Why did the United States lurch to the right in 1980? In large part it is because Reagan preached a New American Ideology. As one woman said of Reagan, "he gave us back our pride."
When did we lose that? Well â€¦
Americans had emerged triumphant from the Second World War. Powerful, wealthy, and filled with hubris, America had managed against the East bloc well enough and even weathered the unnerving Cuban Missile Crisis, but then things started to go really wrong.
The American President was assassinated in his own country, in broad daylight. His successor got mired in a land war in Asia that led to the first clear defeat of the American Army. He did not seek another term as President. Anger over the War split the nation and the Democratic Party. Spending on social reform and a full scale war caused run-away inflation. And then OPEC staged an oil embargo, sending people into long gasoline lines as energy prices soared.
Iran seized the American Embassy and yet another the Democratic Administration seemed paralyzed.
Those old enough to remember the events of October 1962, when the United States and the Soviet Union nearly started World War Three, recall that both sides backed down. Yet there were grumblings that Democrat JFK had been "soft on Communism." The Republicans had to bail the Democrats out in Vietnam. And once again, the Democrats were paralyzed, this time by the Ayatollah.
Reagan asked the demoralized American people, "are you better off today than four years ago?"
Many thought that Reagan spoke about economic benefits, and surely that was true, but that was not the entire story. Americans were embittered over losing the War in Vietnam, having had oil shut off by OPEC, and having the American legation held prisoner by Iranian fundamentalists.
America had lost its place in the sun, and Reagan promised "morning in America." The long night was over. America was turning a corner.
A nation's myths do not need to be based in fact. They merely need to be believed.
In the last century, economic inequality was seen as one of the roots of social unrest.
Reagan challenged this view. He said that so long as everyone was getting something, and that the "pie" was getting bigger, people were better off than if they divided the existing pie more equitably.
He said capitalism was the answer and that the Democrats with their views about "fairness," were merely impeding real economic growth. That Democrats were responsible for reverse discrimination - and their social program had proven no better than their ability to win wars.
Right or wrong, Reagan made his case. His foreign policy was bellicose enough to instill a feeling of pride. And the Iran hostages came home - even though history records a seamier side to that triumph.
The Democrats continue to be reactive to Reagan's New Deal.
Reagan put his finger on the pulse of America and articulated their hopes and fears. Reagan's vision of America endures. Americans who do not remember the Vietnam Era, or the Great Society, tend to see America's problems as having been caused by the flawed values of the Democratic party and Republican policies as having been vindicated by the court of history.
But mostly, where the Democrats have failed, is in understanding that American values have shifted, although they are probably not changed at bottom.
The Democrats have campaigned largely on bread-and-butter issues â€¦ their legacy from the Great Depression, whose agony swept them into power. People who can actually remember the Great Depression are well into their eighties. The Labor Movement of the 1930s is the stuff of history books.
The question now before Democrats is, can they offer a vision that is better in tune with America's basic values than the one being offered by the Republicans?
Until the Democrats can do that, they will follow the lead of the Republicans, and at best be pale shadows of the Republicans who are better at articulating Republican values than are the Democrats.
The closest this nation came to having someone articulate an even-newer New Deal was Ross Perot. Flawed though his candidacy might have been, it showed the American people are not asleep.
The Democrats are asleep and until they awaken, we'll have more of the same.