The Myth of the Reagan Revolution

If there is one thing that we have learned from an ever-consolidated corporate media, it is that, once a narrative gets established, it is very hard to get people to walk away from it. Unfortunately, most of the time, these narratives are incredibly destructive for our national dialog. One of the most destructive of these is the assumption that with Reagan's "landslide" election in 1980 represented a massive realignment of voters toward the Republican Party, that there was a "revolution". This assumption is based primarily on the fact that Reagan was able to capture about a quarter of people who affiliated themselves with the Democratic Party at exit polls, diminishing Carter's Democratic support from 77% in 1976 to 66% in 1980. But even the most cursory look at the 1980 election and elections afterward completely dispel any notion that Reagan ushered in generations of conservative rule. What did happen was that the media's obsession with the "Reagan Revolution" turned our national debate on its head and gave away the terms and framing to the Republicans.

In 2006, Democrats split the national electorate 53-47 -- not a huge margin -- but picked up the biggest House shift in 12 years and the biggest Senate shift in 26 years. By the end of the Reagan Administration, the 10-15% of Democrats that had defected from Carter and Mondale went to Dukakis, not Bush Sr., and although he won the electoral college 426-111, Bush Sr. only beat Dukakis 53%-46%, nearly identical to the Democrats 2006 win. The electoral system in the United States is set up for "landslide" elections, where even the slightest shift in the electorate can have significant consequences. By 1992, the so-called "Reagan Revolution" had fractured significantly -- It was the first time that any political party since the foundation of modern politics had received less total votes than they had in the previous election cycle. If that is what we are calling a "revolution" in politics today, then 2006 was a liberal revolution.

We are likely to see huge demographic shifts in the 2008 elections. Kerry won 41% of the white vote in 2004, and I expect that Obama won't get much higher than that but certainly won't get lower. But Bush captured 11% of the black vote in 2004... Obama will get 92%+. Kerry won the hispanic demographic only 53%-44% over Bush in 2004... polls are showing Obama starting off with a 62-35 lead over McCain among hispanics, and that is right after the end of a very polarizing primary campaign where hispanics found their home with Clinton. Obama is also likely to improve the national share of protestants, those making above $75,000 a year, college graduates, non-union households and -- most devestatingly for hte GOP -- the Midwest and West. We're not likely to see a Reagan-like electoral college landslide for Obama, but I think it is safe to predict he'll come in above 340. Democrats will likely blow the GOP out in the congressional electorate. Will Republicans admit there has been an Obama Revolution following hte 08 elections? I don't think so.

This sensationalism was first exposed by the documentary The Made for TV Election. In order to understand, though, how we have gotten to where we are, we must first understand how these trends started. A documentary, recently re-introduced to the world, entitled "The Made for TV Election" examines the rise of corporate influence over the media in the eyes of the 1980 presidential election which pitted Ronald Reagan against Jimmy Carter and asks the viewer to look at coverage spanning from the New York Times to CNN, not as news, but as show-business. Candidates were cast and tested in such a way, real events handled and timed in such a way, edited in such a way, dropped or included in such a way that candidates and real events emerged as television theatre rather than a serious national discussion on the course of our nation. The Made for TV Election is hosted by Martin Sheen and the never-before-broadcast and critically-acclaimed documentary is receiving attention based on its foresight into the future destruction of our national dialog. Helen Thomas, the "Dean" of the White House Press Corps, said about The Made for TV Election, "Profoundly enlightening... a devastating look at TV's impact on the presidency."

The Made for TV Election demonstrates, in a thorough and complete way, how commercial broadcast networks use polls, gaffes, flip-flops, stereotypes, and show business values to create winners and losers in a drama of their own making to pump the ratings--and distract you from what you need to be an informed citizen and understand what's really happening in America. Norman Lear, founder of the People for the American Way, says that the Made for TV Election "should be seen by every American in every city and town." Howard Rosenberg said that the documentary is "Pertinent, powerful and persuasive... handsomely produced.... brilliant..."

Thanks to the wonderful power of grassroots organizers that released the documentary from the grips of corporate control, for US politics and news junkies everywhere, this "must see TV" is now available to you on DVD. Order this 93 minute documentary feature and see what The Powers That Be didn't want you to see, to know what they didn't want you to know:

In order to take back our country, we must remain vigilant and prepared to fight corporate control of our media and our democracy. The Made for TV Election was the first salvo, and remains one of the most potent, in that battle.

Tags: Reagan (all tags)



Re: The Myth of the Reagan Revolution

Rummy Ronnie won by treason. He deliberately delayed the release of American hostages and negociated with terrorist to supply them more weapons to kill more Americans and our allies. He and Shrub Sr. both conspired to betray our country for their own political advantage and then proceeded to do their level best to destroy our economy and our country. Anyone who admires them are traitors too.

by zerosumgame 2008-07-18 07:16AM | 0 recs
Re: The Myth of the Reagan Revolution

Interesting diary, but if one spends a lot of time when poll numbers on party id, exit polls, etc., the main thesis doesn't pan out.  The most significant political shift during the past three decades occurred when Reagan captured the white vote during the 1980 election and then held onto it (esp. voters who were born between 1946-64).

Up through the 1980 election, the Dems generally had an advantage in party id of between 5-10 points (and that was especially true at the upper margins, ie. the New Deal Dems who had been voting a straight ticket since Roosevelt).  In 1976, voters between 18-29 (ie. boomers) fell D-40 I-40 R-20.

This all changed in 1984.  The Republicans, for the first time since FDR, beat the Dems in party id among white voters (D-34% I-27% R-39%).  And among white boomers the GOP basically gained an advantage which they've held ever since.

Bill Clinton in '96 didn't win the white vote (he lost it to Dole, D-43 I-9 R-46, in a three-way race).

What's possibly changing now is that young white voters today who were too young to have experienced the GOP blowouts, and so weren't influenced by them, are aligning with the Dems in very large numbers (ie. the Republicans have tarnished their brand).

Among the older segment of the white electorate, though?  All signs are that not much has changed.  Close to 3/5 of white boomers, it seems, bought the GOP  anti-tax peace-through-strength line during the 1980s, and most probably will vote for McCain this year.


by IncognitoErgoSum 2008-07-18 08:54AM | 0 recs
Re: The Myth of the Reagan Revolution

I agree with this so much.  Reagan only pulled off personal victories in apathetic, low-turnout elections.  Only the US Senate went Republican (and that was lost before Reagan left office), the rest of the nation saw secure anti-Republican majorities.  If the Democrats had been less conservative or centrist, if the New Left had been more constructive and less nihilist in the 60's and 70's, if both had not neglected the working class so much, Reagan would never have happened.

For my money, Newt Ginrich came much closer (albeit briefly) to a Republican takeover in 1994.

by demjim 2008-07-23 01:12PM | 0 recs


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