RONALD REAGAN and later George Bush ran against the Carter
years, with their stagflation and hostages abroad. That was a
no-brainer, as strategies go.
Lately Democrats from Sen. Harris Wofford of Pennsylvania to
Douglas Stephens, a candidate for an open House seat in Peoria,
Ill., are accusing their opponents of seeking a return to the
trickle-down Reaganomics of the 1980s.
This is a trickier proposition. Americans hold mixed views about
the 1980s and its policies.
"The Reagan years were great. We all made a lot of money,"
says Steve Korfonta, a real estate developer eating lunch on a
downtown park bench on a sunny day this week.
"It was a criminal era. What it said was greed was good," says
Ray Riley, a legal secretary in a tan suit sitting nearby.
"Good times," says Andrea Wagner, an editorial assistant
reading a paperback.
"Disaster," says an energy analyst for a utility company as
she chats on the grass with a friend.
The debate in many House and Senate races is returning to the
1980s because of the "Contract with America" signed by Republican
candidates for the House on the Capitol steps Sept. 27.
It outlines measures from cutting taxes to building a Star Wars
missile defense system that they promise to bring to a vote if the
GOP wins control of the House.
The White House and Democratic Party officials have attacked
this contract as a return to the Reagan years. Democratic
candidates have begun to pick up the charge and even use it in paid
A memo by White House pollster Stanley Greenberg last week
reportedly indicates that the primary benefit of attacking the
Reagan years is not to win over new supporters but to mobilize the
Democratic base of support into turning out at the polls. Lack of
enthusiasm among hard-core Democrats is a major obstacle to
Democratic candidates this fall.
Overall, Mr. Reagan remains the most highly regarded president
in a generation, according to polls, yet Democrats are betting that
terms such as Reaganomics and trickle-down economics remind
middle-class families of the anxiety they felt about making ends
meet in the 1980s.
Republicans acknowledge that Democrats won a war of labels in
tarring the 1980s as the decade of greed and deficits.
The astronomical earnings of Wall Street brokers who later were
convicted of insider trading, the savings-and-loan bailout,
contract-fixing for well-connected Republicans at the Housing and
Urban Development department, and movies such as Oliver Stone's
"Wall Street" all helped impress an image of the Reagan years as
the rich run amok. …