Democratic commentators wrote of Republicans “determined to commit political suicide” in choosing conservative Ronald Reagan as their leader. Actually, Reagan had little support from Republican eastern elites, many favoring George Bush who called the supply-side approach “voodoo economics.” But Reagan was popular with the grass roots and he won the Republican nomination. These Americans wanted someone with genuine conservative convictions.
Many Americans also found Reagan’s self-assurance appealing. When asked if President Carter intimidated him during a debate, Reagan replied no: “I’ve been on the same stage with John Wayne.” The hostile judgments of the liberal media appeared to have had little effect on him.
By all accounts, Reagan’s victory in November 1980 was impressive; he took 51 percent of the popular vote compared to Carter’s 41 percent (Independent John B. Anderson took almost 7 percent of the vote and Libertarian Ed Clark 1 percent). Even more striking was Reagan’s victory in forty-four states, losing only one state in the South (Carter’s Georgia) and one state west of the Mississippi (Walter Mondale’s Minnesota).
Historian Gil Troy refers to popular television shows of the day to characterize the differences between Reagan and the Democratic party: Dallas, the Dukes of Hazzard, and Little House on the Prairie represented Reagan’s “America of individual wealth, rich, colorful regional identities, and timeless values” whereas Democratic America was 60 Minutes, The Jeffersons, Three’s Company, and M*A*S*H, reflecting a nation “of doubters, aggressive minorities, single mothers, libertines of ambiguous but omnivorous sexual identity, and wise-cracking subversives.”
Reagan believed conservatism was the best vision for American society. He held his ground on lowering rather than raising taxes. Keynesianism caused runaway inflation and high unemployment and he wanted to return America on the path to prosperity and jobs.
The signing into law of the Economic Recovery Act of 1981 [ERTA] resulted in the largest tax cut in American history. The ERTA immediately reduced the top marginal personal income tax rates by 20 percent (from 70 to 50 percent), phased in a 23 percent cumulative decrease in personal income tax rates over the next three years. As the Wall Street Journal editorialized, it was a “spectacular tax victory.”
Another immediate victory for conservative commonsense was Reagan’s response to the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) strike of 1981. Representing 12,000 members, PATCO sought reduced workloads, higher wages, and modernization of the air traffic control system. The problem was that PATCO workers were public employees of the Federal Aviation Administration who took an oath not to strike against the government. Reagan dismissed virtually all air traffic controllers even though PATCO had been one of the few unions which supported his bid for the presidency. His bold action, viewed by unions as an effort to break union power, was a symbolic and lasting victory, notably since moderated wage demands were often the rule throughout the Reagan era.
No less important was the optimistic response of the business community, including many leading European financiers who explained that Reagan’s resolve inspired their trust and confidence to invest in America. The stunning job creation record (approximate 20 million jobs) of Reagan’s presidency is all the more impressive when compared to President Obama’s economy of 2009-2014.
So what were the numbers when Reagan ran for a second term in 1984? The American people gave him 54,455,075 votes and his opponent Walter Mondale 37,577,185 votes. The Electoral Vote was Reagan 525 and Mondale 13. The Democrats won only one state (Mondale’s Minnesota). Four years later, when Reagan left the White House his public approval rate was near 70 percent.
Americans had witnessed Ronald Reagan’s conservative economic policies bringing prosperity and jobs. Today, liberal commentators who read history have good reason to worry about a politician with bold conservative convictions.
Source: The Cross and Reaganomics.