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Maybe Matt Stoller has a point after all.

The generally excellent Kevin Drum has a very strange post defending Reagan kicking off his campaign in Philadelphia, MS. As Drum half-concedes several times, it’s an extremely unconvincing argument:

1)I’m not sure what Dukakis doing the (vaguely) same thing proves in the first place. It shows that Dukakis was an inept panderer and Susan Estrich incompetent and not particularly liberal, points that aren’t in any dispute. How it exculpates Reagan, I’m not sure. As for the point that Reagan originally planned to speak at the Urban League, well, given the choice between the two he chose Philadelphia. What does that tell you?

2)The context of the candidate’s civil rights records surely matters. When somebody with an extensive, virtually unbroken record of opposing civil rights goes to the heart of Citizen’s Council terror and talks about “states’ rights,” everybody knows what’s going on. Choosing to speak there doesn’t convey the same message if one is a supporter of civil rights.

3)Drum’s conflation of Reagan and Dukakis’s rhetorical shading is also extremely problematic. To talk only tepidly about racial equality to an all-white Mississippi audience certainly isn’t admirable (see point 1.) However, there’s a big difference between that and openly advocating “states’ rights,” which means “being nostalgic for the time when Mississippi was an apartheid police state.” Everybody shades their rhetoric for different audiences. But there’s a hell of a difference between toning down pro-civil rights rhetoric and openly advocating an anti- civil rights position using code words understood by all.

Given Reagan’s record, I see no reason to presume innocence on his part. Drum’s point, at best, is damning of Dukakis, although the two actions aren’t remotely equivalent. Reagan deserves all the criticism he’s gotten for the appalling symbolism of his opening campaign speech.

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