Various liberal bloggers (here, here, and here) are concluding that Paul Krugman was right in his debate with David Brooks over the meaning of Ronald Reagan's 1980 speech in Philadelphia, MS. The key point, according to Kevin Drum, is this:
Reagan’s states rights line was prepared beforehand and reporters covering the event could not recall him using the term before the Neshoba County appearance.
If this is true it wraps up this argument on pretty much every level, both substantive and semantic. Anybody care to weigh in on this? Is it true that Reagan had never (or virtually never) used the phrase "states's rights" before this speech?
I'd agree that this, if confirmed, would be relevant evidence. I found articles predating the speech in which Reagan indicated support for a federalist approach to economic and land use policy (see below the fold) -- two issues with no clear racial implications. However, he is not quoted using the loaded phrase "states' rights" in either article.
Taking a step back, I want to be clear what my original post on this subject was arguing. I am not saying that Reagan's use of the phrase "state's rights" in Philadelphia, MS wasn't an appeal to racist sentiment. As I wrote, Reagan frequently appealed to race in ugly ways. My point was that the circumstances of the speech have frequently been oversimplified. For instance, take the way Paul Krugman described it in one column:
Thus Ronald Reagan, who began his political career by campaigning against California’s Fair Housing Act, started his 1980 campaign with a speech supporting states’ rights delivered just outside Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights workers were murdered.
From this description, you would think that Reagan's speech focused on state's rights. But as David Brooks writes, the phrase was invoked once in a short passage on education:
He spoke mostly about inflation and the economy, but in the middle of a section on schools, he said this: "Programs like education and others should be turned back to the states and local communities with the tax sources to fund them. I believe in states' rights. I believe in people doing as much as they can at the community level and the private level."
The use of the phrase is inappropriate and inflammatory in that context, but the overall content of the speech still doesn't correspond well to Krugman's description. From his account, you would also not know the Reagan spent the following week appealing to black voters, as Brooks notes. There's no excusing appeals to racism, but there's no reason to exaggerate them either. Many other things Reagan said and did were much worse.
Update 11/13 1:23 PM -- Tom Maguire continues the search in a comment:
How precisely must we match the loaded "state's rights" phrase?
From his days as Governor, here is Reagan in 1967 - the topic was federal legislation on water use:
We believe the essential ingredients of an acceptable augmentation study to be: ...(4) that the rights of the states and regions be fully respected;
And in general remarks to some Republicans in 1967:
It is not enough for our senators and our representatives to seek to pass legislation involving the several states, they must also work to insure that legislation does not infringe on the rights of the individual states...
And that is not the product of a comprehensive search - I just went to a collection of Reagan speeches and clicked on two likely ones.
That said, the book "In His Own Hand" - the collection of Reagan radio addresses - does not contain the loaded phrase, if we can trust an Amazon search.
The Washington Post
June 14, 1979, Thursday, Final Edition
Reagan Decries Government;
Too Much Government Denounced by Reagan
By Jane Seaberry, Washington Post Staff Writer
Business & Finance; D1
LENGTH: 686 words
Undeclared Republican presidential hopeful Ronald Reagan yesterday wowed a largely conservative crowd of independent business people with a denunciation of populist trends and a call for a return to more states' rights.
"A government program once launched is the closest thing to eternal life we'll ever see," Reagan told the 2,000 delegates at the convention of the National Federation of Independent Business. NFIB has about 600,000 members across the country.
Reagan said people often ask what can government do about the nation's economic problem. "The government has already done too much about it," Reagan said.
The velvet-voiced Reagan stroked the crowd with numerous jokes and appeals for a return to the country's founding principles. Throughout the federation's lunch, autograph seekers rushed the former governor of California, nearly jamming doorways as Reagan tried to leave after his 40-minute talk.
Earlier in the day, presidential contender Sen. Robert Dole (R-Kan.) told the crowd that he favored indexing taxes to the Consumer Price Index and a constitutional amendment to balance the budget. He also criticized both Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's and President's Carter's national health plans and said they wouldn't get even 25 votes in the Senate.
"I don't think you want to federalize medicine," Dole said. "No, no," the crowd chanted back.
"Neither Kennedy nor Carter has enough votes to get their bills out of Congress," Dole said, his fist chopping the air.
Many people favor price controls on hospital costs, Dole said. "But you wouldn't want price controls on you," Dole told the business people.
"No, no," the audience murmured back.
Dole said that last March he introduced a catastrophic health insurance and medicare plan that would expand protection against catastrophic illness and mandates that catastrophic protection be provided by employers for full-time employees. A limited tax subsidy would be provided for small employers.
Catastrophic illnesses are those that would financially wipe out a person with a long-term illness, Dole said.
Reagan did not attack Kennedy or Carter, but the government in general. Reagan said that Americans are being governed more by civil service bureaucrats than elected officials and are being tax more for the purposes of penalizing industry and redistributing income than for revenue source.
Reagan, who filled his speech with jokes, one liners and cleverly turned phrases, also attacked government regulation and rhetorically asked the crowd why more of them did not "withstand the arrogance of government" regulations.
Another Reagan target was government spending and the billions of dollars in the federal budget.
"If you gave your wife $1 billion and told her not to spend more than $1,000 a day, she wouldn't be home in 3,000 years," Reagan said.
Reagan's talk, though received by standing ovations and applause seemingly every minute, was not as effective as those of former governor John Connally the day before or Sen. Edward M. Kennedy on Monday, many members said after Reagan's address.
The business convention, held every four years before election year, has become a forum for presidential aspirants.
