This will surprise you.
When Reagan was the governor of the most prosperous and populous state in the union, he had to find out what was going on.
He writes in his autobiography: “I decided to keep the visits secret from reporters and never told anyone about them: I’d disappear for a few hours, travel incognito to private homes, and talk to the family to learn what was on their minds” (p. 163).
This post quotes extensively from Reagan’s autobiography because those who claim him and yet are “hardcore” and “ultra-pure” conservatives (his words on p. 322), though he distanced himself from them, won’t believe that he did what he described in his own words. A summary from me wouldn’t do.
Two years earlier, from when he arrived in Sacramento to assume the reins of power as governor, neighborhoods in Los Angeles had gone up in flames in the Watts riots.
He needed to visit the “black neighborhoods around the state” and the “large Mexican-American barrio in East Los Angeles” (p. 163).
He writes of his purpose of the visits: “I wanted to understand more about the causes that had led to the rioting, heal the scars it has left, and assure that minorities had the same opportunities as every other Californian did” (p. 163).
First, he writes about blacks and their low position in government.
One of the first things I heard was a complaint that blacks weren’t being given a fair shot at jobs in state government. I looked into it and confirmed that virtually the only blacks employed by the state were janitors or those working in other menial positions, largely because state civil service tests were slanted against them.
He trimmed California’s state government and budget, but some people have to run what was left, so why not employ minorities on an equal footing?
Then he comments on their schooling:
Some blacks just hadn’t had the opportunity to get the same kind of schooling as other Californians. They were as capable as anyone else, but the tests were skewed to make it difficult for them to compete on an equal footing with whites for the better jobs, trapping them forever at the bottom of the ladder. We then changed the testing and job evaluation procedures to make sure that, in the future, everyone got an even break. (pp. 163-164)
He describes the state bureaucracy and how its employees were prejudiced against blacks. A black community leader told Reagan that he had been helping young men get off welfare to find work. He took them to the state employment assistance office to register for jobs. He found out that a few of the men had not filled out the applications form completely, so he took them inside to fill in the blanks.
When they got back inside, they discovered that the bureaucrats couldn’t find the applications, even though the applicants just left a few minutes ago. On a hunch, the community leader walked over to the trash bin and found them inside. “When I got back to Sacramento, I made sure that our bureaucrats didn’t do that again” (p. 164). Whether he accomplished that goal needs investigation, but the heart was in the right place.
Then Reagan turns his attention in the chapter to the “large” Mexican-American barrio.
At a meeting in East Los Angeles, several mothers told me that their kids weren’t doing well in school, in part because their teachers were ignoring the fact that their native language was Spanish.
One mother told me that because her son had had difficulty in school, his teacher had sent him to a special class for retarded children; luckily, another teacher realized his only problem was difficulty with English, and he was transferred out of class and eventually graduated from high school with highest honors. (p. 164)
A Hispanic mother told him she knew of children who were not as fortunate as her son, so he suggested parents take turns to volunteer to get involved in the classroom “to monitor whether their children were having a language problem.” They replied they would be glad to, but one needed special certificates to participate in classroom functions.
I thought it ridiculous that a parent couldn’t assist in school and arranged for the rule to be changed. Later on, as an outgrowth of this, California became a national pioneer in a program that enlisted the help of parents in the early education of their children.
The main takeaways from this section in Reagan’s autobiography are clear.
Gov. Reagan reached out to the minority communities. He went to their houses. As one can imagine, when the neighbors found out the governor was in a house, crowds gathered, “so we had to move them to a school or a storefront” (p. 163).
Healing wounds, specifically of blacks and Hispanics, is compassionate.
How many GOP candidates meet with minority groups today? Does one or two of them talk tough and insult them, believing they don’t need their vote? It’s not so much about their vote, though it is crucial to get as many as the GOP can get. Rather, we must listen to them and then promote conservative political philosophy, explaining why it is needed now more than ever and how it can benefit them.
The only candidate who can do that is Marco Rubio, who has not deployed harsh rhetoric.
Reagan would not endorse the practical slogan “Make America harsh, dumb, and crass again!”
Reagan didn’t talk about Eisenhower’s misguided and unworkable Operation Wetback deportation program a decade earlier. Obviously, Regan saw things differently.
He would not endorse the current idea of deportation. He may have signed an amnesty deal, and surely that’s not workable today, because a huge percentage of the illegals are not from south of the border, but are overstaying their visas.
Instead of deporting them and then bringing back “the good ones” (a dumb idea from a “very smart man” on the campaign), let’s get the illegal immigrants’ paperwork straightened out.
He would not endorse any talk of “never legalization!”
Justice is aligned with fairness, and when one has a bureaucracy in place, it is best to ensure fairness at the starting gate.
There is nothing wrong with helping people when injustice occurs anywhere. Later in life, Reagan comes across as a kind man, and that’s the image and “vibe” I remember best about him whenever I heard him speak. He had a soothing voice, not a crass and harsh or high and tinny one.
He was a great governor and even greater president.
How conservatives can finally read America accurately (for a change).
This post originally appeared on the American Thinker website on Feb. 22, 2016, and has been updated and corrected here.