REAGAN AND NESHOBA….In the latest go-around on whether Ronald Reagan was deliberately appealing to racist sentiment in 1980 when he included a statement of support for “states’ rights” in a speech at Mississippi’s Neshoba County Fair, Bob Herbert says, “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.”

Actually, though, it’s Joseph Crespino, a history professor at Emory University, who provides the smoking gun:

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?

UPDATE: Crespino emails to say that his source was a New York Times article by John Herbers written on September 27, 1980: “Those remarks had been prepared in advance, but use of the term ‘states rights’ is not in Mr. Reagan’s standard political speech and reporters following him could not remember his using it elsewhere.”

Brendan Nyhan reprints a Washington Post article from 1979 in which Jane Seaberry described a Reagan speech as “a denunciation of populist trends and a call for a return to more states’ rights,” but there’s no indication that Reagan used the actual phrase himself.

I was able to come up with only one instance of Reagan using the phrase, in a response to a 1980 debate question about nuclear waste. There’s no question that he frequently supported federalist policies, but the phrase “states’ rights” itself has pretty obvious racial baggage and the evidence so far suggests that he virtually never used it before Neshoba.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!