Queen's University

Column overlooked the “Reagan Democrats”

Re: “A book, a course, and the future of the American Republic”
ISSUE #3 – 2011, PP. 8-9

Prof. Geoff Smith believes that during the 1970s and 1980s “neo-conservatives and Reagan Republicans” turned “Democrat” into a word with “un-American” connotations. This opinion seems inconsistent with the importance of “Reagan Democrats” in what became the Reagan coalition. The leftward lurch of the Democratic Party in the 1970s overwhelmed the influence of those Democrats – such as Senator Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson – who believed in stronger defence and a robust anti-Soviet foreign policy. The result was to drive many traditional Democrats, including elements of the party’s elite, into alliance with Republican conservatives. Jeane Kirkpatrick, Elliott Abrams, and Jackson’s aide Richard Perle were all Democrats, but all served at high levels in the Reagan Administration – Dr. Kirkpatrick as U.S. ambassador at the United Nations and a member of the President’s cabinet. As late as 1984, when she addressed the Republican national convention, Kirkpatrick did so as a dissident Democrat, praising Harry Truman and other patriotic Cold War Democrats of the past. She focused her attack on the kind of Democrats who had controlled the party’s recent convention in San Francisco. It was specifically the “San Francisco Democrats” whom she denounced for their lenient view of communism and their determination to “blame America first.”

Such disunity among Democrats had contributed significantly to Reagan’s landslide victory in 1980, and in 1984 it helped him achieve an even more massive electoral triumph. On both occasions he carried even the famously Democratic state of Massachusetts!

One major study relevant to this subject is Jay Winik’s book On the Brink (Simon and Schuster, 1996), which reveals much about what Dr. Winik calls “the men and women who won the Cold War” during the Reagan years.

Dr. Kenneth H.W. Hilborn
Arts'56, MA'58
London, ON
 

The writer is a Professor Emeritus in the History Department at the University of Western Ontario. – Ed.
 

Queen's Alumni Review, 2011 Issue #4Queen's Alumni Review
2011 Issue #4
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