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Ronald Reagan “tortured” blacks. Tavis Smiley, the PBS television host, once said this about the former president. NBC’s Bryant Gumbel and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, among many others, consider Reagan a racist.
“There they go again,” as Reagan might have said.
The economic lot for blacks and Hispanics improved far more than it did for whites after Reagan’s steep tax cuts. In late 1982, Reagan’s second year in office, the unemployment rate for blacks was 20.4 percent. By 1989, his last year, the black unemployment rate had fallen to 11.4 percent — a 9 percent drop. In late 1982, the unemployment rate for Hispanics was 15.3 percent. By 1989, it had fallen to 8 percent — a drop of over 7 percentage points. White unemployment, by contrast, fell “only” 4 percentage points.
What about black-owned businesses? In 1982, according to the Census Bureau, there were 308,000 black-owned businesses. By 1987, the number had increased to 424,000, up 38 percent. The number of all U.S. businesses was up “only” 14 percent. Receipts for black-owned businesses went from less than $10 billion to nearly $20 billion — a 100 percent increase.
But didn’t Reagan apply the “racist” so-called “Southern Strategy” to get elected? And weren’t the Southern Republicans on whom Reagan relied merely racist former Dixiecrats chased into the GOP’s open arms on the issue of civil rights?
Pat Buchanan, former Richard Nixon speechwriter, invented the term “Southern strategy.” “We would build our Republican Party,” he said, “on a foundation of states’ rights, human rights, small government and a strong national defense, and leave it to the ‘party of (Democratic Georgia Gov. Lester) Maddox, (1966 Democratic challenger against Spiro Agnew for Maryland governor George) Mahoney and (Democratic Alabama Gov. George) Wallace to squeeze the last ounces of political juice out of the rotting fruit of racial injustice.’”
For over 100 years after the end of the Civil War, Southern whites supported de facto and de jure segregation against blacks. Yet Southerners, unlike Democrats in other parts of the country, believed in low taxes, smaller government and a strong national defense. On social and cultural issues, Southerners were more religious and less supportive of abortion. Racism against blacks was the glue that bound the South to the Democratic Party.
Then came the modern civil rights movement, followed by the civil rights acts of the ’60s. Southern whites knew their world had forever changed. Racism — legally, politically and morally — was in full retreat.
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