Over the weekend, David Sirota wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post, in which he opined that, "the 80's just won't go away." There is money in nostalgia. But there is more than that:
This collective deja vu moment is part coincidence, part commodified nostalgia and part impulse to rehash successful old political and entertainment brands. But the similarities between today and the 1980s also reflect a country now run by those who came of age in that decade - people whose worldviews were molded by an era that began with a Chrysler bailout and ended with foreign students protesting dictatorship in a distant square.
In the minds of many of today's leaders -- at least those in the Republican Party -- the Age of Reagan was a Golden Age, where America emerged from the doom and confusion of the seventies, personified by Jimmy Carter, into "Morning in America." Like Reagan himself -- who wanted to return to a pre-Depression America and a roaring economy presided over by Calvin Coolidge -- today's Republicans want to return to the optimism and the good times they associate with The Gipper.
The problem is that their memory -- like Reagan's -- is highly selective. Ronald Reagan came to office endorsing supply side economics -- until David Stockman announced quite publicly that the numbers didn't add up. The president quietly changed course. Reagan railed at the size of government and the deficit, while allowing both to increase substantially. It's true he did not become entangled in the Middle East -- in fact, he withdrew Marines from Lebanon. He did, however, lead a successful invasion of another country -- Grenada. And, rather than cutting back social security, he increased payroll taxes to ensure its solvency.
But he left it to others to deal with the consequences of his signature policies. To George Bush Sr. he left the Savings and Loan Debacle. Bush established the Resolution Trust Corporation and actually prosecuted the high rollers behind the savings and loan mess. Bush also increased taxes to restore fiscal balance -- a wise move. But to howls of treachery, he lost the next election. Then, of course, there was Ollie North and Iran Contra. And, to Reagan's credit, but unthinkable to some -- particularly to the Tea Partiers of his own day -- he sat down and did business with The Evil Empire.
Ronald Reagan -- like the America he loved -- has been mythologized. The problem with mythologizing the past is that you can't learn from it. The golden glow surrounding it makes it impossible to see its hard edges, its tragedies and its stupidities. Today, from Wisconsin to Washington, Republicans have been captured by a myth. In such moments, history becomes destiny.
This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.
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