Politics & Policy

Reagan Was No Bigot-in-Chief

President Reagan signs the MLK national holiday into law on November 2, 1983, as Coretta Scott King looks on.
He treated women, blacks, and gays as well as he treated everyone else.

Sexist, racist, homophobe.

Ronald Reagan was so busy hammering the victims of his prejudice, one wonders when he managed to reverse America’s Carter-era malaise, turbocharge the stalled U.S. economy, and catapult Communism onto the ash heap of history.

Bigot-in-Chief: That’s the lie Reagan’s liberal enemies peddle. The facts, of course, consistently defeat their deceit.

#ad#According to Karen K. Kirst-Ashman’s Introduction to Social Work and Social Welfare, Reagan “ascribed to women ‘primarily domestic functions’ and failed to appoint many women to positions of power during his presidency.” This passage appears beneath the heading “Conservative Extremes in the 1980s and Early 1990s.” Anna Chapman, a University of South Carolina sophomore, complained ​to CampusReform.org about this semester’s mandatory text.

Reagan employed an unusual technique for oppressing females: He appointed 1,400 of them to policy-making positions, the National Federation of Republican Women estimates. In 1983, for the first time, three women enjoyed simultaneous service as cabinet members: Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole, Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heckler, and United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick.

President Ronald Reagan confers in the Oval Office with United Nations

ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick.

And thanks primarily to Reagan’s nomination, Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Reagan also loathed minorities — or so the Left relentlessly claims. They also contend that Reagan used ethnic scaremongering to harvest white votes.

Reagan possessed “his own intuitive grasp of the power of racial provocation,” Ian Haney-Lopez writes in his forthcoming Dog Whistle Politics: How Fifty Years of Coded Racial Appeals Wrecked the Middle Class. “For Reagan, conservatism and racial resentment were inextricably fused.”

But Reagan’s dog whistle seemed out of tune. His secret messages surely baffled bigots.

President Reagan, in 1982, signs a 25-year extension of the

Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Reagan signed into law the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday. He extended the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for 25 years and said in June 1982, “The right to vote is the crown jewel of American liberties, and we will not see its luster diminished.” He also named Colin Powell America’s first black national-security adviser.

Louis Jordan and Ronald Reagan at the Apollo Theater, 1960.

Through the modern miracle of YouTube, a vintage kinescope now confirms online that Ronald Reagan once broadcast from Harlem’s storied Apollo Theater. As he guest-hosted an episode of NBC TV’s Ford Startime titled “The Swingin’, Singin’ Years,” Reagan interviewed jazz great Louis Jordan backstage on March 8, 1960. Moments later, the bandleader conducted the Tympany Five in “What a Difference a Day Makes.” The phenomenal Dinah Washington, Queen of the Blues, lent her voice, as only she could.

Ella Fitzgerald, the finest female vocalist of the 20th century, began her career by winning a talent contest at the Apollo in 1934. President Reagan awarded her the National Medal of Arts in 1987. He said, “Ella Fitzgerald is indeed our First Lady of Song.”


One of the most noxious weeds in the liberal garden is the notion that Reagan hated gays — and lethally so. The Academy Award–nominated Philomena involves Reagan-era events. In its screenplay, posted online for Oscar consideration, the male lead says: “The Republicans cut funding into AIDS research because they blamed the epidemic on gay lifestyles.”

This lie is purer than distilled water.


Ronald Reagan launched federal AIDS spending. The $8 million initial federal outlay that Reagan signed in fiscal year 1982 more than quintupled to $44 million in FY 1983. That more than doubled to $103 million in FY 1984. Reagan’s final FY 1989 budget spent $2.32 billion on AIDS research and services. All told, Reagan approved $5.73 billion on AIDS — equal to $10.76 billion today. Reagan’s HIV/AIDS outlays increased annually, on average, 129 percent. For details, see Judith Johnson’s March 31, 1998, Congressional Research Service study titled AIDS Funding for Federal Government Programs: FY1981–FY1999.

Gays in uniform had nothing to fear from their commander-in-chief.

“The military’s ban on service by homosexuals was firmly in place long before Reagan became president,” Dale Carpenter observed in the June 10, 2004, Bay Area Reporter. “It remained in force during his tenure, of course, but discharges for homosexuality declined every single year of Reagan’s presidency, suggesting the administration wasn’t interested in anti-gay witch-hunts.”

“The Reagans are also tolerant about homosexual men,” Robert G. Kaiser wrote in the March 18, 1984, Washington Post. “Their interior decorator, Ted Graber, who oversaw the redecoration of the White House, spent a night in the Reagans’ private White House quarters with his male lover, Archie Case, when they came to Washington for Nancy Reagan’s 60th birthday party — a fact confirmed for the press by Mrs. Reagan’s press secretary. . . . Indeed, all the available evidence suggests that Ronald Reagan is a closet tolerant.”

To recap: Reagan was so sexist that he named the first woman to the Supreme Court. He was so racist that he performed at the Apollo Theater and honored Martin Luther King with a national holiday. And he was so homophobic that he inaugurated federal AIDS research and hosted a gay couple for a White House sleepover.

Will these facts stop the liberal lies about Reagan? Not a chance.

Even liberals know that Ronald Reagan was America’s last great president. He has been followed by weaklings and agents of Big Government. The partial exception: Tariff-cutting, welfare-reforming, surplus-creating — albeit skirt-chasing — Democrat Bill Clinton was Reagan’s most fiscally conservative successor.

In contrast, Papa Bush and Baby Bush were statist wolves in conservative sheep’s clothing. And from his failed $833 billion stimulus to his IRS political patrol to his rule by decree to his just-unveiled FCC newsroom police, Obama is a fiscally incontinent, increasingly autocratic socialist who utterly disdains the U.S. Constitution.

President Reagan’s legacy threatens the liberal project, so the Left belches unfiltered lies about him, over and over and over again. Befouling Ronald Reagan and, by extension, conservatives is pivotal to their plans. So liberals will repeat — and conservatives must refute — these easily pulverized lies about the 40th president of the United States.

— Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been amended since its initial posting.​

Deroy Murdock — Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online.

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