Chapter 7 – The Revolution Begins: The 1980 Election Campaign and the Reagan Coalition

earlier been encouraged to begin their study of the Cold War, the Reagan Revolution, and Reagan’s successful new strategy, by starting with this book’s first chapter on the American freedom faith and surveying the next five chapters of Part I on the Marxist-Communist roots, history, strategies, and key documents of the Cold War before Reagan’s transformative presidency.

Reagan: Conservative and Revolutionary. Reagan defied the politically-correct categories of leading academics, media, and politicians as a leader who was both conservative and revolutionary and who uniquely combined idealism, realism, and innovation to win the Cold War for the forces of freedom. He relied on America’s founding ideals, inherent strengths, and reform capabilities, and his own understanding of the contrasting historical record, strengths, and vulnerabilities of Soviet subversion, terror, and deceit. He was conservative in his passionate faith in, and reaffirmation of, America’s core freedom principles; the spiritual, political, economic, and constitutional foundations of the American Dream; and the confidence that “the truth shall set you free.”

Reagan was clearly revolutionary as he effectively combined these principles to rebuild America’s moral, military, and diplomatic strengths with a “peace through strength” Cold War strategy to achieve “peace and freedom.” He brought radical changes in U.S. and Allied policies with his new emphases on inalienable human rights, military modernization, strategic defense, security-based arms control, support of anti-communist resistance forces, vigorous confidential and public diplomacy, and rebuilt intelligence capabilities. More than any other U.S. Cold War president, with Truman coming closest, Reagan innovatively applied traditional American strengths in innovative forms to speak truth to power to expose and counter the contradictions, deceptions, and aggressive actions of Soviet totalitarianism.

Idealism, Realism, and Leadership in the Reagan Revolution. The Cold War decade of the 1970s that Reagan inherited from Jimmy Carter might well have ended in stalemate or defeat for the democratic cause, or even risked nuclear catastrophe. Reagan’s radical transformation of the conflict’s unstable course pressed for a truly revolutionary and generally peaceful Soviet implosion that placed the obsolete totalitarian Soviet ideology and Moscow’s “socialist camp” empire on the “ash heap of history.” To rally America and the Western Allies from malaise and defeats, Reagan had to marshal a broad, bipartisan and international freedom coalition and to invigorate a full range of previously under-utilized instruments of American power and statecraft—including moral, military, diplomatic, economic, arms control, information policy, public diplomacy, and intelligence.

Reagan’s Political Journey. Ronald Reagan’s political journey was closely aligned with America’s freedom faith and experience and stood in irreconcilable opposition to the threats emanating from the totalitarian Communist ideology and aggressive empire of the Soviet Union. He early understood the exceptional principles, blessings, and opportunities intrinsic to America’s founding and historic experience. His perspective on life and his vision of and for America were deeply rooted in the faith and history of the American Dream at its best—a “shining city on a hill” and providentially blessed people. His own calling was to civic responsibility, and a mission centered on how best to defend and extend America’s blessings of freedom, democracy, and opportunity to future generations. Thus grounded, Reagan was no ordinary politician, but was exceptionally well prepared for his strategic future role as a strong, principled voice and outstanding U.S. president during the most critical decade of the Cold War. In a nuclear age with a totalitarian protagonist, the Cold War’s outcome was not assured. Yet, he turned its path from America and the Free World’s crises and retreats to the path of victory for the forces of freedom and peace.

Early Life—1911 to 1940. Largely a self-made man, Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois on February 6, 1911 not far from the birth place of Abraham Lincoln, America’s greatest president and first Republican to hold the nation’s highest office. Reagan came of age in a family with a mother of strong religious faith and a father (a traveling shoe salesman) often troubled by drinking and job uncertainties. He spent his early life in small towns of middle-America during the Great Depression of the 1930s, a period of national trial also marked by the American people’s sustained faith and resolve. Reagan demonstrated his own sense of personal responsibility early, including as a life guard, a role in which he saved seventy-seven lives. He was student body president of his high school in Dixon, Illinois and went on to graduate in 1932 from Eureka College, Illinois with a B.A. in economics and sociology. He was known as a leader there in football and as president of the student body. Reagan began a career as a radio sports broadcaster in 1932, and in 1935 he enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve. On a short visit to California in 1937, he took a screen test in Hollywood and signed a contract that began his career as a popular movie actor.

[Book pg. 150]