The Reagan Presidency and the Politics of Race: In Pursuit of Colorblind Justice and Limited Government

The Reagan Presidency and the Politics of Race: In Pursuit of Colorblind Justice and Limited Government

The Reagan Presidency and the Politics of Race: In Pursuit of Colorblind Justice and Limited Government

The Reagan Presidency and the Politics of Race: In Pursuit of Colorblind Justice and Limited Government

Synopsis

Laham argues that Reagan's civil rights policy was determined not by any political desire the president may have had to play the race card, but rather by his own commitment to colorblind justice and limited government, two core principles of his conservative agenda.

Excerpt

The task of assessing the Reagan presidency represents an especially formidable challenge for historians. Ronald Reagan had a simple, straightforward, pleasant, down-to-earth, reassuring, and self-confident personality which made him a very likable political figure. However, perhaps no modern president has so sharply polarized Americans along partisan and ideological lines as Reagan.

Presidents who are seen as polarizing figures are usually scorned. Richard Nixon stands as good example of a modern president who served as a polarizing and unattractive political figure. And yet, Reagan in many ways was a more polarizing figure than even Nixon. Indeed, Reagan pursued a far more politically and ideologically divisive agenda than did Nixon or any other modern president. Nevertheless, Reagan remains a generally admired, even beloved president, even among some of his harshest critics. Reagan embodies the contradiction of being both a genuinely liked, but highly polarizing, political figure -- a highly unusual combination perhaps found in no other modern president.

The intense liking the public generally had for Reagan allowed him to maintain a high level of popular support. This support was so strong that it held firm during the two major crises of the Reagan presidency: the sharp economic downturn of 1981-1982 and the Iran-Contra scandal. Reagan emerged from those two crises largely unscathed. His popularity allowed him to weather the political storms of his presidency, which might have inflicted serious damage on, if not destroyed, any other recent chief executive.

Reagan's likability served him well; it insulated him to a large extent from paying the political costs for pursuing a highly divisive, conservative agenda, which sharply polarized Americans along partisan and ideological lines. Many, if not most, Americans strongly opposed major elements of Reagan's conservative agenda, even as they professed a strong liking for him. As a result . . .

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