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Jason Lefkowitz

Reagan chuckled genially while factories closed and farms failed and assured us that this was all for the good but he added that we weren’t to worry about the jobs lost, the communities wrecked, the ways of life destroyed, the families ruined because…those people deserved their plight.

They were the “inefficient.”

They were holding the rest of us back.

They had to be left behind on the trail so the rest of us could get to the gold fields faster.

This is an important point, and it's one that Mario Cuomo pushed back on in his speech at the 1984 Democratic Convention, which I think still stands as one of the high points of modern political rhetoric:

President Reagan told us from the very beginning that he believed in a kind of social Darwinism. Survival of the fittest. "Government can't do everything," we were told, so it should settle for taking care of the strong and hope that economic ambition and charity will do the rest...

It's an old story. It's as old as our history. The difference between Democrats and Republicans has always been measured in courage and confidence. The Republicans believe that the wagon train will not make it to the frontier unless some of the old, some of the young, some of the weak are left behind by the side of the trail. "The strong" -- "The strong," they tell us, "will inherit the land."

We Democrats believe in something else. We Democrats believe that we can make it all the way with the whole family intact, and we have more than once. Ever since Franklin Roosevelt lifted himself from his wheelchair to lift this nation from its knees -- wagon train after wagon train -- to new frontiers of education, housing, peace; the whole family aboard, constantly reaching out to extend and enlarge that family; lifting them up into the wagon on the way; blacks and Hispanics, and people of every ethnic group, and native Americans -- all those struggling to build their families and claim some small share of America...

We Democrats must unite so that the entire nation can unite, because surely the Republicans won't bring this country together. Their policies divide the nation into the lucky and the left-out, into the royalty and the rabble. The Republicans are willing to treat that division as victory. They would cut this nation in half, into those temporarily better off and those worse off than before, and they would call that division recovery.

This rings as true today -- maybe more so, with the benefit of hindsight -- as it did in 1984. Of course, the Democrats ended up getting crushed in 1984, and from then on no Democrat, not even Barack Obama, would dare articulate this idea this clearly or this forcefully.

Which may be Ronald Reagan's most enduring legacy: fear. Fear of his memory, which has Democrats still voluntarily neutering themselves long after the rest of the nation has consigned it to the history books.


Great piece!!!


Somewhere between the Great Depression and Ronald Reagan, Randian thought began to creep into the Republican thought processes. I'm not sure when and certainly Reagan refined it to be a national political trope, but someplace earlier, because it was Ike who warned us about the industrial and the military conspiring against the people of the nation.

He was right. They did. GE? Defense contractor first and foremost.

Mustang Bobby

What were you supposed to do?

Keep quiet about it.

You didn’t want people to know you were one of the inefficient, did you?

You didn’t want your friends and neighbors to think you were the one of the ones who just couldn’t keep up.

Or didn’t try to keep up.

After all, that was part of the President’s pitch. You failed because you didn’t work hard enough.

This is the same logic used by faith healers who say the little kid didn't survive appendicitis because his parents, who rejected going to the hospital, didn't pray hard enough. It's Darwinism on crack

Kevin Wolf

Excellent. Let's stop showing that damn "Tear down this wall!" clip and start tearing down his myth.


Economics fail.


Thanks, Lance. Great work, as usual. I work with several research technicians, including the one who works for me, who are in their early-30s, so all they know is the Reagan-Bush Descendancy (including the Clinton-Gore Interregnum). They are true believers, but seem not to realize that their jobs and their families' livelihoods are dependent on federal funding of science (which is in the toilet as it is). Not only that, their spouses are very well paid civilian employees of the US Air Force at an airbase that is perpetually considered for closure. They are among the "efficient" right now, but have no idea how close to the precipice they are. Denial ain't just a river in Egypt.

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