The seeds of discord and our eventual decline as a nation were sewn in the aftermath of the election of Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1964. The hero of the Conservative Movement, Senator Barry Goldwater had been overwhelmingly defeated by President Johnson. Out of the electoral college drubbing came a movement, a movement to counter-act the perceived onslaught on individual liberty that eventually became known as the Reagan Revolution. Thinks tanks, fund raising foundations and the Federalist Society were created to combat the Progressive Movement. Corporations started to buy up media outlets from radio to television. It was a well thought out plan to change the course of a nation. Ronald Reagan became the vehicle through which government has changed to our detriment. Throughout his 8 year administration, Ronald Reagan preached the gospel that government was bad and that politicians were not to be trusted.
America had always had a healthy skepticism towards politicians but the new conservative movement made it a mantra that only if the individual would be left to his own devices he would be able to not only self govern his own behavior but he could spend his own money better than the government could. The idea began to take shape that the way to end the Franklin Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt era of government being a force for good, was through the newly funded and elected conservatives drowning government in a bathtub by refusing to fund government programs. The incessant message that government was evil and that it was too big began to take root. The new corporate media eventually became the organ, the messengers of the conservative movement. The message became incessant, never ending as it droned on and on through radio talk show hosts and Murdoch’s Fox News Network.
The goal was not only to elect so-called conservatives but to insure their benefactors that the wealthy would benefit financially. Today after 35 years of the top 1% gaining greater and greater wealth, we now have an oligarchy and not a democracy.
Let us look back and reflect on the Reagan legacy. Ronald Reagan may not have started the Southern Strategy but he was not above using it. His campaign for President started in an ironic but profoundly important, and symbolic location. Ronald Reagan chose to begin his campaign for the Presidency of the United States at the Neshoba County Fair on August 3, 1980. Many of you probably do not recall where that is! The County Fair is held just a few miles from the infamous and tragic murder site of three civil rights workers. The murders took place in Philadelphia, Mississippi and the killings were done by members of the local KKK.
Of all the places in America, Ronald Reagan chose to kickoff his campaign in Mississippi. The message in his speech could not have been clearer, he was courting the white racist vote. He couched his language in the words of many who supported slavery in the past. His words regarding States’ Rights could have been just as easily given by Jefferson Davis or by Strom Thurmond and or by the supporters of segregation in the 60’s.
He stated, ” I still believe the answer to any problem lies with the people. I believe in states’ rights. He later said that, ” restore to states and local government the power that properly belongs to them.” Reagan was after their votes. Many politicians before him had used the same language to basically tell the Federal Government to stay out of the South and to let them handle their own affairs.
Reagan’s apologists claim that he was just speaking about his libertarian economic views. If he were sensitive to where he was, he should have realized that he should have given his maiden speech somewhere else, anywhere else other than in a part of our country where 3 young men had died because they were trying to register people to vote. What Ronald Reagan and others have done is to successfully gain the votes of white men and women who have never accepted a black man or woman as their equal.
If we were inflexible and believed in and lived by the original intent of the founders, we would still have slavery. Conservatives would love to use their interpretation of original intent. It is more like law office history then real history. The documentation of what was said during the debates for and against ratification are woefully lacking. We do know that the father of the Constitution, James Madison, did not believe in original intent as an interpretative measure of what the Supreme Court or the House or Senate should use in its deliberations.
What the Reagan Presidency espoused and what the believers in the Reagan Revolution say is that the original intent of the founders was for limited government with power to be held by the sovereign states of America. This is far from the truth.
We first fought a revolution against England to have a nation. Then we voted to ratify a Constitution that repudiated the Articles of Confederation. The Articles did have power reside with the states, and in the people. The Articles of Confederation did not work and a more powerful central government was needed. The anti-Federalists at first complained that there was no Bill of Rights and when it came time to vote they voted in the most part against the new Constitution. Those who thought a Bill of Rights was not necessary wound up following James Madison’s lead and supported the Bill of Rights.
Again, one more time we fought a war, over whether the institution of slavery should end or not. We also fought for what we thought would be the last time, the argument of whether we had a nation, a union, or a compact of states.
It is ironic that Reagonites, claim to be conservatives, but they use the language of Brutus and the many Anti-Federalists. They claim the mantle of the word Federalist, but the Alexander Hamilton’s and John Adams of the world were members of a group calling themselves Federalists. Adams and company believed in a strong federal union. The Reagan Revolution continues the fight that one would have thought had ended with the victory of the Union over a Confederacy of States. Reagan argued for states’ rights and against a powerful and large government.
Today, perhaps more than at any time since the days of the Civil War, we find ourselves divided, a house divided against itself. A lack of bi-partisanship is Ronald Reagan’s lasting legacy. Even though Ronald Reagan could sit and negotiate with Tip O’Neill, those who claim to follow in his footsteps can not see fit to compromise or do what is pragmatic. The idea of standing on a perceived principle over the welfare of the people, is going to be the death of our Republic.
The question on the table is can we save the Union? Can we preserve our country, our nation. If we are to survive as a free people we must once again, seek to improve the lives of all Americans and not just the few at the top? Can we be a Republic and a Democracy once again?