After he lost the nomination for the Republican Party’s representative in the presidential election of 1976 won by Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan had many opportunities but turned them all down in order to host a daily radio show. Why would he do that? He knew a good opportunity when he saw one. A daily radio show was his springboard to success.
Saint Ronald was known as “the Great Communicator.” Unlike his much more bombastic right-wing personalities he talked quietly and smoothly without aggression and most importantly, without hate. He did not spew hateful and vile rhetoric like his brethren. He talked reasonably. He was not an extremist. By right-wing standards, he was a moderate, though when I first took notice of him I thought he was a right-wing extremist. Compared to what came after him he was definitely a moderate.
Everyday, Reagan had a platform on national radio for his ideology. He preached self-reliance: “Hand-outs are demeaning. They do violence to a man, strip him of his dignity, and breed in him a hatred of the total system.” Liberty: “Poor men want the same as the rest of us. They want jobs and control over their own destiny.” And small government: “We seek to harness the creative energy of private enterprise to achieve a solution to America’s crisis.”
Of course, by then “the Federal Communications Commission had chased most ideologues off the airwaves with its fairness doctrine.” Yet something did change about that time. Jimmy Carter was President and enforcement of the doctrine fell out of favor. Carter was nothing if not moderate. He did not know he was slitting his own throat for this left an opening by allowing Reagan to get on the airways and attack Carter, gently of course as was his style, at least in comparison between him and those who preceded him and followed him.
According to Justin Ling, on the CBC podcast The Flamer Throwers, “It was like a shadow presidency.” 30 million Americans a week listened to him, and Reagan knew how to communicate. That was what he knew best. Had he been a candidate the election rules would have demanded that he give equal time to his opponent. As a result, he did not give up the mike until the last possible moment in the next presidential race.
His campaign for the presidency was “rooted in a supposedly golden American past.” He wanted a country, he said, that would allow a 6-year-old American girl to enjoy the same freedom that he enjoyed as a 6-year old American boy. It was honey-dripped nostalgia. Of course, African-Americans did not have quite the same golden nostalgia. They knew the ugly side of America that Reagan and his supporters knew nothing about. They had never seen it. They were blissfully ignorant of it and the same goes for the current crop of MAGA enthusiasts. As Reagan said during that campaign, “Let’s make America Great Again.” Sound familiar? That was his line; so were the red baseball caps. So was the innocence. He was the winner and as he said, “It’s morning again in America,” to the gentle tune of caressing music.
For Republicans it was nothing less than “a golden age.” It was indeed a golden age for the comfortable. He began a legacy of cutting taxes, limiting government, and selling soothing fairy tales. There was no need for critical race theory or rebellion. As Reagan said, “For Americans living today there isn’t any problem we can’t solve, if government will give us the facts. Tell us what needs to be done and then get out of the way and let us have at it.” It was a most comfortable message. It was the message everyone wanted so much to be true. So it must be true.
As Ling, said, “In 1987 he quietly got the government out of the way of Right-wing radio.” Thus he gave a huge lift up to all those who followed him onto right-wing radio. When he became president, Reagan axed the fairness doctrine entirely and as Ling said, “that brought right-wing radio roaring back.” This set the stage for the personality with the greatest heft in the history of right-wing radio—Rush Limbaugh. Reagan was to Limbaugh sort of like John the Baptist was to Jesus.