During the three-day convention which ended yesterday, the business people heard from Kennedy, Rep. Jack F. Kemp (R.N.Y.), who said he has closed no doors to running for president although he is focusing on the upcoming New York Senate race; Rep. Phillip Crane (R-III); Connally, Dole and Reagan.
President Carter was invited to address the group and, until late yesterday morning, spokesmen for the organization said they had not received an answer from the White House. A White House spokesman said later Carter did not have time in his schedule to allow an appearance.
Stuart Eizenstat, Carter's chief domestic adviser, had been scheduled ahead of time to address the group and received polite applause. Eizenstat explained the number ways that Carter has helped small business through efforts to deregulate the airline, railroad and trucking industries, stop government waste and end over-regulation.
The New York Times
July 5, 1980, Saturday, Late City Final Edition
STATES RIGHTS' MOVE IN WEST INFLUENCING REAGAN'S DRIVE
BYLINE: By HOWELL RAINES
SECTION: Section 1; Page 7, Column 1; National Desk
LENGTH: 949 words
DATELINE: LOS ANGELES, July 3
A Western states' rights movement that wants to force the Federal Government to surrender ownership of up to 544 million acres of public land has been endorsed by Ronald Reagan.
Environmentalists and Interior Department officials regard the movement, known as the ''Sagebrush Rebellion,'' as a front for a land grab by the oil, mining and real estate industries.
The movement has become a potent political force in the Far West. But it is so little known in the East that Mr. Reagan's allegiance to its goals and the heavy influence of its leaders in his campaign have gone virtually unnoticed.
''I happen to be one who cheers on and supports the 'Sagebrush Rebellion,' '' the Republican Presidential candidate told a delighted audience last weekend in Utah, one of six states that have passed laws unilaterally canceling Federal ownership of land within their borders.
Federal Ownership Denounced
''Count me in as a rebel,'' the former Governor of California also said in Salt Lake City, adding that Federal ownership of vast tracts of Western land ''is contrary to the Constitution, it's contrary to the basic law when the 13 Colonies first came into the Union.''
This view, if put into practice by a Reagan Presidency, would amount to a complete reversal of existing Federal land policy, according to Interior Department and environmental spokesmen.
''It would also represent a rewriting of history,'' said Guy Martin, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for land and management resources. He said that the Western states had entered the Union with the understanding that the unappropriated land would be owned by the Federal Government for the benefit of all Americans.
The ''sagebrush'' movement, he said, is being pushed by mining, oil, livestock and land-development interests that want to get at the 544 million acres owned by the Federal Bureau of Land Management and the National Forest Service in 12 Western states.
Leaders Deny Charge of Greed
Movement leaders deny that they are tools of corporate greed or that they are after the land in Federal parks or Indian and military reservations.
It is the Government's ''multiple-purpose'' forest and range land that six states - Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming, Washington and Arizona - are seeking to appropriate with new laws that Interior officials say are blatantly unconstitutional.
State Senator Richard Blakemore of Tonopah, Nev., a leader in the movement, insists that these new state laws would make it very difficult for private interests to seize large chunks of multiplepurpose land. But, he added, state ownership would prevent the Federal authorities from designating millions of acres as ''wilderness,'' thereby closing it off to urban growth and to industrial, agricultural and recreational use.
Growth and use are the main goals of the movement, said Senator Blakemore, whose Select Committee on Public Land has helped to spread the campaign to other legislatures.
Issue of States' Rights
There is also the states' rights issue. In Nevada, where the Federal Government owns 87 percent of the land, people are tired ''of being ruled like some faraway colony by uncaring and unknowledgeable bureaucrats more than 3,000 miles distant,'' said Senator Paul Laxalt of that state.
As Reagan campaign chairman and a prominent spokesman for the rebellion, Mr. Laxalt has given the movement's leaders access to the candidate. State Assemblyman Dean Rhodes of Tuscarora, Nev., recently briefed Mr. Reagan on the movement's goals in a meeting at Mr. Laxalt's Washington office, which has a ''Sagebrugh Rebellion'' bumper sticker on its door. Mr. Rhodes, a leader in an organization of ranchers who lease Federal grazing land, said that Mr. Reagan promised to help to lobby legislators in Western states that have not yet passed appropriation laws.
Several Arguments Adopted
Since Mr. Reagan's first contact with Mr. Rhodes last fall, the former California Governor has adopted several key arguments of the movement.
For example, he said in an interview that the Government was ''taking that multiple-purpose National Forest land that was open to cattle leasing, that was open to lumbering, taking that out of circulation and applying the wilderness concept to it, so that they can call it public land, but the only way the public can get in is if somebody is husky enough to put on a backpack and hike in.''
''You can't go and enjoy it,'' he said. ''You can't exploit it. This is where it's believed that there are a great many mineral and energy finds to be made.''
In the interview, Mr. Reagan also said that if elected he would appoint a panel to study changes in Federal land policy and to investigate why the Government owns more land in the West than in the East.
Some Wilderness Favored
While affirming his belief in conserving some wilderness, Mr. Reagan said he would be willing to surrender other Federal land to private or state ownership.
Environmentalists dispute the Reagan argument that Federal ownership contributes to the energy crisis by closing large areas to oil drilling. Even in Alaska, according to a Sierra Club official, 95 percent of the area that the oil industry itself identifies as having high potential for oil and gas is situated on Government land that can be drilled.
The main question about Federal land is philosophical, said John Hooper, a land-use specialist for the environmentalist club. ''I would argue,'' he said, ''that National forest land in Montana is not simply for the people of Montana, but for the use and enjoyment of all the American people. That's where the big difference comes - in different perceptions of statehood.''