January 20th 1981; the day that President Ronald Reagan was sworn into office as the 40th President of the United States of America. By his side, his soul mate, eventually of 52 years, Mrs Nancy Reagan. The new first couple of US Politics had taken centre stage of world politics.
I was born in Leicestershire, UK in February 1991, some 80 years after President Reagan was born in February 1911 in Illinois, USA. I never lived through the Reagan Presidency, but, as a historian and a Conservative, Ronald Reagan has been a political figure of much interest to me for a very long time. Like me, President Reagan was formerly a (liberal) Democrat. Although I am British and he was American, based on the historical sources available in print and video, it is safe to say that I would have had no doubts in voting for him were I lucky enough to have been allowed to. His journey to Conservatism, like mine, came about through a realisation that Capitalism, whilst not a perfect system, is the best readily used mechanism to make society function.
I fundamentally believe that in your youth, Conservative ideals are seen as an oppressive ideology because young people (quite rightly) want to feel liberated. They may feel that Conservative, traditional values, will stifle them into an unwanted territory of becoming ‘ordinary’. I know I certainly didn’t appreciate the other side of the argument in my teenage years and again, like President Reagan, have worked in a theatrical environment (amongst others) which tends to be more left-leaning. However, when I opened up my eyes to the arguments presented, I quickly realised that I was a Conservative and that conservatism was not a nasty ideology at all.
In short, I didn’t leave my old party behind, their values left me. President Reagan himself once said; “I know what it’s like to pull the Republican lever for the first time, because I used to be a Democrat myself, and I can tell you it only hurts for a minute and then it feels just great.” Yet if the purpose of my article was to talk about the similar roads President Reagan and I have taken, it would be make for a very short piece indeed.
So, to the main body; following his defeat in the Primaries of 1976, some may have questioned whether he would have had the appetite to face another gruelling election process in 1980. Nevertheless he did and ran under a campaign banner of ‘Let’s Make America Great Again’ (most recently adopted, in part, by current GOP nominee Donald Trump). Ronald Reagan ultimately won the Primary contest and duly selected fellow primary candidate, George H. Bush, as his Vice Presidential candidate for the 1980 General Election contest against then Democratic President, Jimmy Carter. Ronald Reagan would inspire the American people in an unprecedented way during the campaign, going onto defeat the deeply unpopular President Carter, winning 44 states – including his ‘home’ state of California (traditionally a Blue State) and 489 college votes. His landslide victory was a sign of things to come.
It was pretty evident early on in to his Presidency, that Ronald Reagan wanted to reawaken the Uncle Sam spirit which had become the bedrock of American society. Over here in Britain, arguably our most iconic poster of all time, involves Lord Kitchener pointing outwards beside a slogan; ‘Your Country Needs You’. Although a fictional manifestation, unlike Lord Kitchener, Uncle Sam denotes a national identity of being needed: rising to a challenge. President Reagan knew that to make America strong again, he needed to get his people to go with him and therefore, looked to reinvent the way American politics worked.
Reaganomics (noun): The economic policies of the former US president Ronald Reagan, associated especially with the reduction of taxes and the promotion of unrestricted free-market activity.
The above definition equates to what I see as the perfect model of free market capitalism. I also believe that this helps smaller communities to get on, if rates and taxation is lower. In my hometown, the rates for renting a shop premises is comparatively high compared to other areas in the locality and by no means are we the most favoured area by some administrations. Nevertheless, the Reaganomics framework allowed people to take back power and control their own destinies far easier, than having a centralised government super power grasping onto a person’s free liberties. Critics would say that this method of taxation may favour the wealthier as by comparison to someone on a lower income, percentiles in taxation don’t equate to the same value proportionality. I tend to agree, in part, that there will ultimately be some losers in any system. Nevertheless, with inflation on the rise and unemployment rocketing skyward, President Reagan had to change direction if America had a fighting chance to rediscover itself. I would have no hesitations in implementing a similar model over here in Britain, should I ever find myself lucky enough to be elected to hold office: a wish I hope someday will become a reality. Again, critics may argue that Mrs Thatcher implemented a similar idea during her three Premierships, yet as I mentioned in my previous article – Mrs Thatcher did not have a two-pronged ideology. She heavily favoured enterprise and in particular, those in the South of England over any other part of these United Isles. President Reagan, an ally of Mrs Thatcher, did not fully agree with her on this subject seemingly and did not completely distance himself from either side of the debate. This is one of the reasons, I have always liked him over her leadership style. There is nothing wrong with Independence, in fact, I advocate Independence where possible. Yet, to be respected, you don’t need to be cold: you need to be warm. President Reagan is still held in high regard by millions of Americans. To me, that’s testament of the warmth he had in his characteristic make up. Above all other traits, his wit is still loved. One of my favourite jokes of his is as follows; “I have wondered at times what The Ten Commandments would have looked like if Moses had run them through congress.”
Not only was he a uniter, he was a fighter – in a metaphorical sense, rather than literal. Having survived an assassination attempt on his life during the early months of his first term, he made it his personal aim to end Communist tyranny in the East of Europe. He succeeded, as he and Mikhail Gorbachev – the former Chairman of the Communist Party in the USSR – collaborated to ensure peace in Eastern Europe. Reagan famously told Gorbachev to ‘Tear Down This Wall’, during an address he made in West Berlin in 1987, two years before it began to be deconstructed. Again, like President Reagan, I am no fan of Communist ideals. On paper, it is arguably the perfect state. Yet, in practise, it can almost certainly never work. The only time we can ever be equals is in the eyes of the Lord, but, I do not accept my lot and urge others not to do so. That’s why I am a Conservative and I believe that President Reagan was too.
I will always hold Ronald Reagan in the highest regard. To me, he wasn’t just a man who was lucky enough to be President of the United States. Nor, just a fellow Conservative. He was a gentleman and that is what our world needs now – true statesmen and women.
If I ever make it to Westminster, I want to lead by example like President Reagan did and ensure that every morning in Britain, is a good morning.