Think back thirty years ago.
If you were alive back then, you may recall the recent malaise and economic stagnation. Then came a revolutionary figure in the form of Ronald Reagan…
But what became of that revolution?
There has been discussion in the center-right blogosphere regarding an article by Steven Hayward (AEI) that states that the Reagan Revolution failed.
My opinion is that what we see today is evidence that the has not failed. The Reagan Years represented a pattern interrupt in postwar American politics. Since FDR, the political consensus was generally progressive/liberal in that both parties saw government as a tool to solve social, political, and economic problems. Think about it, other than Reagan, were there any other conservative Republican Presidents from 1945 until today?
I’m talking real conservatives, not “compassionate” conservatives in the mold of George W. Bush.
Looking back, one can say that the Democrat Party was the party of Big Government whereas the Republican Party was the party of Not Quite as Big Government. Remember that Nixon created both the EPA and OSHA during his term. Whatever was said by Republican Presidents, what was done was general acceptance of increasing government involvement in people’s lives.
After all, its what the voters wanted.
Then came Reagan, who changed the tone significantly. Despite not having a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, he did get tax cuts, tax reform, and regulatory reform passed. Add to that a defense buildup that helped bankrupt the Soviet Union and a resolute foreign policy accompanying that, and you have a record of success.
However, there are some who would argue that the Reagan Revolution was a failure because in the following years government has continued to grow. Some on the right of center argue that Big Government is a fact of life that is here to stay. The recent example of George W. Bush and the Republican Congresses lend creedence to this belief.
The legacy of Reagan though is the change in thoughts and a challenge to the prevailing belief systems. He made people uncomfortable, including many in the GOP, for taking a hard line on many positions (think PATCO, the USSR, and monetary policy). Time proved him right on these and many other issues. His clarity of belief and disciplined thought enabled him to be a successful and beloved President. All of this inspired a generate of people (myself included) to challenge the liberal status quo and believe in the great things the USA represented.
I think what we are seeing today is an awakening on the part of normal people who see where the postwar consensus has lead us. Our current situation is the result of decades of creeping government interference in markets and institutions. Many of those who came of age in the late-70’s and early-80’s recognize the similarities of those dark days with today. The solution offered then was embracing the essence of America with abiding hope and faith in our nation. There was leadership in Washington, DC but the work was done by the people all over the nation. The economic growth and dynamism the resulted from the Reagan Revolution was coupled with a deep belief in who we were as a nation. Perhaps that was the root of the success we enjoyed during that time.
The point of this rambling post is to say that rather than the Reagan Revolution being a failure, it was a success that was not sustained. Inertia kept things going great into the 90’s but both leaders and voters slowly turned away and forgot what got our nation to where we were. Now, we see people harkening for a return to a hopeful era marked by leadership and strength. Perhaps we won’t see a Reagan but there is a yearning for those who will lead with the confidence and knowledge that he exhibited during his two terms.
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November 22nd, 2011 by admindude