A correction or clarification regarding your mention of Mel Bradford…
First, Bradford was not a historian. He was an English professor. He knew a lot about a lot, but if I recall correctly, his specialties were English Renaissance poetry (he was very fine on Ben Jonson) and the literature of the recent American South (the Fugitives, Faulkner, et al.). He knew a lot about history, and some of what he knew — or thought — about history, especially American history circa 1861-65, gave him some notoriety. But he wasn’t a historian.
Second, Reagan was quite right to pass over Bradford as secretary of education. Had Bradford been nominated, the confirmation hearings would have been a circus. Bradford was not a mainstream conservative, by which I mean he wasn’t in the Nixon/Rockefeller camp (definitely), he wasn’t in the Goldwater camp, he certainly wasn’t a Straussian (he was at sixes and sevens with the Straussians at UD all the time). He was the Dallas county head of the George Wallace presidential run in (scratching head here….) 1968. I don’t doubt that he was a segregationist, except that it’s important to note that Bradford was too young to have his birth date as an excuse for that particular mistake. He was in his late ’30s in the early 1970s when I was his student, although he gave the impression of being much older. Bradford lived in his fantasies of the noble old south more than anybody I ever knew — and I’ve known a number of people who lived in these fantasies.
Bradford was a brilliant reader of poetry, a criminally irresponsible teacher, an amateur historian who looked good because he had a flypaper memory and was a charming raconteur. In politics, however, he was a nut case. I am not the only person who knew him who thought that his name must have been mentioned in 1981 as a joke.