By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: James Taranto

Right about Reagan

Journalist Lou Cannon, a biographer of Ronald Reagan, sets the record straight in today’s New York Times: Despite what David Brooks and James Taranto seem to think, Reagan’s appearance in Neshoba, Miss., near Philadelphia, was a huge issue in the 1980 presidential campaign. Cannon writes:

In the wake of Neshoba, Mr. Reagan’s critics pounced. President Carter’s campaign operatives portrayed Mr. Reagan as a divisive racist. At a money-raising event in Chicago, Mr. Carter told his audience: “You’ll determine whether this America will be unified, or, if I lose this election, Americans might be separated black from white, Jew from Christian, North from South, rural from urban.”

Cannon’s purpose is to absolve the charge that Reagan was a racist, or that his 1980 victory was based on racist appeals to white voters. In doing so, however, Cannon confirms that Brooks and Taranto are wrong to claim such accusations are a recent invention of liberals aimed at tarring Reagan’s memory.

Taranto’s wrong, too

Maybe after Rupe closes the deal, he’ll let Wall Street Journal commentators get LexisNexis accounts. The lack thereof is the only explanation I can think of for James Taranto’s endorsement of David Brooks’ factually deficient claim that Ronald Reagan’s speech in Philadelphia, Miss., was not a big deal during the 1980 campaign.

As I demonstrated last week, it was an enormous issue, with a number of media outlets reporting on what some saw as racial insensitivity on Reagan’s part, and with Jimmy Carter’s campaign beating the drums on several occasions.

Yet Taranto writes: “Why does Reagan’s Philadelphia speech loom so much larger in today’s liberal imagination than it did when Reagan was alive and active in politics? Because today’s liberals yearn for their elders’ moral authority.” Nice line. Too bad it depends on believing something that isn’t true. Taranto is generally one of the sharper knives in the drawer, but he’s wrong about this.

Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood. Some commenters to my previous item think I’m accusing Reagan of having been a racist. I’m not, although he clearly didn’t mind playing racial politics on occasion. My interest in this item is based solely on Brooks’ factually incorrect notion that the Philadelphia speech was not a big deal until recently. In fact, it was one of the biggest issues of the 1980 campaign. I remember it as someone who lived through it, and my research shows that I’m right and Brooks is wrong.

Hat tip on this to Media Nation reader MTS.

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