Ronald Reagan: Father of the Tea Party

-By Warner Todd Huston

We are still living in Ronald Reagan’s era, despite the constant refrains from Democrats and the left that Reaganism is long dead. As we observe his 100th birthday, it is also beneficial to point out that in many ways Reagan is the father of the Tea Party Movement. It was his great success, his sunny optimism that gave the Tea Partiers the grounding and confidence that they could, indeed, make a difference.

Like many politically active people today, Ronald Reagan is my favorite president in my lifetime. For me, he was also the first president for whom I could vote and I did so with glee.

In fact, if it weren’t for Ronald Reagan I may well have entered my voting age with too much cynicism to overcome in order to make me feel invested in the system. I’d posit that this is true for most Tea Party patriots older than 40, too. I would also argue that the Reagan effect is responsible for giving Tea Partiers the feeling that they could affect government like Reagan did and that without Reagan there’d be no Tea Party movement at all.

You see as a teen growing up in the 1970s cynicism about America is about all one could muster. As kids we lived through the end of the Vietnam War, saw the Fall of Saigon, endured Watergate, the end of the Nixon presidency, saw the media turn his successor into a pratfalling, buffoon, suffered under the “malaise” of Jimmy Carter and ended the era humiliated as a bunch of Islamic lunatics took Americans hostage for 444 days.

In the meantime, all our entertainment on TV, at the Movies, in our music we were basically told how bad America was. Our government was sending spies to kill people on movies and TV, riots and protests abounded in our recent memory, America was racist, violent, nasty, our teachers were completely sold out to the far left and reinforced the meme that America was evil in our high schools and colleges. It was a pretty dismal America in which we lived.

Many conservatives got a boost with Goldwater decades earlier in the 60s, but his conservatism was so narrow and his loss so crushing that few imagined that the GOP would ever rise above it. Reagan himself seemed a bit of a failure after trying and failing to become the GOP nominee for president once in 1968 and then again in 1976.

It seemed like America’s best days were long behind her. Anyone that wanted to believe in America was doomed to feel cynical about it all.

As to me, I was no exception. In the 70s I was myself on the verge of thinking that America was irreversibly broken. I even passed on joining the armed forces at the time because I couldn’t imagine serving under the hated Carter regime. Service to the country was not appealing.

But then came the sunny optimism of Ronald Reagan and it was “morning in America” again. He ran as a believer in American exceptionalism even as so many were convinced that such a feeling was simple-minded even imbecilic. Reagan made us believe in America again. In fact, that is the one thing that he told people that he wanted to be remembered for.

Bently Elliott was Reagan’s top speechwriter in his first term and recalled Reagan’s words to that effect.

“He didn’t say he wanted to be remembered as the president who turned around the economy or the president who brought down the Evil Empire,” Elliott recalled. “He said he wanted to be remembered as ‘the president who made the American people believe in themselves again.'”

Ronald Reagan believed in America and he made us believe in her, too.

This is the essence of the Tea Party movement. Reagan proved that we could again be a great, healthy, rich, vibrant nation, one not mired in a “malaise,” one not afraid to speak on the world stage, one proud of itself and its place in the world. This optimism and Reagan’s success as president serves as the underlying proof that what the Tea Party is trying to do is not only right, but can actually work.

The Tea Party has its cynicism, of course. Many Tea Partiers eye government with suspicion (another Reagan theme, by the way). But thanks to Ronald Reagan Tea Partiers have the confidence that they can succeed, just like he did.

Without his great success there may not have been enough pride left in America to spawn a Tea Party movement. So, as we celebrate his 100th birthday, let’s not just fondly recall his legacy. Let’s celebrate the fact that we are still benefiting from his genius, not from a distance, not from the dimness of time gone by, but right here, right now.

Happy birthday Ronald Reagan. May your shadow be long and our fortune due to that legacy ever greater.

(Originally posted at Andrew Breitbar’s
“The only end of writing is to enable the reader better to enjoy life, or better to endure it.”
–Samuel Johnson

Warner Todd Huston is a Chicago based freelance writer. He has been writing opinion editorials and social criticism since early 2001 and before that he wrote articles on U.S. history for several small American magazines. His political columns are featured on many websites such as Andrew Breitbart’s,, and, as well as,,,,, among many, many others. Mr. Huston is also endlessly amused that one of his articles formed the basis of an article in Germany’s Der Spiegel Magazine in 2008.

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