I grew of age under our 40th President, Ronald Reagan. I was in junior high school when he was elected in 1980 and sworn in, in January 1981. I lived through eight years of what was a really un-eventful period of time. The economy grew during his time in office. There was no war during his time in office (Grenada..really?), Even the Soviet Union was rather tame at this time creating their own problems in Afghanistan. Probably the most notable events during his time were his Supreme Court nominees and his tough stance with the Soviet Union, in what was becoming a new global arms race. Despite what on the surface would seem an anemic presidency he has remained a political influence on not just the Republican Party but America. It stems from probably the simplest of Reagan quotes, “Government can’t solve your problems, government is the problem”. To this day we hear of the evils of government. Government cannot help you. News commentators, leaning to the right, insist on screaming into the television about the evils of government. Probably because we are in a time when younger generations are saying, “lets move on”. In reality the Reagan revolution is over and has been coming to an end for some time.
I guess only in America could a Hollywood actor not only become President, but cause some sort of popular movement. To be fair Ronald Reagan created the revolution but he borrowed and was greatly influenced by former Arizona Senator and Presidential Candidate Barry Goldwater. However Reagan had the benefit of timing and he was a great communicator of his ideas and beliefs. He leveraged his acting background very well. At the time of his successful Presidential run, the incumbent President, Jimmy Carter, was dealing with both an economic crisis a home and with a hostage crisis in Iran. Reagan offered change (always a good place when running against an incumbent) and strength against the Soviets. Unlike President Carter, who was honest to a fault. Reagan offered a positive outlook for America and a solution to governments problems in running the economy. With Reagan the rise of the free market economists was completed Adam Smith, Ludwig Von Mesis and Milton Friedman could all sleep better. We were all of a sudden hearing about Supply side economics and the Laffer Curve, and many young individuals were becoming converts, especially notable was our university economic and business schools.
Reagan’s accent was a result of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. A period where LBJ had declared a “war on poverty”. As much as Republicans try to complain about FDR’s policies LBJ created medicare and welfare. Government had grown and when government grows it can get into areas where it’s role can become questioned. The flip side is though when things go bad it seems to be human nature that we turn to our government for help. We did during the great depression and we did during the recent financial crisis. We had gone through a period of strong control of congress via the Democrats. From the time of FDR to Nixon, we only had the Presidency of Dwight Eisenhower to point to as a period where the Republicans controlled the oval office. A shift was inevitable, but in order to create these tidal change in directions, a movement needs something to follow. Ronald Reagan was able to fill and add color to that void.
It has been over thirty years since Ronald Reagan took office and like the country he inherited the country continues to change as does its views on politics and the role of government. However Reagan is still sanctified within the Republican party. He was the great conservative leader, the leader of the conservative movement. Rush Limbaugh, would make him god if he had his way. Ann Coulter I am sure has a shrine to him. He could talk to both sides of the party, the fiscal conservatives and the religious right. His vice reached its pinnacle under George W Bush, even as his influence had started to fade. I think if he were alive today he would be shocked by the in fighting that is happening today in the GOP. His son, Ron Reagan Jr, once said that he thought his father would be disappointed in the lack of civility in today’s political arena. Having lived through his Presidency I would concur. Ronald Reagan had a strong set of ideals but he did not need to belittle or insult people to state his views.
All this however is history. This country is a country built on change and a lot of that change is driven by generations. The current group that is coming of age is not so enamored with the previous generations. Government is no longer the enemy, corporate America is the enemy (I doubt they view them as “people”). The environment is in danger, global warming is real, if government needs to regulate then do it. They are a more pragmatic group and not driven as much by greed, but a desire to do good. To have some self-worth. Greed is for the weak. The Millennial’s as they are called seem to be more concerned withe greater good as opposed to self-preservation. The debate on global warming is over for them, let snow see what can be done to heal the earth that we live on. They have grown up in the age of the internet, where boarders have been broken down and geo-politics does not seem as relevant. The idea of possessions do not govern their value chain.
As these changes occurred what Ronald Reagan created began to dissipate. It is often argued in the US that our individual rights are the most important thing that we have. But for the pragmatic generation if you don’t have a planet worth living on what good are your individual rights? I am moved by this new point of view. Rather than fight fixing the problems lets fix the problems. Do the right thing, not the cost-effective thing. The idea that fee markets are free is being replaced. In large part due to the financial crisis which at its core was just greed in overdrive. Despite efforts to blame government, it was large financial institutions running out of control that were at the center of the crisis. You combine this loss of faith in capital markets with a generation not so self-absorbed in the idea of wealth creation and self interests the transition beyond what Ronald Reagan created has been well underway for sometime.
Bill Clinton was often hailed as the first post World War II President. We are nearing another generational shift where we will start having leaders in congress who are of the internet generation. Moving forward I expect to GOP to start to morph and change and distance itself from Reagan’s slogans. They may not be in time for 2016, but the GOP will return. Just as the democrats returned under Clinton A new voice will appear on the right. I think the one lesson that the current GOP could still learn from Reagan is you have to be likable and civil. I look forward to witnessing these changes. Rather than a media and society that has been overly negative over the past decade (s) I think the millennial’s will have a more positive outlook on what both government and society at large can accomplish in the coming decades. We continue to learn from the past to improve the future. Reagan had his time and influence and now we must move on as we always have.
Good Night and Good Luck
Hans Henrik Hoffmann April 15th 2014