Reagan Redux: Democrats, GOP Fight over 1980s but Campaign Strategies May Backfire, since Americans' Views on Reagan Era Are Mixed

Article excerpt

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 advertisements.

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. …


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