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March 16, 2016

Was Reagan Really "Optimisic"?

In 1980, I mean.

I think people continue to remember Regan's 1984 campaign. That was indeed "optimistic." The campaign slogan was "It's Morning in America Again."

And why shouldn't Reagan have been optimistic? He was president, for one thing. For another, the economy had been growing gangbusters for a year and a half before the election.

But in 1980 -- when he was actually facing an incumbent president of the opposite party -- was he "optimistic"?

Charles Cooke goes through some reasons Marco Rubio lost, and cites his optimism as one reason.

I;d note, atop the justifiable criticism, that even if Rubio had run a perfect campaign, he would probably have lost this year's nomination. It;s not just Trump-- although Trump, sui generis as he is, is a huge part of the story -- and it;s not just the "Gang of Eight"; itís that the country is simply not in the mood for an optimist such as Rubio. Look at the other candidates in the race. How many of them sound like Ronald Reagan? Cruz certainly doesn't. Clinton certainly doesn't. Sanders certainly doesn't. On both sides of the aisle, America is currently more Nixon '68 than Kennedy' '60. Rubio, whatever mistakes he made, was not a good fit.

I disagree that Cruz doesn't sound like Reagan. Cruz doesn't sound like Reagan in 1984, to be sure.

But Reagan didn't sound like Reagan in 1984 when he ran for president in 1980.

Don't believe me? Watch this October 1980 campaign appearance with a blistering critique on the Carter Administration and the state of the country in general. Late in the speech, noting the poor shape of America's armed forces funding, he says "We're not number one."

He doesn't mention hope until the tenth minute. And then he turns to people's hopes being currently frustrated, talking about "the human misery that I have seen."

He only really becomes hopeful and optimistic at around minute 23, and that goes on for about five minutes.

But the stuff before that is a tough critique of America under Carter, and then a list of programmatic responses (which are neutral as far as "optimism," but certainly can't be called optimistic in themselves, as they're a list of things that he demanded be done that weren't being done).

This is why I've always felt Marco Rubio was, hate to say it, a lightweight. Rather than give us the sharp critique that Reagan did in the opening 15 minutes of the above-linked appearance, he tended to just skip to the 4 minute closing.

Rubio's uplift felt unearned to me. It also felt out of place: I do not know how any conservative can sit through 7 years of Obama, the endless recession, the endless wars which aren't even being fought to win, but merely to appease Obama's critics, the lies, the racial division, the increasing loss of America itself -- and say you feel "optimistic."

If you currently feel optimistic, and are smiling and laughing about the times we live in, then you're not paying very close attention, and no, you're not a good fit for the times.

But again, Reagan didn't do that in 1980 either. America was a dark place in 1980, with 12% inflation and high unemployment and suffering humiliation and depredation abroad, and he said so. He painted a dark picture of America 1980, because America 1980 was in fact a dark place.

So to me, despite all the claims about Rubio's "Reaganesque optimism," i always thought his supporters were out to lunch. Sure, if Rubio won in 2016 and brought about 6.5% growth and low unemployment and a renewed American confidence, I'd say that by 2020, he'd earned the right to mount an optimistic Morning in America campaign.

But now? In some of the darkest years America has gone through since Watergate and Carter?

Now he wants to talk about all the Great Things We've Got Going On?

Talking about optimism and how good we've got it is the theme of a continuity campaign, of a re-election campaign. It's not the theme of a change campaign, a campaign where you're trying to boot one party out of office (and maybe also boot a permanent establishment class out of power as well).

It's just entirely wrong. He's not aping Reagan. Or, he wasn't accurately mimicking Reagan.

He was aping an image of Reagan from 1984, the one people still remember (before that bad period of 1987-1988 ).

Certainly not the genuine Reagan of his 1980 insurgent, change campaign.

And by the way, Reagan's slogan in 1980 wasn't "It's Morning in America Again." That was his 1984 slogan.

His 1980 slogans were "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" -- a dark question, expecting a dark response -- and of course "Let's Make America Great Again."

I'm not saying that as a tip of the hat to Trump, who stole it. I'm just noting that if you're going to argue for a change in presidential leadership, you have to first stress how lacking the current presidential leadership is. If you're going to run on restoring American greatness, you have to first posit that America has lost at least some of her erstwhile greatness.

And so to just keep running on "optimism" when you're demanding the public tear the current political leadership out of their positions of power and deposit them in the street just never made sense to me.

If everything's swell, why not leave the current gang in power?

This just makes no sense to me on a basic psychological level.

So I disagree with Charles Cooke -- to my ear, Ted Cruz does sound a lot like Reagan, at least the Reagan of 1980. Trump does, too, at least to the extent he posits there's something badly wrong that needs fixing.

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posted by Ace at 12:03 PM

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