Between 1973 and 1976, Americans saw a president resign in disgrace, a calamitous end to the Vietnam War, gas lines at service stations, the financial collapse of New York City, two presidential assassination attempts, and the kidnapping of a publishing heiress by the Symbionese Liberation Army.
Perlstein says Reagan spoke to Americans’ anxieties with a simple message about America’s inherent greatness — and became the leader of a potent political movement.
“But for the most part, I don’t think we don’t say very much about greed, not comfortably at least. Perhaps that is the inevitable price of an economic system that relies on the vigor of self-interested pursuits, that it instills a kind of moral quietism in the face of avarice, for whether out of a desire to appear non-judgmental or for reasons of moral expediency, unless some action verges on the criminal, we hesitate to call it greed, much less evidence of someone greedy. We don’t deny the existence of such individuals, but like Bigfoot, they tend to be more rumored than seen.
Moral revolutions come about in different ways. If we reject some conduct but rarely admit an example, we enjoy the benefit of being high-minded without the burden of moral restraint. We also embolden that behavior, which proceeds with a presumptive blessing. As a matter of public discourse and polite conversation, “Greed” is unlikely to be “Good” anytime soon, but a vice need not become a virtue for the end result to look the same.”
Ronald Reagan claimed that the Russian language had no word for “freedom.” (The word is “svoboda“; it’s quite well attested in Russian literature.) Ronald Reagan said that intercontinental ballistic missiles (not that there are any non-ballistic missiles—a corruption of language that isn’t his fault) could be recalled once launched. Ronald Reagan said that he sought a “Star Wars” defense only in order to share the technology with the tyrants of the U.S.S.R. Ronald Reagan professed to be annoyed when people called it “Star Wars,” even though he had ended his speech on the subject with the lame quip, “May the force be with you.” Ronald Reagan used to alarm his Soviet counterparts by saying that surely they’d both unite against an invasion from Mars. Ronald Reagan used to alarm other constituencies by speaking freely about the “End Times” foreshadowed in the Bible. In the Oval Office, Ronald Reagan told Yitzhak Shamir and Simon Wiesenthal, on two separate occasions, that he himself had assisted personally at the liberation of the Nazi death camps.
Reagan continues to exercise an enormous fascination—as political leader of the free world at a critical moment in time; as a transformational president; and of course, as the man whose policies, it has been argued, contributed more than anything else to bringing about the demise of communism.
Republicans in state legislatures of Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio are trying to cut collective bargaining rights for workers in the public sector. A recent New York Times article described these bills as “the largest assault on collective bargaining in recent memory, striking at the heart of an American labor movement that is already atrophied.”
On today’s Fresh Air, journalist Philip Dray puts the union protests in the Midwest in a historical context. Dray is the author of There is Power in a Union: The Epic Story of Labor in America, which follows the labor movement as it grew out of 19th century uprisings in textile mills. The movement rallied workers around common causes before suffering a series of blows after the failed 1981 air traffic controllers’ strike, when more than 12,000 air traffic controllers walked off their jobs. In response, President Reagan said that the striking workers were in violation of the law and would lose their jobs if they did not return to work within 48 hours. When they failed to show up, Reagan fired the workers.