When Ronald Reagan first took office, the political climate was changing. The results of social and economic reforms, which began under the presidency of Franklin Douglass Roosevelt, were becoming more evident and many did not approve of the results therein said reforms. With the climax of affirmative action, White Americans were feeling discriminated against; with high corporate and marginal tax rates, wealthy Americans were feeling unjustly taxed; with all of the newfound social welfare programs, those who did not qualify felt as if they had been left out – the conservative movement’s silent majority was becoming antsy and Ronald Reagan knew of this and fully exploited it. It will be shown that Ronald Reagan’s agenda for reviving an economy which had presumably been crippled by government intervention was not bound in a factual nor historic basis, for it did not consider the plausible and even evident impact that America’s gruesome history has had on minority cultures and on our society in general. Furthermore, the inevitable consequence of presuming that all Americans exist on an equal playing field actually goes against his desire of having a country “with no barriers born of bigotry and discrimination,” as it does not take into account that some communities or “special interest groups” generally do not have access to many opportunities which their better-off counterparts do. Thus, treating them as they do only neglects them and perpetuates their unfortunate predisposition. This will first be shown through the insubstantial, broad rhetoric throughout his speech (The Rhetorical Presidency) and how this pandering is a safe political calculation, and how these calculations found throughout his speech has contributed to a decrease in voter turnout and political participation (Tuning In, Tuning Out) upon citizens and how all of this has contributed to an increase in political ignorance (Political Ignorance Haunts 2016 Campaign). I will further show how this political ignorance actually benefits politicians as it allows them to implement their own agenda and not worry about the actual needs of voters (Democracy in America). From this, I will show how President Reagan’s agenda actually went against the need of the silent majority – not to mention all Americans – and how his utter disregard for the evolution of racism (The New “New Racism”) actually contributed to the barriers born of bigotry and discrimination.
Rhetoric has its place. Especially when assuming a leadership role over a country that is ideologically divided. In this instance, rhetoric can act as a medium which can unify; nevertheless, when rhetoric is the sole basis in which one relies upon, a pathway of disingenuity and misinformation is bound to be prevalent. In President Reagan’s Inaugural Address, he speaks very broadly on a range of issues which people on all sides of the political spectrum can relate to and can agree needs addressing – issues such as the high inflation, the record levels of unemployment, and the overall recovering of the economy which he mentions. Speaking on such issues in such a vague manner disallows anyone to draw a clear contrast to his position as he does not take any firm positions, instead he “devote[s] very little time in [his] speeches to spelling out anything like concrete policy stands; instead most of [his] effort goes into general interpretation of past records and highly ambiguous statements about future goals.”
Speaking in a way which disallows disagreement is a strategically safe move. Simply mentioning the “economic ills” of society in the midst of a recession is something that no one can find contrast with – it’s merely stating the obvious; nevertheless, he does go on to state how government is the problem, yet even this statement is highly ambiguous due to minorities who have been discriminated against by the government in the past being able to relate to this as well as wealthy businessmen who had faced the highest tax rates in our country’s history. Reagan not going further in depth when pinpointing any concrete policy positions is evident of him converging towards the median preference of the two ideological dimensions in our country (the left/right dimensions). This coincides with Duncan Black’s “median voter theorem” (The Origin and Transformation of Political Parties in America). One of the benefits of doing this is that it ensures support for those who already, or are most likely to become their supporters while not dissuading any voters who were on the fence to vote against you – a safe way to not lose any support/not have support garnered against you.
One of the plausible cons of speaking so ambiguously and having a lack of specificity in policy substance and its possible impact is that it could lead to a decrease in voter turnout. But does voter turnout really matter in our country’s current party system? The answer to that question is no, thanks to the polarization of politics created by longstanding political parties (Red Media, Blue Media). These political parties guarantee support from the party’s preexistent base and has a higher probability of a continuing career – reelection – according to the ambition theory (The Origin and Transformation of Political Parties in America). The main concern which comes about when speaking of the ambition theory is how support can be easily accumulated in an efficient manner without detailing any policy specifics, by speaking vaguely and by simply relying on party reputation and expectation. Most, if not all politicians rely on this method to receive votes and stay in office which can explain why most Americans are often mal-informed when it comes to political issues as they have no incentive to actually keep up with the political times (Political Ignorance Haunts the 2016 Campaign) since the way in which campaigns (and also presidencies) are run mainly relies on rhetoric, dogma and ambiguities.
