The world changed dramatically in 1980 on the day former California Governor Ronald Reagan trounced the hapless Jimmy Carter in the Presidential election. This was perhaps the Democratic Party’s and the US media’s worst nightmare ever. Not only did America reject the “malaise” of the Carter years, but they embraced a California ‘cowboy’ who believed that America’s best days were yet to come. And Reagan’s coattails provided the opportunity for a number of staunch conservatives to invade the halls of congress, among them, a 33 year old Vietnam combat veteran who would prove to be one of President Reagan’s most fearless allies, Duncan Hunter.
To liberals, academics and the employees of ABC, CBS, NBC and the New York Times, America had finally settled into the role it was supposed to play with the election of Carter in 1976. That role was to be a humble, accommodating nation on the world stage, no better or worse or assertive than other nations. We had ‘lost’ the Vietnam War and it was time to lose our “inordinate fear of communism”. After all, capitalism has many warts, and communism offered an equally ‘valid’ model on which to base a society, they lectured. Other countries’ national interests were as important as ours. The United Nations was the way forward to forming a more peaceful and hopeful and sharing world. The fall of South Vietnam was no cause for alarm, rather Yankee imperialism was the biggest culprit on the world stage. The Cold War was mostly America’s fault and besides, the USSR was here to stay, so America might as well accept that ‘fact’ and learn to coexist. The communist infiltration in Central America and Africa was in fact just poor peasants demanding justice, and if Cuba and the USSR were helping them, so be it; justice is justice, they told us. Eastern Europe had ‘free’ health care for its citizens, after all.
One would think that the minority party during this period, the Republicans, would have been united and working overtime to save this nation from its drift into ‘former superpower’ status. Instead, a large portion of the party had come to accept not only the inevitability of coexistence with the USSR, but the inevitability of socialism in our own domestic policies. Indeed, it was Richard Nixon who swelled the size of the Federal bureaucracy with his creation of the EPA, OSHA, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs. Nixon and Henry Kissinger were also the masterminds of the détente policy, a misguided attempt to appease the Soviets. His successor, Gerald Ford, continued the détente policy and continued the march towards Rockefeller republicanism, even going so far to name liberal Nelson Rockefeller as his Vice President. Ford’s full throated support of the Equal Rights Amendment is all one needs to know about the direction of the GOP leadership in the 1970s.