Ronald Reagan’s Long-Hidden Racist Conversation With Richard Nixon
This summer, the National Archives released audio of a 1971 conversation between President Richard Nixon and then–California Governor Ronald Reagan. The tapes, Tim Naftali wrote in July, reveal that both men subscribed to the racist belief that Africans and African Americans are somehow inferior.
Naftali also cited an earlier conversation between Nixon and the Harvard professor Daniel Patrick Moynihan (who had briefly served in his administration) in which Nixon explained his attraction to the idea of racial hierarchy. “Nixon’s racism matters to us because he allowed his views on race to shape U.S. policies—both foreign and domestic,” Naftali argued.
Many thanks to Professor Naftali for bringing Ronald Reagan’s explicit racism to public attention.
As I am currently writing a book on Daniel Patrick Moynihan, I would like to point out one inaccuracy in Naftali’s narrative. Regarding the secretly taped conversation on racial aptitudes between Richard Nixon and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, which took place on October 7, 1971, Naftali describes “a quiet Moynihan” listening to Nixon’s rambling lecture on racial abilities. While it is true that Nixon dominated this conversation—indeed, Moynihan could hardly get a word in edgewise—Moynihan did make a few brief comments. He joined Nixon in depicting African leaders as “children.” Later in the conversation, he agreed with Nixon that black people are at an intellectual disadvantage “when you get to some of the more, shall we say, some of the more profound, rigid disciplines, basically,” as Nixon put it. When asked about this conversation years later, Moynihan claimed that he could not recall it.