The stagnancy present in political knowledge amongst voters throughout the decades is a result of this, despite IQ levels and educational attainment are on the rise and increasingly available (Political Ignorance Haunts the 2016 Campaign). This static nature of political ignorance/knowledge is coopted by an increase in technology and entertainment outputs – the electronic revolution – and the grand amalgamation of the two has led to a decline in social interaction amongst citizens and also decreased political participation (Tuning In, Tuning Out). Whether it be from voting to helping with local/national campaigns, the widespread use of rhetoric, dogma and ambiguities to secure elections alongside increased entertainment devices has been shown to increase – or, at best, stagnate political knowledge (Political Ignorance Haunts the 2016 Campaign) amongst the community which results in a detraction of the value of social capital (Tuning In, Tuning Out).
Nevertheless, the declining of social capital does not necessarily effect politicians since their election does not particularly rely on obtaining new voters, it rather relies on securing the respective political parties base vote (The Origin and Transformation of Political Parties in America), while not harshly deprecating the opposing party’s voters, as aforementioned. Exhibiting such disregard and apathy towards the decline in social capital and the willing, steady use of ambiguous rhetoric and insubstantial policy substance all contributes to the creation of a despotic government. Reagan’s mentioning of “equal opportunities for all Americans” gives the illusion of equality – an illusion which despotic regimes foster and encourage as it keeps its citizens divided, powerless and not in a position to question those in power. This proves to be detrimental when the insubstantial policy positons spoken actually go against the needs of the people (The Rhetorical Presidency).
In his speech, Reagan mentions the need for a focus towards a new “special interest group,” one which “knows no sectional boundaries or ethnic and racial divisions, and it crosses all political lines.” When mentioning this, he seamlessly lumps everyone together under the general branding of “Americans.” It is logical that upon first reading this, it may seem like rhetoric which one would happily endorse; however, in context it is clear that he is speaking to Nixon’s silent majority – now, Reagan’s “heroes.” This is significant as these heroes are the ones which he now wants to focus on, not those who have been oppressed by our country’s egregious past. Even when considering this, this can appear to benefit Reagan’s heroes but in reality that is not the case; and with his use of pandering rhetoric, dogmatic voting patterns, and unsolicited policy positions alongside a decrease in voter knowledge and participation, Reagan is now capable of obtaining the position of the quintessential despot (Democracy in America).
Reagan’s desire to focus on his heroes is simply an attempt to gain support from White Americans and gather them together due to the social welfare programs and, particularly, affirmative action has not been in favor of them. And this may have been seen as a great idea to the vast majority of White Americans, but this disregards history and the evolution of racism in America (The New “New Racism”). Over time, racism and the way that it implemented has steadily evolved, and it is clear that President Reagan did not consider its evolution – instead, he played a part in it. During this time period, racism was evolving from advertently picking out a group of people to oppress to a subtle form of having a system which enacts policies that does this. Over time, this system has created a socioeconomic hierarchy which placed the former overtly oppressed at the bottom. Something that Reagan did not consider was well-being of his White American “heroes” who also fell at the bottom of this hierarchy (United States Census Bureau) – which, in number, nearly equal all other minority communities combined. Unfortunately, his impoverish heroes are unaware of this due to their political ignorance and his broad public stances on policy; and since he is able to go unchecked, he is able to implement policies which possessed barriers born of both bigotry and discrimination – barriers not necessarily based on race, rather on socioeconomics.
From the evidence gathered, it is clear that President Ronald Reagan was the epitome of a rhetorical president, and it is also clear that the consequences of his rhetorical presidency actually contrasted his goal of having a society founded on equal opportunity as his agenda actually created stark division based on income – this all resulted from his empty rhetoric to his unsubstantial policy stances to his party inheritance which elicited unearned support to his promises which actually harmed his base, let alone every minority.