Reagan and Race

There are two memes that attempt to tar Ronald Reagan with many of the toxins that now infect mainstream Republican politics, especially the issues of AIDS and race. Reagan's AIDS record was far from perfect, and his long silence on the matter inexcusable. But the idea that Reagan should have been the ideal spokesman to reach gay men and their sexual practices in the 1980s - which was the primary means for restraining the epidemic - seems to me to be far-fetched. And anyone with a faint acquaintance with the science of restraining a retrovirus like HIV knows that the idea that the feds could have crashed a cure or effective treatment in Reagan's term is a fantasy. But the race issue has also been cited many times, in particular his first campaign speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi, which has been interpreted as a wink and a nod at Southern racism. Bruce Bartlett has a fascinating post up on that very speech, its context and timing. Having read Bruce's post, I'm inclined to agree with Kevin Drum that Reagan got a (slightly) "bum rap" on that speech. But make your own mind up.