“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive.” That bit of lyricism comes from Wordsworth, describing his youthful reaction to the French Revolution. Two centuries later, in my own considerably less articulate way, I had the same sense of elation — to be alive at the dawn of the Reagan Revolution.
It’s hard to explain what it was like in the fall of 1980, to be working at the Reagan-Bush campaign headquarters at 901 S. Highland Street in Arlington, Va. Today, people speak freely about a “center-right” country, filled up with “red states.” But back then, America seemed like a different country, a place where the New Deal was still dominant. And it was definitely a different media landscape.
The Fourth Estate — to use another phrase from the late 18th century — was adamant back then: There was no way that someone like Reagan could get elected, because he was too conservative. By 1980, reporters didn’t much like Jimmy Carter, but Reagan was a right-winger by too far. And who was there, journalistically, to argue with the great lions of liberalism, such as Walter Cronkite, James Reston, and Joseph Kraft?
Meanwhile, of course, the country was falling apart; even reporters couldn’t deny that. But the media elite, presuming to speak for the mass of the country, declared that America had entered into a permanent slump — the “era of limits,” they called it. So all that remained to be done, in this telling, was to carve up the remains of the American Dream into smaller, and perhaps more equitable, portions.
Reagan, of course, would have none of that pessimism. Ever the optimist — and further emboldened by the new idea called “supply-side economics” — RR promised better days ahead for all. I believed in him and his new agenda; that’s why I began volunteering for his campaign the year before. But I wasn’t sure that the country would agree; even then, I guess, I was reading the Washington Post too much.
Then came Election Day. Reagan was proven right, and the media were proven wrong. Today, the Gipper’s luster shines brighter than ever, while the mainstream media have been exiled from much of the country, dreaming of a restoration that will never come.
— James P. Pinkerton, a domestic-policy aide in the Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations, is a Fox News contributor and the editor of the Serious Medicine Strategy blog.