Reflections on the ‘Reagan Revolution’

President Ronald Reagan reminded America of its greatness


SAN JOSE, February 7, 2015 –  President’s Day is on the horizon here in the month of February. Most Americans know that George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were born in the month of February, but they forget that yesterday was the birthday of former President Ronald Reagan.

One of the most important leaders of the Republican Party in the last 50 years, Ronald Reagan, was born on February 6, 1911 in Tampico, Illinois. Young Ronald Reagan, who grew up in the Midwest, was raised on simple down-to-earth, common-sense values. He grew to become a man who transformed the United States with his simple yet sincere belief in the value of America, the value of the American people, and the value of the vision of government that the Founding Fathers established at the birth of the Republic.

Yet, when one brings up his presidency, Reagan still remains controversial. Most Conservatives still love him as an icon of the Conservative arm of the Republican Party. Many major Republicans simply tolerate him. Leftists and Liberals tend to hate him. Many young people born after the Reagan era may simply relate to him as the actor-turned politician.

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Nevertheless, despite Leftist criticism and the personal attacks against him and the dissent over his policies, Ronald Reagan kept a sincere faith in what an exceptional country America was, and how it depended upon the Law of the Land. He would probably be viewed as so politically in-correct that there would be no hope for a future in politics.

What is often neglected in the telling of the stories of Ronald Reagan is the effort that this old man had to make to shake up the Republican Establishment before he could go on to win the hearts of the American people in the general election. It was an uphill battle most of the way to the presidency, initially against his own party. Although Reagan was a former Democrat, he was not a centrist; he proved to be far too conservative for the traditionalists in the Republican Party. It proved daunting to simply get his new party’s nomination to run for President of the United States. The major Establishment types made the claims that he was not presidential material. They did not support his efforts in 1976 as he challenged President Gerald Ford in the GOP primaries.

Possibly distrusted by many in the GOP as he was a Democrat earlier in his life, Reagan had grown more conservative as he grew older. Finally, in 1962, Ronald Reagan converted and become a Republican. Two years later, in the 1964 presidential campaign, Reagan delivered a rousing speech at the Republican National Convention in support of conservative Barry Goldwater’s nomination. While endorsing contender Goldwater, Reagan stressed his own ideological convictions in a famed speech which later became known as “The Speech,” in which he stated: “The Founding Fathers knew a government can’t control the economy without controlling people. And they knew when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose. So we have come to a time for choosing.”

At that time, as now, the Republican Party was controlled by wealthy and strict traditional or “Establishment Republicans,” and for those out-of-step Conservatives, it was an uphill battle for respect from within the ranks of that mainstream political party. Reagan’s popularity took time to develop into a grassroots effort that needed to be built. Indeed, it was essentially an uphill battle for Reagan as he contended with the inner political machinery and powerful personalities of the entrenched Republican establishment. Although Reagan tried to win the Republican Party nomination for president in 1968, and again in 1976, he was unsuccessful. Not until the 1980 presidential election, was he successful in his fight, and finally orchestrated a victory over “Establishment Republicans.”

Reagan had to wrestle with the Establishment types in order to gain support from the GOP because he was not acceptable and not considered credible by the GOP establishment in 1980. His own party looked at him as an anomaly, and was dubious about offering full support. It is not hard to imagine how the opposition viewed him. Many had a hard time believing he would ever become president. In Craig Shirley’s Rendevous with Destiny, Americans are reminded that in 1980, as late as election-day, the presidential race was touted in headlines as “Too Close to Call.” This was the so-called ‘political experts’ telling the American public what they ‘should believe.’

In reality, the 1980 presidential election was a landslide victory for Ronald Reagan over the incumbent, Jimmy Carter. During that presidential election campaign, one of Reagan’s famous lines was that the people should elect him to help “get the government off of people’s backs,” echoing the Founding Father’s belief in limited government. In his time, Ronald Reagan not only gained the respect of the Republican Party, he managed to fundamentally alter, or transform his party through a Conservative revolution which became appropriately termed the “Reagan Revolution.” On Election Day, the people showed their overwhelming support in the “Reagan Revolution.”

Reagan’s populist, common sense approach to solving the many problems greatly appealed to the American people. Much to the dismay of the so-called experts. Reagan carried 44 states with 489 electoral votes to 49 electoral votes for Carter, with over 50% of the popular vote while Carter got 41%. He won his second term by an even greater landslide victory by winning all but one state. Reagan was 69 at his first inauguration, the oldest ever to be elected president; certainly, the oldest when he was re-elected in 1984. In his first inaugural address, which Reagan wrote himself, he reiterated this position made famous during the campaign. He targeted the economic malaise of the nation stating: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem.”

