What Reagan Meant by ‘States’ Rights’ in Mississippi
The truth of Gore Vidal’s description of America as the “United States of Amnesia” was evident at the second Republican primary debate of 2015, moderated by political analyst Dana Bash and CNN’s Jake Tapper and Hugh Hewitt.
Fittingly, the venue was Ronald Reagan’s presidential library. Few will recall — and the moderators didn’t dare remind viewers — that Reagan opposed all civil rights legislation, and that the “Great Communicator” had chosen the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the stronghold of the Ku Klux Klan, to kick off his 1980 presidential campaign. N---gers Don’t Vote — Or Else! was the Republican agenda then, and it’s still the agenda today.
Ronald Reagan opening his 1980 general election campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi
Chief Justice John Roberts took a legal wrecking ball to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., a reserved and civilized man whose majority opinion gutted the Voting Rights Act, has been on that mission for decades, starting even before he became a high-ranking Justice Department lawyer in the Reagan administration. That story is too well documented by legal scholars and honest journalists to bother with here. Just Google John Roberts and the Voting Rights Act and you’ll have the whole dismal story leading up to the 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, a case that joins Dred Scott v. Sandford and Plessy v. Ferguson as one of the most infamous Supreme Court rulings in our history. The 92-year-old Bob Dole, former Republican Senate majority leader and presidential candidate, recently told a New York Times reporter, “I don’t know where we lost track after Abraham Lincoln.”
If the Reagan acolytes who make up the current Republican Party are able to maintain control of Congress and take the White House, which they’ll try to do by preventing anyone who is not a white male from voting in the states they control, the radical right wing will be locked in for the foreseeable future. There will be little, if any, political space remaining to return this country to sanity, let alone common decency. Those are the stakes in 2016.
If all this hand-wringing seems hyperbolic, it’s only because two essential facts aren’t fully understood. They are how far to the right Ronald Reagan was and how far back in time the Republican Party wants to take the country. This lack of understanding exists largely because the Republicans have distorted our history and made things up. It’s a strategy.
As Ron Suskind recounted in The New York Times Magazine in 2004, Karl Rove told him, “Guys like [Suskind] were in what we call the reality-based community, which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ . . . ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’ ”
Welcome to ‘Mission Accomplished’
Sixteen years before that Reagan campaign speech at the Neshoba County Fair, the Klan had firebombed a black church and had severely beaten a number of the worshipers. A few days later, three civil rights workers came to town to help with registering voters. Sam Bowers, the Imperial Wizard of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan of Mississippi, ordered their execution. Neshoba County Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price, a KKK member, put these three young civil rights workers in the Neshoba County jail “on suspicion of firebombing” the church. He then released them into the arms of the waiting Klansmen. The bodies of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman were found buried near an earthen dam weeks later.
The Klansmen were identified through a paid informant. But Mississippi authorities wouldn’t arrest them. Nobody in Mississippi had ever been arrested for a race-related crime involving a victim who was black.
Segregationist Judge: ‘I Gave Them What I Thought They Deserved’
In a Jackson, Mississippi, federal courtroom, the U.S. Justice Department prosecuted the Klansmen for civil rights violations. At first, U.S. District Judge William Cox, a KKK man in black robes, sought to stymie the prosecution. Fearing he would be impeached, he went ahead with the trial. A few of the Klansmen were convicted and given short prison sentences. About those sentences, Cox said, “They killed one nigger, one Jew and a white man. I gave them what I thought they deserved.” None served more than six years behind bars.
Just think about that: Ronald Reagan campaigned in the place where three civil rights workers were murdered by the KKK, telling the 10,000 or so attendees, who were chanting, “We want Reagan, we want Reagan,” that he was a states’ rights man. That performance was far blunter than Jeb Bush’s dog-whistle politics.
Unless you think the political operatives who arrange these events don’t pay attention to the visuals, we’re getting the full blast of Jeb Bush as the anti-Trump, anti-racist, mainstream candidate who can beat Hillary. It’s not really dog-whistle politics but more like Vance Packard’s Hidden Persuaders, the subliminal messaging of folks who are selling you products translated to presidential politics.
A purer version of dog-whistle politics — messages that only the initiated can hear — is Jeb’s citation of his current favorite book, a tome written by Charles Murray, a darling of the racist right, who authored The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. Murray’s thesis was the genetic inferiority of black people. Murray’s social science research methods have since been thoroughly discredited, but catching up to the lies is, as Rove observed, almost impossible. Impossible, that is, until “Mission Accomplished” becomes ISIS.
Today’s Republicans have campaigned to put Reagan on Mount Rushmore and to replace Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the dime. They never fail to pay homage to the man who brought us “Morning Again in America,” the campaign theme meant to put a happy face on gutting the environmental movement, the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, the labor movement and every other progressive demand and policy. His targets were not only the accomplishments of the 1960s but also those of the New Deal. (The original climate change denier, Reagan even removed the solar panels that Jimmy Carter had installed on the White House roof). And he did it all with a smile and a joke — and talked about John F. Kennedy as though he were a political soul mate.
Charles Murray, Bush’s favorite ‘scholar’ argues poor people genetically inferior.
Reagan’s visit to the Nazi SS gravesites in Germany during his presidency was explained as a commitment to the German chancellor that he couldn’t break. No such excuse was available for his campaign strategy and none was offered. His pandering to the lynch mob mentality of the Mississippi voters who gathered to hear him speak, and by extension to others in the Deep South, is the model his successors have been pursuing ever since.
Media Neglecting Jeb’s Role in Pre-2000 Florida Voter Purge
We don’t expect anything from Roger Ailes and the Republican operatives who run Fox News. Ailes, after all, has been knee-deep in the mud since his political operative days with Richard Nixon, but where is the rest of the Corporate Commentariat or so-called mainstream press? The
silence is shameful.
Thus far the media have given Jeb a pass for handing his brother the presidency. Between May 1999 and Election Day 2000, two Florida secretaries of state — Sandra Mortham and Katherine Harris, both protégées of then-governor Jeb — ordered county officials to remove some 57,700 people, alleged to be ex-felons, from voter rolls. The list, compiled by a private company, comprised nearly 3 percent of Florida’s African-American voters.
One county that checked each of the 694 names on its local list could verify only 34 as actual felony convicts. Madison County’s elections supervisor Linda Howell refused the purge list after she found her own name on it. Of the felony “matches” on these lists, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission estimated that at least 14 percent — or 8,000 voters, nearly 15 times George W. Bush’s official margin of victory — were false matches.
If only we had a press that did the job that the First Amendment envisioned, many more citizens would understand our country’s history and how the class war is being waged by obscuring and falsifying it. A key part of that strategy is to encourage working- and middle-class white voters to see minorities and immigrants, rather than Big Money and corporate interests, as their enemies.
Jeb Bush at Sen. Tim Scott’s Town Hall Forum in South Carolina: Coded racial message while basking in Lincoln’s aura
James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner
Historical marker recalls what ‘States’ Rights’ meant in 1964 in Neshoba County, A spur to Civil Rights Law
Ronald Reagan’s record on civil rights
Opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965
Opposed the Fair Housing Act of 1968
As President, REAGAN:
GUTTED the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission opposed the extension of the Voting Rights Act
VETOED the Civil Rights Restoration Act
Opposed creation of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
Written for fedupnewyorkers.org