During a TV campaign debate recently about the possibility of wage and price controls, Ronald Reagan let loose a long diatribe about why they don’t work, using examples that dated right back to the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago. Then he added with a wintry smile, “Yeah, and I’m the only one around here old enough to remember.”
Watching him edge ever closer to the U.S. Republican nomination is truly frightening. Only Jimmy Carter’s sanctimonious vacuities stand between us and the inauguration of an actor whose best-known role was in Bedtime for Bonzo, as the 40th president of the United States on Jan. 20,1981.
It’s not Reagan’s age that scares me—he would, after all, not be the oldest national leader; Ayatollah Khomeini is 79. It’s what he represents. There exists a strain of thoughtful conservatism in the U.S. (and Canada) which can put forward a valid case against the kind of spendthrift liberalism that has come close to bankrupting the economies of both countries.
Reagan falls into a very different category. Now that he considers himself presidential timber, his pronouncements are much more measured. But there is no reason to believe his basic attitudes have changed. Back in the early 1960s, when the situation in Southeast Asia was turning against the Americans,
the California governor proposed a solution noble in its simplicity: “We should declare war on Vietnam. We could pave the whole country, put parking stripes on it and still be home by Christmas.” Reagan still refers to the Soviets as “those monsters,” and wants to expel the U.S.S.R. from the United Nations.
There is little doubt that Reagan’s adamant advocacy of turning the clock back, trying to resurrect the simpler, more traditional way of life that once made America great, has caught the public imagination. The U.S. is going conservative and becoming militantly hawkish. Despite all the visible protests, more people believe in the use of atomic energy than are against it.
Except for confessing that he cries whenever he watches his favorite TV show, Little House on the Prairie, not much is known about Reagan’s thought processes. He doesn’t like taxes (“The entire graduated-income tax structure was created by Karl Marx”), is against gun control, favors capital punishment, wants to outlaw abortion and believes the way out of the energy mess is to allow the large oil consortiums unfettered freedom on pricing and distribution.
In fact, the only new policy Reagan has introduced in this campaign is formation of a common market between the U.S., Canada and Mexico—what he grandly calls “The North American Accord.” At least it might be the one way we would get to vote against him.
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