In his first inaugural address, Reagan made it clear that one of the major goals of his administration would be to reduce the size of the federal government. What so many non-conservatives do not realize that what that translates into is the reduction of taxes for the common people because government gets fat and over powerful by feeding off of the incomes of the citizens who are inclined to pay taxes. In that time, as now it was perceived that the nation’s economy was suffering due to bloated government and so many unnecessary laws. He emphatically requested that the American people could join him in a “new beginning.” He explained:

“The economic ills we suffer have come upon us over several decades.  They will not go away in days, weeks, or months. But they will go away. They will go away because we as Americans have the capacity now — as we have had in the past — to do whatever needs to be done to preserve this last and greatest bastion of freedom.”

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When Reagan took office, the U.S. Congress was divided with a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives and a Republican-controlled Senate. It proved to be an extreme challenge for his leadership, but he was able to achieve the passage of his bold legislative programs. It may have helped that Ronald Reagan was the first former leader of a labor union to be elected President of the United States, as he had been twice served as leader of the Screen Actors Guild. As he took up residence in the White House, he was not afraid to promote the conservative agenda, and he fought to shrink the sheer size of the federal government and to reduce the extensive intrusion of government into American’s daily lives.

While in office, he quickly moved to impact the rampant recession by lowering taxes and the number of federal regulations in order to stimulate the economy and get Americans back to work. As an economic conservative and was not shy when it came to explaining his views. He pursued the theories of supply-side economics which were later to become known as “Reaganomics.” But over the course of his two terms, Reagan’s economic policies were capable of holding down inflation and proved capable of creating sixteen million new jobs by the end of his second term. President Reagan managed to solve some of America’s most serious economic problems, as well as to restore the country’s prestige around the world as he stood up for America’s founding principles.

Again, in his first inaugural address, he spoke strongly and confidently of America: “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…”  At his core, Reagan believed that America was “exceptional” as he believed that there was something special about America that set the nation apart from the other nations in the world. He also understood that “Our Constitution is a document that protects the people from government.”

Despite a dangerous and turbulent world, Reagan demonstrated an incredible optimism in the American way, and despite being 69 years of age, a majority of the American public responded favorably to his “Reagan Revolution.” Despite an assassin’s attempt on his life, despite a devastating horse-riding accident, despite cancer, and despite brain surgery, all occurring after he turned seventy years of age, Ronald Reagan strove against great odds to become president, served as a strong president in the midst of such a dangerous and turbulent world, and deserves to be remembered in the company of the nation’s great presidents. But, he may prefer that those who believe like him, revive the revolution!

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Dennis Jamison reinvented his life after working for a multi-billion dollar division of Johnson & Johnson for several years. Now semi-retired, he is an adjunct faculty member at West Valley College in California. He currently writes a column on US history and one on American freedom for the Communities Digital News, as well as writing for other online publications. During the 2016 presidential primaries, he worked as the leader of a network of writers, bloggers, and editors who promoted the candidacy of Dr. Ben Carson. He founded the “We the People” Network of writers and the Citizen Sentinels Project to pro-actively promote the values and principles established at the founding of the United States, and to discover and support more morally centered citizen-candidates who sincerely seek election as public servants, not politicians.
  • ginny

    What an extraordinary and much-needed reminder of Reagan’s challenges, accomplishments and overall legacy. I’d read about much of this in Peggy Noonan’s book, “What I Learned at the Revolution”, but Dennis’s summation is iluminating. Also, few probably remember about Reagan’s staunch pro-life stance…back then when the pro-choice forces were 80% of the electorate. Nancy and many others around him were constantly begging him to tone down his anti-abortion rhetoric, but he was determined to change hearts and minds about this very divisive issue. Given that today it’s roughly 50-50 (depending on which poll you read), he had a great effect. Also — don’t know if it was deliberate or not, but Dennis sure sounds like he was describing the intra-and-inter party divisions of today, but there are certainly similarities…and one cannot read about the resolve, good cheer and strong convictions of President Reagan without being reminded of a present-day soon-to-be candidate, Dr. Ben Carson. (Future President Carson…?!) Well done, Dennis. You’ve done him proud.