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New Left Review I/149, January-February 1985


Mike Davis

Reaganomics’ Magical Mystery Tour

The re-election of Ronald Reagan will unleash new debate on the causes of the continuing conservative ascendancy in North America and Western Europe. Following in the well-worn grooves of discussions in 1980–1, some will stress the renewed importance of a reactionary-populist social discourse centred on ‘right to life’, family traditionalism and religious obscurantism. Others, particularly sensitive to its impact on the vulnerable minds of the video-game generation, will emphasize the hallucinatory euphoria of the patriotic revival enacted in the Los Angeles Coliseum and on a small Caribbean island. Still others—conscious that the media remain, more than ever, their own message—will place greatest weight on the Hollywoodization of the presidency abetted by a sycophantic news establishment. Each of these optics focuses on an important set of factors. Yet, squatting awkwardly astride all refinements in the analysis of political discourse, is the simple, massive fact of the Reagan ‘boom’ and its mobilization of economic self-interest. All the major pre-election polls, as well as the network ‘exit’ polls on 6 November, revealed the paramount importance of the ‘comfort/discomfort’ index of family economic position in orienting voter affinity. Some 60% of voters who thought the economy was better off than in 1980 landslided to Reagan by a margin of six to one, while, conversely, the 40% who thought the economy, or themselves, worse off swung to Mondale by four to one. The overriding role of the prosperity issue—especially in an election where the Democratic candidate so successfully obfuscated the war-and-peace dimension—was demonstrated by the fact that over a fifth of Reagan voters indicated that they had ‘strong disagreements’ with the incumbent over foreign policy or social issues, but gambled on his continued management of the recovery. [1] CBS/New York Timess Exit Poll, 6 November 1984. There remains vulgar irony in the fact that it was Reagan’s lusty embrace of that false god of the Democrats—John Maynard Keynes—that guaranteed his re-election, while Mondale and the afl-cio once again looked like Republicans in their conservative insistence on fiscal probity and restrained growth. [2] The New York Times (henceforth, nyt) characterized Mondale’s economics as ‘bluntly conservative...no major jobs programmes, no sizable anti-poverty measures, and no substantive housing and welfare measures.’ 11 September 1984, p. A24.

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