Ronald Reagan and Race: The Evolution of Colour-Blind Conservatism
The overarching spine of this project is the life of Ronald Reagan. From his college years, through his radio and acting career, onto his political life as California Governor and finally as president. Employing Reagan’s life as a springboard, I wish to examine three political phenomena during this period; the changing nature of conservatism, the expansion of federal government, and the role of minority groups.
At the heart of Reagan’s political philosophy was the notion of individual freedom. The power for the individual to develop wealth through labour without undue regulation, taxation and bureaucratic interference from the state. Reagan’s opposition to ‘big government’ and regulation led him to oppose civil rights legislation in the 1960s, and again in the 1980s. Although there is no evidence that his racial attitudes were unusually conservative, these ‘principled’ positions left him unable to woo African American support, allowing the Democratic Party to consolidate its strength among that group, even during the years of general Republican ascendency. Essentially, Ronald Reagan provides for an excellent case study to explain how the conservative ideology of individual freedom led the post-1960s GOP away from group civil rights and collective economic need.