Reagan and American Ruin (USA! USA! USA!)

From the jaw-dropping Andrew Becevich of The American Conservative:

As portrayed by [President Jimmy] Carter, the mistaken idea of freedom was quantitative:
it centered on the never-ending quest for more while exalting narrow
self-interest. His conception of authentic freedom was qualitative: it
meant living in accordance with permanent values. At least by
implication, it meant settling for less.

How Americans dealt with the question of energy, the president
believed, would determine which idea of freedom would prevail. With
this in mind, Carter outlined a six-point program designed to end what
he called “this intolerable dependence on foreign oil.” Although he
expressed confidence that the United States could one day regain energy
independence, he acknowledged that in the near term “there [was] simply
no way to avoid sacrifice.” Implicit in Carter’s speech was the
suggestion that sacrifice just might be a good thing. For the sinner,
penance must necessarily precede redemption.

As an effort to reorient public policy, Carter’s appeal failed
completely. Americans showed little enthusiasm for the president’s
brand of freedom with its connotations of virtuous austerity. Not
liking the message, Americans shot the messenger.

Carter’s speech did enjoy a long and fruitful life—chiefly as fodder
for his political opponents. The most formidable was Ronald Reagan. He
portrayed himself as conservative but was, in fact, the modern prophet
of profligacy—the politician who gave moral sanction to the empire of
consumption. Beguiling his fellow citizens with talk of “morning in
America,” Reagan added to America’s civic religion two crucial beliefs:
credit has no limits, and the bills will never come due. Balance the
books, pay as you go, save for a rainy day—Reagan’s abrogation of these
ancient bits of folk wisdom did as much to recast America’s moral
constitution as did sex, drugs, and rock and roll.


The Reagan
Revolution was never about fiscal responsibility or small government.
Far more accurately than Carter, Reagan understood what made Americans
tick: they wanted self-gratification, not self-denial. Although always
careful to embroider his speeches with inspirational homilies and
testimonials to old-fashioned virtues, Reagan mainly indulged American


The events of
Sept. 11, 2001 only hardened this disposition. Donald Rumsfeld
summarized the prevailing view: “We have two choices. Either we change
the way we live, or we must change the way they live. We choose the

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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