It's hard to know what ticked him off -- the casual mentions in previous columns or making it a major thesis in his new book. But whatever it was, it started an unusual secret argument that played out on the pages of the New York Times.
Reagan made a speech at Philadelphia, MS. Civil Rights workers were murdered there years ago. Reagan spoke of States' Rights there. But States Rights is code for racism. Reagan must have known, right? Brooks says no, it was a misunderstanding.
2.5 months before Brooks took fire: "Reagan didn’t begin his 1980 campaign with a speech on economics, he began it—at the urging of a young Trent Lott—with a speech supporting states’ rights, where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964.
1.5 months before Brooks: "Thus Ronald Reagan, who began his political career by campaigning against California’s Fair Housing Act, started his 1980 campaign with a speech supporting states’ rights delivered just outside Philadelphia, Miss.
He'd might buy it as a mistake if not for all of the other times Reagan appealed to coded racism. Such as saying the Voting Rights Act humiliated the South. Or fought for Bob Jones Univ and its interracial dating ban. Or fought against MLK day.
Throughout his career, Reagan was wrong, insensitive and mean-spirited on civil rights and other issues important to black people. There is no way for the scribes of today [Brooks] to clean up that dismal record.
Whether or not Reagan himself was racist is immaterial. It's that he pandered to the voters racism to win elections. This is a continuation of the GOP Southern Strategy, which continues to this day.