Saturday, January 21, 2006

Hail to the Chief

It has been 25 years since Ronald Reagan pulled America out of the Carter-era dark ages into the sunlight of Republican optimism. When the “Gipper” was inaugurated he promised less intrusive government, lower tax rates and victory over Communism. What a contrast.

Do you remember Jimmy Carter: stagflation and the misery index, long lines at gas stations, Americans held hostage in Iran?

During the Presidential campaign of 1976, Carter made frequent references to the Misery Index, ie. the sum of the rates of inflation and unemployment. In the summer of 1976, the Misery Index was 13.6% and Carter stated that any man responsible for giving the country that much misery had no right to ask to be President. He narrowly beat President Ford. Carter then presided over the worst four years of American economic history since the Great Depression. Due to Carter’s economic policies the Misery Index reached an all-time high of 22.0% by the end of his term. In his famous malaise speech in 1979, President Carter basically told the American people to get used to a lower standard of living.

In foreign affairs Carter was equally feckless. With his blessing, a pro-U.S. monarchy was toppled by the 1979 Iranian Revolution. He was then amazed when dozens of Americans were taken hostage by Islamic fundamentalists -- his buddies. When Russia invaded Afghanistan Carter did nada. Carter subscribed to the theory of John Lewis Gaddis that the American-Soviet competition had settled into a stable ''long peace.''

The American people were not fooled. Carter lost the 1980 election to Ronald Reagan in a landslide.

Reagan was the anti-Carter. Domestically, Reagan said stop: It is time to check and reverse the growth of government, which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed. To end stagflation, Reagan chose a different route: Cut taxes to generate economic growth. Stabilize the value of the dollar to ease inflation. Trim federal spending. Ease regulation.

Getting government out of the way allowed the American economy to flourish. GDP growth averaged 3.2 percent a year during the 1980s. Unemployment dropped and, with inflation under control, so did interest rates. Reaganomics produced a genuine economic miracle, and we're still enjoying its effects to this day.

Overseas, too, Reagan launched a new era. As we renew ourselves here in our own land, we will be seen as having greater strength throughout the world. We will again be the exemplar of freedom and a beacon of hope for those who do not now have freedom, he announced.

Recently the historian Gaddis published a retrospective look at the Reagan cold war strategy in the book, The Cold War: A New History. It took visionaries - saboteurs of the status quo - to widen the range of historical possibility, Gaddis writes. In the West, these saboteurs were Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II. In their qualities and in their arguments, there is the distinct echo of George W. Bush.

'They used to the utmost, Gaddis writes, their strengths as individuals: their personal character, their perseverance in the face of adversity, their fearlessness and frankness, but above all their dramatic skill, not only in conveying these qualities to millions of other people, but also in persuading those millions themselves to embrace those qualities. Gaddis quotes Thatcher: I had long understood that detente had been ruthlessly used by the Soviets to exploit western weakness and disarray. I knew the beast.

Reagan was a great man, a great president. But they called him a cowboy, said he was reckless and would lead us into a nuclear holocaust, said he was dumb. Sound familiar?

Bush looks at the absurdity of a Middle East blotted with dictatorships, at a religion producing monstrous suicide bombers, and dares to create something better.

Reagan is regarded as one of the best American presidents, Thatcher a great British prime minister. Bush has some of their vision and fearlessness, and will join their ranks.


Rich Lowry, Editor of National Review, in the Salt Lake Tribune, 1/21/06

Edwin J. Feulner, President of the Heritage Foundation, in Real Clear Politics, 1/21/06.

Opinion Journal, editorial, 1/20/06.


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