Ronald Reagan returned civil rights to a place of prominence on the national agenda. But Reagan's was a different kind of prominence than that of his predecessors. He was opposed to busing, affirmative action, and aggressive enforcement of civil rights laws. He eased enforcement through personnel decisions, executive orders, budget cuts, program changes, and reorganizations. When called on to defend his civil rights record, Reagan simply noted that his actions in civil rights were consistent with his general objective of reducing the scope and intrusiveness of government in all areas of public policy.
Two prominent actions taken by Reagan will be examined as case studies in chapters 4 and 5. The first was his veto of the Civil Rights Restoration bill in March 1988. The veto of this popular bill was overridden by both houses of Congress just five days later. Reagan's ideology had gotten in the way of his pragmatism, and he relinquished the initiative to Congress. In an administrative appointment, he was more successful. His controversial nomination of Clarence Pendleton to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission (CRC) in 1981 was criticized as politicization of the agency. Yet it greatly helped him achieve his policy goals, among which was an agency less aggressively promoting civil rights than before. Reagan paid for these actions; subsequently, Congress monitored his actions more closely.
Although he did not always initiate, Reagan was frequently the stimulus for many responses from those inside and outside of govern-