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June 11, 2015

Some images are so awful that you can’t get them out of your head – the tragic injury to the woman in the Fenway Park stands for example; or Hillary Clinton’s announcement video.

Recently I contrasted Clinton’s announcement with one I found rang with respect for the voters – Ronald Reagan’s speech announcing his 1980 candidacy. So I’m going to identify components’ of Reagan’s speech and rate 2016 announcements speeches against it. I’m introducing the “Reaganometer.”

Reagan recalled his upbringing and early years, the better to connect with working Americans. His case for American exceptionalism reflected a world view, not a mere flattering recital. Reagan spoke of threats that needed to be confronted and opportunities to be seized. The federal government was the cause of our woes and reigning it in the solution. He closed with a Reagan signature: resonant but mangled historical references to our singular past. The speech was a national one, not aimed at a particular region or constituency.

Reagan described his early years: Midwestern striving leading to Golden State success. He recalled his father opening his Depression era pink slip during Christmas season, showing he could relate to Americans suffering in a withering economy.

He criticized those who saw a spent America and declared he wouldn’t accept the idea of limits. It was classic Reagan optimism.

Reagan knew just what was causing anxiety for American families: a dragging economy and wallet-robbing inflation. He knew who to blame too: the federal government. His solution: slash taxes, attack government waste. Some thought the bureaucracy incurably out of control. Reagan promised to regulate the regulators.

“Our country was built on cheap energy.” America needn’t accept lines at the gas pumps and rising home heating oil prices, or a future commanded by OPEC. The federal government was again to blame. Get the bureaucrats out of the way so the market for domestic production of oil, gas, and coal could bloom.

Reagan warned of a surging Soviet Union. He believed that America was acting like a nation in decline and vowed to restore our role of “protecting and defending freedom all over the world.” He promised to seek closer ties with Canada and Mexico to secure a brighter future for all on the continent.

Reagan mentioned God only twice – once in a perfunctory manner, the other time in a quotation. We now associate the Eighties with a resurgent religious right so it is telling that of two quotations the first was from Deist Thomas Paine: “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”

The second quote was from John Winthrop: “We shall be as a city upon a hill.  The eyes of all people are upon us so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world.” Reagan used the quote to amplify America’s “rendezvous with destiny.” That isn’t what Winthrop was speaking of at all. The theme of A Model of Christian Charity was love and brotherhood, not triumphalism. Help for the less fortunate was not a Reagan preoccupation.

Reagan’s Winthrop quote was not only a blatant misrepresentation but an insult to the citizen. It simply assumed that few voters would look beyond the inspiring sounding words to read the speech and digest its true meaning. For this insult to literateness I’ll deduct fifteen points so Reagan’s speech will be an 85 on the Reaganometer.

To start things off the Reagonometer makes its first appearance below, grading Clinton against Reagan. If I was lenient to Reagan on the Winthrop remark I’ll extend my generosity to Clinton and give her a few points. She did say she was running, and she did recognize that “the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top.” Reagan’s twisting of Winthrop was an abuse of literacy; Clinton’s video was an abandonment of literacy. The film was beautiful – that’s where the thought and care went, into producing the desired images. The variety of Americans represented suggested identify politics. No world view, no diagnosis of the challenges facing the nation or policies to face them, no issues domestic or foreign; just lovely pictures to reflect how lovely we are. Reagan let us know where he proposed to lead. Clinton let us know we sure are an attractive, cheerful people. So here’s the first Reaganometer:

I’ll add my assessment of other 2016 announcement speeches in coming posts, though I suspect some of these candidates will be out of the race before I can get to them. Also, I’m fiddling with this and may change it as I learn more, so feel free to critique.

Ronald Reagan, 2016 Election, Hillary Clinton

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