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God, guns, and freedom
U.S. Politics
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Starting arguments over Thanksgiving dinner
Persons of interest
A useful heuristic: Be very suspicious of anyone who is firmly entrenched in power but rails against "elites".
Dan Gardner

Reaganism was a political perspective in the United States based on a friendly-seeming, grandfatherly-type ex-actor telling us that government could do no good, and then proceeding to drastically expand the power of the Executive Branch as he saw fit, not to mention exploding the public debt. Why anyone believed it is beyond us.

The only thing Republicans want from a candidate is a pet rock with an A rating from the NRA a working pen hand. That's it. It's what they liked about Reagan and what they thought they were getting in Nixon and GWB: Just some guy to sit in the oval office and shake hands with girl scouts, while the real work was being done in the Republican-controlled Congress. The Speaker sets the agenda, they bring him a big blue folder and a nice black pen, he whips out his autograph and signs that bill into law. The last thing they want is someone with an agenda. But, boy oh boy, did they get Presidents with agendas.[1]

Lies of note[edit]

Prominent lies promoted by Mr. Reagan include the following:


Candidate Nixon ran against Reagan in the '68 Republican race. He won the nomination by running as an outsider, refusing to make any pledges or cut any deals. The day after the 29th Republican Convention, he exposed the deal he made with the southerners to ensure their support in the general election: the appointment of Spiro Agnew as Veep. Agnew was knighted by the southern delegation after he behaved boorishly to the blacks of Baltimore that spring.[3][4]

In his speech, Nixon condemned LBJ's welfare state, Social Security, and activist judges who supported integrated schools. (As POTUS, Nixon concurred with Goldwater that the Supreme Court was "not, necessarily, the law of the land", though probably in a slightly different way than Barry intended.) Nixon split hairs on the subject of Vietnam: Five months earlier, he had said, "There is no alternative to the continuation of the war"; now he was suddenly talking like a peace candidate, insisting that "the time [had] come for negotiation"; but in case that sounded like appeasement, he quickly reminded everybody that it was "time we started to act like a great nation," whatever that meant.[5] Gore Vidal, who covered the RNC that year, reported with awe:

"He just had to say that," murmur his supporters whenever he contradicts himself, and they admire him for it. After all, his form of hypocrisy is deeply American...In short, there is no new Nixon, only the old Nixon experimenting with new campaigning techniques in response, as the Stalinists used to say, to new necessities.[6]

Part of the reason why Reaganism persists, apart from the fact it works (Nixon was re-elected, as was Reagan and Bush Jr.), is that most of the hacks in his cabinet were awarded positions in later Republican administrations.[7] With Nixon, he initially seemed like a safe bet. He was a "local boy done good", scandal-free, with an impressive track record in getting votes. But then it turned out he’s nuts, too: He nearly brought down the republic, provoked a constitutional crisis and flirted with dictatorship.

The GOP was determined not to make the same mistake again. They picked a retired actor and General Electric spokesman who could convincingly deliver a speech (even if he vomited nonsense whenever the teleprompter was switched off[8]). Reagan capped his 1988 farewell speech with the classic line, "man is not free unless government is limited." That quote is still a rallying cry for conservatives, but the speech followed eight years of government expansion: not only did the federal workforce double under Reagan, the national debt was tripled.[9]

Bush II fits the bill because he is an imperious, incurious, pseudo-cowboy idiot,[10] with a profound need not to know,[11] and as such he was easily bamboozled by Cheney, Rumsfield, Wolfowitz, Rove, Rice, Kristol, Feith, and several others.[12][13] More government overreach and debt ensued.[14]

Today's usage[edit]

When Trump says he's going to "repeal and replace Obamacare" — that's Trump's "Born To Run" — the crowd roars appreciatively. Getting rid of Common Core is Trump's "Thunder Road"...Recently, Trump has taken to yelling, "Who's gonna pay for the wall?" Crowds respond enthusiastically, "Mexico!"
—Sopan Deb[15]

Today's Republicans reflexively use this strategy all the time.[16] In fact, the entire field of GOP 2016 candidates for President (minus Rand Paul) are entirely absent of ideas,[17][18] instead expressing a wish to dismantle or repeal this or that;[19] or in Trump's case, bald-faced lies[20] and pie-in-the-sky promises that not even a two-term President could back up in reality, much less a newcomer with zero political capital.[21] They're all sizzle and no steak — just the type that incurious, low-information Tea Partiers and Libertarians will vote for.

