David B.




Read David's bio and previous columns


September 8, 2008

Burying Reagan in St. Paul


What a difference 28 years makes.


In 1980, Ronald Wilson Reagan stood behind a podium in Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan and accepted the Republican Party’s nomination for the presidency of the United States.


In the wake of four roundly-derided years of a Jimmy Carter Administration that witnessed skyrocketing inflation, mounting unemployment and national humiliation afforded by the Iranian abduction of 52 American hostages, the moment belonged entirely to Reagan. Standing behind a banner featuring the motto “Together, A New Beginning,” the man dubbed the Great Communicator succeeded in convincing a skeptical nation to take a chance on the “Reagan Revolution” and a Republican Party that had been demoralized and disgraced by Richard Nixon six years before.


Thus began a seismic rightward shift in the U.S. political scene whose reverberations have continued to be felt for nearly 30 years. Twenty years since Reagan left office, his name is still evoked by virtually every Republican politician on the national stage as if this invocation could somehow evoke that same Reagan magic, lending validity to virtually any Republican enterprise, be it the dismantlement of the social safety net or the launching of a war in Iraq. For a long time, it worked.


At the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, the reverberations appeared to finally fade, the fondest wishes of the party’s class of 2008 notwithstanding. Reagan’s name continued to be evoked with the same affection and fervor by a succession of speakers, virtually all of whom trumpeted the same virtues of God, family, flag and military as their idol. At moments, if you closed your eyes, you could almost imagine yourself back in Joe Louis Arena, poised at the forefront of a cresting political wave. Almost.


Where the Reagan of 1980 was squarely focused upon transforming the future in his image, the Republicans of 2008 – most especially nominee John McCain – couldn’t begin to tear themselves loose from the past. Speaker after speaker recounted variants of candidate McCain’s history as a prisoner of war, an event that transpired before most Americans alive today were born. None, however, could bring themselves to face squarely up to the present: None chose to acknowledge the current stewards of the executive branch of American government, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, whose names were never even mentioned. Naturally, there was no accounting for the ramifications of their stewardship – two stalled wars, a declining dollar, a crumbling economy, the erosion of civil rights.


As the convention wheezed towards its conclusion, the Republicans attempted to play a trump card, invoking the spectre of September 11 via a graphic video presentation replete with a flaming World Trade Center and plummeting human bodies. Seven years after the fact, the imagery retains all of its horror – but substantially less of its ability to goad a war-weary public into blind acceptance of a Republican agenda that has cost them their jobs, their liberties, their homes and, in the case of U.S. service personnel, their limbs and lives.


By the time John McCain appeared onstage, dwarfed by mammoth video screens depicting the familiar swaying American flags, to variously treat the assembled crowd to another recitation of his war record and vague pseudo-populist pledges to bring “change” that could have been lifted from the Obama playbook, the die of the 2008 convention was cast. Short of an outright admission, there was little more that McCain’s convention could do to acknowledge that it was out of ideas, out of energy and out of time.


St. Paul 2008 was an exercise in pure nostalgia, serving as American politics’ oldies channel, attempting at every turn to hearken back to better days in a distant and mythologized past, even as America is borne ceasely and inevitably into the future.


St. Paul 2008 was Detroit 1980, as seen through a funhouse mirror. The Republicans’ septuagenarian standard bearer did his best to evoke as much of Reagan’s benign grandfatherly presence as he could muster, reciting the familiar mantras and making the familiar gestures to the inevitable roared approval of the crowd. From the tightly scripted rhetoric to the set design, no effort was spared in the attempt to evoke the legacy, and ultimately the momentum, of this most revered of Republican heroes.


But whereas Reagan’s 1980 acolytes could look forward to an administration resolved to obliterate and overturn the past, McCain’s could seem to do little more than attempt to endlessly repeat it, thus bringing the “new beginning” finally to its end.

© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


Click here to talk to our writers and editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.


To e-mail feedback about this column, click here. If you enjoy this writer's work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry it.


This is Column # DBL018. Request permission to publish here.

Op-Ed Writers
Eric Baerren
Lucia de Vernai
Herman Cain
Dan Calabrese
Bob Franken
Lawrence J. Haas
Paul Ibrahim
Rob Kall
David Karki
Gregory D. Lee
David B. Livingstone
Bob Maistros
Rachel Marsden
Rachel Marsden
Nathaniel Shockey
Stephen Silver
Candace Talmadge
Jessica Vozel
Jamie Weinstein
Brett Noel
Feature Writers
Mike Ball
Bob Batz
Cindy Droog
The Laughing Chef
David J. Pollay
Business Writers
D.F. Krause