters and the people appalled by racial hatred knew. And Reagan knew.

He was tapping out the code. It was understood that when politicians started chirping about “states’ rights” to white people in places like Neshoba County they were saying that when it comes down to you and the blacks, we’re with you.

And Reagan meant it. He was opposed to the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was the same year that Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney were slaughtered. As president, he actually tried to weaken the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He opposed a national holiday for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He tried to get rid of the federal ban on tax exemptions for private schools that practiced racial discrimination. And in 1988, he vetoed a bill to expand the reach of federal civil rights legislation.

Congress overrode the veto.

Reagan also vetoed the imposition of sanctions on the apartheid regime in South Africa. Congress overrode that veto, too.

Throughout his career, Reagan was wrong, insensitive and mean-spirited on civil rights and other issues important to black people. There is no way for the scribes of today to clean up that dismal record.

Brooks is a bit slicker than Jonah Goldberg and the rest of the winger crew, but his columns perfectly illustrate the decay of conservative punditry. The idea of being an independent thinker and public intellectual no longer exists on the Right. They are simply intellectual publicists shilling for their cause. As Herbert notes, even GOP strategist Lee Atwater eventually came clean about the corrupt roots of his party’s “Southern strategy,” but to an intellect-shill like Brooks this is simply another inconvenient fact to be ignored and, if possible, erased.

Has conservatism ever been anything more than a tax-scam for the wealthy, and an intellectual fig-leaf for jingoism and bigotry? That’s what it is now, but was it ever any different? Did this movement ever have anything of real value to impart? That is the biggest question the Bush administration leaves in its wake, along with the immediate, practical issues of how to repair the staggering damage it has done to American government and society.

But as I scan the public square, I don’t see any conservatives who will be able to help that necessary debate. All I see are good little soldiers like David Brooks on the high end and, on the low end, a line of knuckle-draggers and Jesus whoopers extending to the horizon. Independent thought is no longer part of their skill set. At this late date, in fact, it is probably the thing they dread the most.


One Response to “Intellect-Shills”

  1. Bill Bowman Says:

    I recall reading something in The Nation during Reagan’s first term that included a copy of a deed for property he either bought or sold, I can’t remember, but which included a provision that the property would only be sold to whites. Don’t think it ever made it out of the Nation, tho.

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