Sunday, April 21, 2024

GINGRICH: The Reagan Miracle – 40 Years Later

Forty years ago, America was at a peak of optimism, technological opportunity, and self-confidence.

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter suffered the worst electoral college defeat for an incumbent president in American history. By 1984, President Ronald Reagan had turned the country around – and the American people knew it.

We had cut through Carter’s malaise and the politics of limitation and embraced Reagan’s belief in a better future. “You ain’t seen nothing yet” was one of his favorite terms.

Psychologically, we had shifted from fear of technology and desperate catastrophism to the positive belief that we could invent a better future. It was no accident that on March 23, 1983, President Reagan gave a nationwide speech about a “Strategic Defense Initiative.” The liberal media – which generally hated Reagan – ridiculed his proposal as “Star Wars.” Today, a modernized version of the same system is effectively defending Israel from missile attacks.

The economy was rapidly recovering from the Carter stagflation, which had peaked at 13 percent inflation and 8 percent unemployment (Reagan dubbed these statistics “the misery index.”)

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher faced the same struggle in Great Britain. With commitment and courage which rivaled his friend Thatcher, Reagan endured a deep recession to break the back of inflation in America. He paid a cost in lost Republican congressional seats in 1982. However, the medicine had worked. Gross national product increased 6 percent in one year from the fourth quarter of 1982 to the fourth quarter of 1983. The overall economy was rushing back.

Americans were sufficiently confident about the future. Reagan’s slogan for 1984 was “Morning in America,” and Americans believed it.

The optimism carried over into foreign policy. When asked about the long conflict with the Soviet Empire, Reagan commented simply: “Here’s my strategy on the Cold War: we win, they lose.” On every economic, technological, and psychological front, Reagan was crowding the Soviets into collapse. The U.S.S.R. dissolved 11 years after Reagan was sworn in for his first term.

President Reagan’s achievements were amazing. But we have wandered off the path of optimism and success.  We must relearn what made Reagan successful – and what made America the “shining city on a hill.”

A new book by Craig Shirley (the leading Reagan historian and biographer) called “The Search For Reagan” is a superb introduction to the complex, determined, cheerful – but deeply realistic – man who turned America around.

In 1984, I made my own contribution to the potential Reagan was creating when I wrote my first book, “Window of Opportunity: A Blueprint for the Future.”

In that book, I wrote “there exists for the United States today a window of opportunity…to create a bright and optimistic future for our children and grandchildren.” However, I warned “If..we continue the policies of the last twenty years, that window will close and we will bequeath to them a pessimistic future of economic and social decay.” Over 272 pages, I outlined the kind of visionary future which Reaganism could create.

Tragically, a large part of the Republican Party had no understanding of Reagan’s optimism, idealism, and passionate belief in a better future. His willingness to work for visionary goals seemed unrealistic to traditional politicians – yet, it was the key to Reagan’s success.

Shirley’s new book – and my 40-year-old statement of the America that could have been created – are useful guides. I hope you will read them. Just like we did with Carter in 1980, I believe we can leave Joe Biden’s malaise. Four years from now, we can be in a remarkably safer, stronger, more prosperous country. We only need to relearn the habits and policies that work.

If we come together and determine what we must do now to create a better future, we can return to “morning in America.”

For more commentary from Newt Gingrich, visit Also, subscribe to the Newt’s World podcast.

This article was originally published by RealClearPolicy and made available via RealClearWire.