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The 1980s and the Age of Reagan

Glen Jeansonne sees the former president as a mirror of his age.

The 1980s were a time of paradox and change yet Reagan’s friends believe he changed the world more than the world changed him. Reagan came to the White House underestimated, deemed a dullard who doled out tall tales and mixed Hollywood fantasy with political reality. He made peace with the Soviets, and bonded with their premier, before what he termed their ‘Evil Empire’ collapsed. He slashed taxes, mushroomed the military and created a national debt that was, as he quipped, ‘big enough to take care of itself’.

His showman’s experience enabled him to to deliver speeches glittering with inspiring generalities and tough talk. He felt for the poor as individuals, yet he believed more strongly in individual responsibility.

Ever since the New Deal Americans had looked to the Federal government to solve their problems. Once a New Dealer himself, Reagan warned that the Federal government could not expand infinitely. Franklin Roosevelt had intended massive federal intervention in the economy a temporary expedient; Reagan believed FDR would have been disturbed to learn that his minnow of a safety net had expanded into a whale.

‘The Gipper’, as Reagan was known for a movie role in which he played halfback George Gipp, believed, as Barry Goldwater, his John the Baptist, had warned, that ‘a government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have.’

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