The 1980’s – Political Con Game
- Population: 226.5 million
- Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita: $28,957
- Median Annual Income: $16,354
- Life Expectancy: 73.7
- Average Age at Marriage: Men 24.7, Women 22.0
- % of pop. w/high school degree or higher: 66.5%
- % of pop. w/college degree or higher: 16.2%
THE COWBOY PRESIDENT
The Republican leadership had been tainted by President Nixon’s Watergate scandal. In order to move back into power they needed a fresh face, and Ronald Reagan, an experienced actor, became that face. Reagan mostly had played nice guys and cowboys in the movies which formed the basis of his political persona. He was twice elected as Governor of California but twice (1968 and 1976) failed to gain the Republican party nomination in his quest to be President.
Ronald Reagan, who, in 1976, had fallen just short of winning the Republican nomination from incumbent President Gerald Ford, had finally won the party’s nomination and found himself as the beneficiary of the perfect storm of political crisis in 1979, that sunk President Jimmy Carter. As if to emphasize his luck, the American hostages in Iran were released on January 20, 1981, the same day that Ronald Reagan was sworn into office as President.
THE ERA OF WE CAN’T
President Reagan believed that government was to blame for America’s woes. Despite the role of the American corporation in damaging the our public image in the Middle East and their greed in price gouging that spurred inflation, Reagan proposed that it was the government that was at issue, not American business. He sold the idea to the public that America Can’t, meaning that government can’t and shouldn’t help its citizens to a better life. Reagan convinced the public that the wealthy are to be worshiped and the poor are guilty of laziness, so the government shouldn’t interfere with the natural order.
In his first year as President he pushed through tax cuts for those in the upper tax brackets (70% down to 50%) and in the lowest tax bracket (14% down to 11%,) buying him goodwill with all citizens; however, in 1986 he pushed through additional tax reform that cut the upper tax bracket down to 28% and increased the lower tax bracket to 15%, making the lowest wage earners pay more in taxes than they did when he took office. The irony of his tax increase on the lowest tax bracket was that his “Supply Side Economics” depended on people having more money to spend, which they didn’t by the end of his second term.
Like many conservatives, Reagan’s patriotism was limited to only those who were of the same mindset. He was staunchly against communism and during the late 1940’s, he and his wife served as FBI informants, ratting out anyone in Hollywood they thought to be sympathetic to communists. This hate for communism manifested during his presidency in massive funding of weapon systems that forced the Soviet Union into military spending that they could not afford while they were also in an active war in Afghanistan.
Reagan, like most post-Vietnam war conservatives learned that showy patriotism for the American soldier as a warrior was vital in keeping the younger generation at bay when they were sacrificed to protect American business interests around the world. Reagan involved America in the invasion of Grenada (1983,) Lebanon Civil War (1983, ) and the bombing of Libya (1986.)
Reagan’s administration also defied Congress by secretly selling weapons to Iran, the country that held Americans hostage for over a year, and gave the money to an anti-communist group in Nicaragua. Later investigations could not prove Reagan’s direct involvement in the scandal; however, the reasoning behind the incident matched Reagan’s staunch anti-communist sentiments.
REAGAN’S TOPPLING OF THE CARDBOARD SOVIET UNION
President Reagan biggest con with the American people was his two-faced position on spending. He wailed loudly about the government spending too much and took money out of the hands that needed it the most, but in reality he was the Big Spender when it came to the military. He tripled the deficit during his eight years as President leaving his successor, George Bush, to try to find ways to pay for Reagan’s uncontrolled military spending.
Fortunately, for President Reagan, America was able to survive his addiction for spending, which was not true for the Soviet Union’s effort to keep pace with the United States. After spending too much on the Soviet space program, (that failed to advance technology for the common Russian citizen,) Soviet involvement in a 10-year war in Afghanistan, (that sent the mighty Russian army home without any significant achievement,) and building up the military might to match Reagan’s excessive spending, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic went bankrupt.
The internal economic meltdown in Russia had a chain reaction with all of the Soviet aligned countries. Desperate East Germans sought to flee the economic disaster in their country and rejoin their cousins in West Germany. This eventually forced the East German government to either kill millions of their citizens, or open the borders completely. The fall of the Berlin Wall within a year after Reagan left office was quickly credited to him by conservatives who lauded his prowess in defeating a cardboard empire. The fact that it was self-inflicted wounds that caused the collapse of USSR and the other communist countries was ignored by those who wanted to glorify a cardboard President.
A LEGACY OF DEFEAT
As Reagan passed the conservative baton to George Bush at the end of the decade, America was fading as the world’s economic and technological leader. Government had been the catalyst in bringing America out of the Great Depression, beating the odds in World War II, improving our roads, building dams and power lines, and in countless other projects that no private business would dare attempt. The money spent by our government went directly into the hands of the private contractor, who then used it to pay employees and buy services and equipment from other private businesses.
But President Ronald Reagan ended that by using the government as the scapegoat for the misdeeds of the corporation. Without any proof the public accepted his premise that government was the problem and then he began to dismantle government and give the money to the wealthy. It was a master deception by the actor/cowboy who pulled off one of the greatest political cons since Hitler.
NEXT: The 1990’s