You must admit he's getting some serious mileage out of essentially yelling, "It'll be so good, your head will spin", "I'm smart", I'm rich," and "I'm Donald fucking Trump". The only thing he hasn't lied about was his family. Like, presumably that really is his wife and his kids. Those would be statements of fact. (Naturally his attraction to his daughter would also be something factual.) Beyond that, it seems like everyone falls silent if he breaks his promises, then revises their political opinions when Trump speaks about an issue. It's a weirdo cult of personality: let Trump shoot the arrow first and paint a bullseye around it afterward.

In the UK[edit]

In Britain, there was a very similar political movement referred to as "Thatcherism," named for the Iron Lady who advocated the same principles. The impact of this was slightly less fun that of the States. Anti-establishment politicians are rising everywhere, usually by railing against an elite establishment, such as 'Westminster elites' or 'Washington elites'. In Britain, politicians have managed to point to an even higher, more shadowy elite in Brussels, allowing the strange situation where Eton-educated Boris Johnson and millionaire banker Zac Goldsmith can paint themselves as anti-elite. The tolerance of UK voters for the character pitfalls of current Prime Minister Boris Johnson clearly falls into this category. Evidence of his frequent lying, sackings, incompetence, laziness, hypocrisy, corruption, croneyism and numerous (but unknown number of) children conceived in and out of wedlock - conclusive evidence that he has never understood the concept of withdrawal (including his cocked-up attempt at Brexit) - yet remains, for the time being, surprisingly popular among a generally conservative and moralistic but passive electorate.

See also[edit]


  1. Salsman, Richard M. "When It Comes To Abuse Of Presidential Power, Obama Is A Mere Piker", Forbes (1/28/13 at 08:00 AM).
  2. The Mendacity Index, Washington Monthly
  3. "Governor Agnew’s Speech to Baltimore’s Black Community Leadership on April 11, 1968".
  4. Lippman Jr., Theo, "How the 1968 Riots Made Agnew's Career", The Baltimore Sun 4.5.98.
  5. Nixon Accepts The Republican Party Nomination for President, 1968 RNC.
  6. The New York Review of Books, 9.12.68
  7. Dean, John W., "Son of Nixon", Daily Beast 1.7.09.
  8. Corn, David, "Nixon on Tape: Reagan Was 'Shallow' and of 'Limited Mental Capacity'", Mother Jones 11.15.02. Kissinger: He's shallow. He's got no—he's an actor. When he gets a line he does it very well. He said, 'Hell, people are remembered not for what they do, but for what they say. Can't you find a few good lines?' [Chuckles.] That's really an actor's approach to foreign policy."
  9. Park, Alex, "These Charts Show How Ronald Reagan Actually Expanded the Federal Government", Mother Jones 12.20.14
  10. Joy Gray, Kalli, "George W. Bush Real Glad He Won Iraq War, Misses Commander Guy Cosplay", Wonkette 6.15.15.
  11. Baker Peter, "The Final Insult in the Bush-Cheney Marriage", New York Times 10.10.13.
  12. Josh Roglin and Eli Lake, "CIA Torture Report: Bush Was Kept in the Dark for Years", Bloomberg 9.9.14.
  13. Bouie, Jamelle, "Fool Me Once", Slate 6.6.14. Bouie: "If we lived in a reasonable world, [Douglas] Feith would be barred from talking on the subject of Iraq. As it stands, he’s making the rounds of commentary."
  14. Gillespie, Nick, "Bush Was a Big-Government Disaster", Reason 1.6.09.
  15. Deb, "Inside a Donald Trump Rally", CBS (1/20/16 6:00 AM)
  16. Taibbi, Matt, "Mad Dog Palin", originally posted in Rolling Stone 9/26/08. Taibbi: "You can send their kids off by the thousands to get their balls blown off in foreign lands for no reason at all, saddle them with billions in debt...pull the rug out from under their mortgages, and leave them living off their credit cards and their Wal-Mart salaries while you move their jobs to China and Bangalore. And none of it matters, so long as you remember a few months before Election Day to offer them a two-bit caricature culled from some cutting-room-floor episode of Roseanne as part of your presidential ticket."
  17. Luhby, Tami, "Bernie Sanders Kept Waiting For GOP to Talk About the Middle Class", CNN (9/18/15 8:27am EST).
  18. Tanenhaus, Sam, "The GOP Is Campaigning for George W. Bush’s Third Term", Bloomberg 5.19.15.
  19. "'GOP Economic Debate Offers Next to Nothing for Working- and Middle-Class Americans" Alternet (11/10/15)
  20. Joy Gray, Kalli, "PolitiFact 'Lie Of The Year' Is Every Single Word Out Of Donald Trump’s Face Hole", Wonkette (12/22/15 10:15am EST).
  21. Magary, Drew, "What Kind of Person Would Vote For Donald Trump? These People", GQ (8.4.15 6:00am EST).