TAUBE: The real Reagan record on civil rights

Hollywood disserves audiences by twisting history

Hollywood’s liberal establishment often claims that freedom of expression creates a more vivid landscape for motion pictures. The desire for artistic liberty in popular films such as “Lincoln,” “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty” is said to trump the need for historical accuracy.

However, placing real-life events on the back burner isn’t something to be admired. It provides Tinseltown with ample opportunity to launch further attacks against certain public figures and rewrite history as it sees fit.

We can add Ronald Reagan’s treatment in “The Butler” to the list. This film is a loosely based account of former White House head butler Eugene Allen’s 34-year career (1952-1986). It’s a good movie overall, and will likely be a strong contender at next year’s Oscars.

Naturally, I don’t want to spoil the film’s plot, but I will say this much: When it comes to re-enacting Mr. Allen’s life story in the imaginary guise of Cecil Gaines, played by Forest Whitaker, it would be inaccurate to say that filmmakers think honesty is the best policy.

This is also the case with director Lee Daniels’ offensive portrayal of Reagan’s positions on civil rights (indifferent) and South Africa (uncaring, pseudo-racist). Nothing could be further from the truth. Michael Reagan nicely summed this up in his Aug. 27 Newsmax column: “It’s simply Hollywood liberals wanting to believe something about my father that was never there . Despite what Hollywood’s liberal hacks believe, my father didn’t see people in colors. He saw them as individual Americans.”

Let’s examine the real Reagan record on civil rights.

The late president was a fierce defender of civil rights, both as a Democrat and Republican. He didn’t judge people based on their faiths, backgrounds or skin color. As Reagan wrote in his 1990 autobiography, “An American Life”: “My parents constantly drummed into me the importance of judging people as individuals. There was no more grievous sin at our household than a racial slur or other evidence of religious or racial intolerance.”

When it came to Reagan’s personal convictions, actions always spoke louder than words.

For instance, Eureka College’s football team, which included two black players, had a stopover in Dixon, Ill. After being told by a hotel manager that “[n]o hotel in Dixon is going to take colored boys,” Reagan told the coach to “put me and them in a cab and send us to my house.” When his mother opened the door, she told them to “‘come on in,’ her eyes brightening with a warmth felt by all three of us. She was absolutely colorblind when it came to racial matters; these fellows were just two of my friends.”

What about Reagan’s mild indifference to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and opposing anti-discrimination legislation in California? They were both based on his understandable frustration with massive state intervention. He always supported greater freedom of choice for all individuals, and hiring policies based on merit rather than affirmative action.

In his autobiography, Reagan told several black leaders concerned with his treatment of minorities, “I’ve appointed more blacks to executive and policymaking positions in the state government than all the previous governors of California put together.” When asked why he hadn’t “bragged about it,” he answered, “I was just doing what I thought was right. I think it would have been cheap politics if I’d gone out and started singing a song about it. Besides, they were the best people for the job; I didn’t appoint them just because they were blacks.”

With respect to South Africa, Hollywood doesn’t have the slightest clue about Reagan’s position.

Author and Reagan historian Paul Kengor recently told Paul Bond of The Hollywood Reporter, “Ronald Reagan was appalled by apartheid, but also wanted to ensure that if the apartheid regime collapsed in South Africa that it wasn’t replaced by a Marxist-totalitarian regime allied with Moscow and Cuba that would take the South African people down the same road as Ethiopia, Mozambique and, yes, Cuba. Clearly, blacks in South Africa lost rights under apartheid, but Communism was a far greater infringement . In Communist nations, people were literally lined up and slaughtered — and starved — on mass scales. Has everyone forgotten this?”

No, they haven’t. Hollywood types have simply twisted the truth about Reagan’s personal and political views on race in “The Butler” for their own personal benefit and amusement. Fortunately, they will never change this great president’s powerful history of defending civil rights and personal liberties for all Americans.

Michael Taube is a former speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a contributor to The Washington Times.

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