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

War before Reagan became president, a history Reagan understood well. These early chapters illuminate, in turn, the Cold War protagonists’ contrasting faiths and record, and the Soviet Communist Party’s practice of terror at home and imperialist aggression abroad, starting with the historical metaphysics and anti-democratic social blueprint of Karl Marx. The narrative continues the history of the historical turning points that shaped the Cold War from Lenin’s Bolshevik coup in 1917 and Lenin and Stalin’s revolutionary terror, to the Hitler-Stalin Pact in 1939, to intensified Soviet Cold War against Western democracies, to the 1970s when Western resolve weakened and Soviet imperial power gained seemingly unstoppable momentum. Reagan’s frequent references to Communist ideological roots, history, and lessons of the Cold War, and drawing on analogies to the Second World War conflict against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, irritated his establishment critics, as well as the Soviet leaders, but made a profound difference in shaping and sustaining his new winning strategy.

America and Liberty. On one side in the Cold War conflict stood Reagan and the United States, which led its Free World allies with an exceptional founding faith and historical experience grounded in unalienable individual rights endowed by God. This side relied on a republican representative form of government based on constitutional principles, including consent, the rule of law, and the separation of powers. Reagan saw the American republic, as had its founders, as a “city on a hill” (he added the word “shining”) whose citizens believed that with “a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence” they must and could “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” and could increasingly extend the arc of freedom and peaceful progress to all the nation’s citizens and to the world beyond.

Soviet Tyranny. Against the cause of liberty, Reagan saw an aggressive Soviet Union that was a despotic regime at home and a totalitarian empire of captive nations and militant proxies abroad. He saw both the Soviet regime and empire as ruled by a single self-appointed “vanguard” party of a privileged, all-powerful Communist elite that claimed infallible knowledge of the “laws of history” and of the will and wants of its subject peoples. He understood the Communist cause as centered in a secular faith and a totalitarian society in thrall to a violent Marxist-Leninist ideology and blueprint that insisted on a monopoly of truth and all political, economic, social, and cultural power. As a forcibly closed system with forcibly closed minds, the Communist Party elite was a new class dependent for its enormous power, privilege, and parasite status on a gigantic absolutist bureaucracy interweaving party and state, an ever-present secret police and prison apparatus, and constant purges and warfare against its own population and their international neighbors. All was held together by extraordinary myths and lies, idolized Party leaders were treated like gods, and severe oppression was underwritten by gulag concentration camps, iron curtains, captive nations, and killing fields.

No Communist “Springs” or “Euro-Communism.” Already in the 1960’s Reagan understood that most members of the U.S. intellectual and policy establishment rejected his own moral judgment and realist assessment of the Cold War. They might hope for “communism with a human face” or even a communist “spring” as had been attempted, and crushed, in Czechoslovakia in 1968 and foreshadowed in Hungary and Poland in 1956. Some wondered if real détente, reformation, transformation, or possible “convergence” of the two ways of life was possible. Perhaps it would be a form of “euro-communism” linking socialist and Communist parties, a popular idea in mid-1970’s Europe. Reagan understood all such hopes as morally unsound and as unrealistic, even dangerous illusions. What was really required was what American policy-makers a decade after Reagan were to call “regime change” This was a combination of delegitimization, external pressure, and support for strengthened external and internal anti-regime resistance that would cast such illusions, the obsolete regime, and the empire itself “on the ash heap of history.”

“Let Reagan be Reagan.” The Republican Party establishment did not welcome Reagan’s 1968 competition for the Republican presidential nomination won by Richard Nixon, or his far-reaching 1976 challenge of incumbent Republican presidents Gerald Ford, and in 1980 to “moderate” potential Republican presidential candidates like George H.W. Bush, Howard Baker, and Robert (Bob) Dole. Establishment leaders among the intellectual and political classes of Europe, Asia, and the “Third World” also warned about Reagan. With Reagan’s bold views under constant attack on issues of defense and foreign policy (as on many domestic issues), Reagan’s supporters, notably “Reaganauts” who believed in taking on the Soviet ideology and empire, took up the spirited cry “let Reagan be Reagan.” The phrase signaled Reagan’s exceptional qualities and the importance of not immediately diluting his words, decisions, and policies. “Let Reagan be Reagan” was precisely what Reagan’s opponents did not want, and even long after Reagan’s presidency, the phrase remains a litmus test for those who most strongly supported, and those who most sought to restrict or defeat, Reagan’s key principles and policies.

[Book pg. 154]