By now you should know about the recently released audio recording of Ronald Reagan calling African people “monkeys.” Reagan, who was governor of California at the time, made the remarks to Richard Nixon in 1971.
When I learned about this recording I thought about the debate between conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza and Princeton University historian Kevin Kruse. For several years D’Souza has been making the case that the Democratic Party is the real racist political party, while the Republicans, as the party of Lincoln, is the party of equality and civil rights.
Southern Democrats were indeed racist in the nineteenth and early twentieth-century. Many Republicans were also pretty racist, but they championed abolitionism, led a war to end slavery, and fought for the equality of African-Americans in the decades following the war. But things change. Historians study change over time. While Southern Democrats opposed the civil rights movement, so did conservative Republicans such as Barry Goldwater and others. Meanwhile, other Democrats, such as John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, and the leaders of the civil rights movement, all sought to end Jim Crow in America. Today the overwhelming majority of African Americans vote for Democratic candidates because of this legacy.
So what does D’Souza do about Reagan’s racist comments? If the GOP is not the party of racism, then how does D’Souza explain the recorded remarks of the party’s conservative flag bearer?