Planning Reagans War: Conservative Strategists and Americas Cold War Victory

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The role of the January Tet Offensive named for the lunar New Year holiday is generally considered decisive for this shift in public opinion, marking a turning point in U. They penetrated the U. Although some have blamed media reporting of the offensive for the public disillusionment with the war, saying that the media misreported the offensive as a defeat for the United States, it was largely the optimistic administration public relations offensive that set the conditions for the adverse public reaction to Tet. The media campaign itself had been necessitated by the sliding public support for the war, so Tet only reinforced the existing decline in public support for the war.

Although commanders on the ground felt that they had inflicted a tactical defeat on their communist enemy when they quickly retook most of the territory, the first shock of the offensive deeply shook the confidence of the public.


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There was a limit to how long this set of policies could be sustained, and with a ballooning Vietnam-induced budget and balance of payments deficit, a currency crisis came to a head in March, just as the shocks of Tet were being absorbed. With difficult news on all fronts, on 31 March Johnson announced that he would seek a negotiated settlement of the war and that he was withdrawing as a candidate for re-election to the presidency. Despite this effort, McCarthy won over 40 percent of the votes and the vast majority of delegates in the primary.

- The Washington Post

This outcome seemed to suggest a groundswell of support for a peace candidacy. What was not recognized at the time was that the majority of those who voted for McCarthy were Vietnam war hawks who thought that President Johnson was not escalating the war fast enough. In May , that number had increased to 36 percent. In October , for the first time a plurality of respondents, 47 percent against 44 percent who disagreed thought entering the war had been a mistake.

In this Book

The numbers fluctuated in December under the influence of the public relations campaign touting progress in the war. After the Tet offensive, in February , a plurality of respondents again said they thought that sending troops to Vietnam had been a mistake. In August , a majority, 53 percent, took this view. The figure crept up to 60 percent in and remained there until the last combat troops withdrew.

The number of public opinion poll respondents who thought sending troops to Vietnam was a mistake passed a threshold in February , but this was a threshold that had already been passed before in October The figures do not indicate that Tet was a decisive turning point in public opinion , in so far as it can be measured by the polls. The February plurality and August majority results may have been milestones, but they were not turning points. From April to June , the plurality of responses shifted back and forth between approval and disapproval. For the first time, a majority disapproved his handling of the war in July And, as John Mueller reports, approval of his handling of the war correlated with approval of his presidency overall.


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As a study of local reactions to the offensive discovered, by the end of February , the offensive—although its repercussions were resonating decisively in Washington—appeared to have largely been forgotten. Admiral Sharp, Commander in Chief of U. Username Password Forgot password? Shibboleth OpenAthens. Restore content access Restore content access for purchases made as guest. Article Purchase - Online Checkout. Issue Purchase - Online Checkout.

People also read Article. Published online: 11 Jan Hal Brands et al. Journal of Strategic Studies Volume 41, - Issue 7.

Introduction

Published online: 30 Jan Published online: 24 Jul Published online: 28 Aug Published online: 2 Oct He was tough on crime, left most of Reagan's tax cuts in place, favored welfare reform, promised to keep abortion legal and safe but also to make it rare, and was unafraid to use American military force abroad. And after the early debacle of health-care reform and the decisive repudiation of the midterm elections, he limited his ambitions in economic policy to small-ball fiddling at the margins of the Reagan revolution, famously encapsulated in the laundry lists of micro-policy proposals that clogged up the interminable State of the Union speeches of his second term.

“A Time for Choosing” and its Influence

From on, the political center would be defined as Reaganism lite: slightly less libertarian on economics, quite a bit more libertarian on social policy, and somewhat more inclined to seek international consensus before using the American military to police the liberal international order and punish those who dared to flout its norms and institutions. Indeed, to this day this is what most of us mean when we talk about "the center" of American politics, whether it's the center-left, the center-right, or the independent center currently staked out by Schultz.

It's pro-market, pro-free trade, pro-immigration. It favors keeping upper income taxes low in comparison to their pre-Reagan baseline and a tough approach to crime and welfare cheats. It's pro-choice sometimes within limits and liberal on other social issues. It's hawkish on foreign policy. One of the most illuminating analyses of public opinion in the president election is the report of the Voter Study Group from June One chart in the report above all captures the paradox of the empty center better than anything else.

Voter Study Group. With each dot representing one of 8, voters in the presidential election, the vertical axis measures a voter's relative liberalism and conservatism on social issues and questions of national identity, with liberalism or social libertarianism higher on the lower half and conservatism higher on the upper half.

The horizontal axis, meanwhile, measures relative liberalism and conservatism on economic issues, with those holding liberal positions further left and those who are more conservative or economically libertarian further right.


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The chart clarifies several things about American politics. For one thing, Democrats are more thoroughly ideologically sorted, with the vast majority of them falling within the liberal-liberal quadrant on the lower left, than Republicans, who are consistently conservative on social issues and identity questions but fairly evenly distributed across the economic dimension from left to right.

Politicians and pundits tend to define a centrist as someone who embraces relatively libertarian positions on both economics and social and identity issues. But note that these positions come together in the lower right quadrant of the chart — and that this quadrant has by far the fewest voters.

The Cold War

The center, as typically defined, really is the empty set. But there is another center in American politics — one that is the diametric opposite, in ideological terms, of the libertarian one on which we tend to fixate. This other center is filled with large numbers of voters who most likely feel under-represented by the two parties. Instead of combining a Republican position on economic issues with a Democratic position on social and identity issues, this other center does the reverse, combining a Republican position on social and identity issues with a Democratic one on economics.

That's the upper left quadrant on the Voter Study Group chart, and it's where Donald Trump appeared to be situating himself when he skewered various Republican pieties during the GOP primaries of Like any Republican of the past three decades, he professed to be pro-life and promised to appoint conservative justices to the Supreme Court. He boosted himself further than most Republicans on the social-identity axis by staking out a harshly draconian position on immigration. But he combined these views with promises to preserve and strengthen Social Security, Medicare, and other government entitlement programs.