1980 Reagan vs. Carter
As America entered a new decade, a new political wind began to blow in Washington, and it would be a breeze with tremendous staying power as it would persist for the entirety of the 80’s. Jimmy Carter had been President for one term, and things had not gone well. Economic issues like high inflation and interest rates were constant throughout Carter’s four years in office. These issues would be exacerbated by the Iran hostage crisis, forcing Americans to re-evaluate the political landscape. Enter the former President of the Screen Actors Guild, and former Governor of California, Ronald Reagan. Prior to the 2016 election, it was Ronald Reagan who personified what it meant to be a “Pop-Culture President”. A former film actor, Reagan would truly enter the lexicon of American popular culture when he became host of the General Electric Theater. Reagan would run his 1980 campaign on the notion that “America was losing faith in itself” and it resonated with America. Ronald Reagan would win the election in one of the largest landslide electoral victories in history, taking 44 states.
There are many theories out there about how and why the Reagan campaign was so successful being that Reagan was such a conservative, and only four years earlier, Jimmy Carter, a staunch democrat was elected. One of these theories actually deals with popular culture and it is a fascinating hypothesis. In 1979, the hit television show Dallas was hitting its stride and the show was known for following the stories of conservative families and businessmen. Some believe that the show glorified conservative ideals, thus making Reagan look much more appealing as he would echo similar conservative values. Reagan would also come to personify the traditional cowboy stereotype that still resonates throughout popular culture. Appearing in posters and campaign buttons wearing a cowboy hat, Reagan embraced the idea of being a cowboy, Washington outsider who would go in and shake things up.
Reagan would also contribute to popular culture, with his excellent use of one-liners. The one that Reagan used that is still often used today was “There you go again”. Reagan first used this as a response to President Carter during a debate when Carter kept repeating the same issue with Reagans political record over and over again. Numerous politicians since Reagan have used this line, showing just how impactful the line is. While Reagan was himself a celebrity, the degree of his celebrity paled in comparison to those who endorsed him. Among the celebrity endorsers were, James Cagney, Dean Martin, and Frank Sinatra.
With the numerous issues in the country at the time, President Carter was very busy dealing with presidential business and he did not run a very notable campaign. One notable situation actually happened before election season, but it would be brought back up during the campaign. In a rather silly incident, Carter was fishing on a pond when a rabbit approached the boat. Carter would scare it away by splashing water at it, but the matter in which he did it looked rather hilarious to some. The event would spawn numerous cartoons and songs mocking the event, with the most notable one being by Tom Paxton called, “I Don’t Want a Bunny Wunny”. This would not be the only time that music and Carter would intersect during the 1980 election. While on their second world tour, the band Devo realized that the people in other countries looked at America with a sense of hesitancy. This would inspire them to write perhaps their biggest hit, “Whip It”. Devo member Mark Mothersbaugh said that the song was meant for President Carter, as he and the band liked him, and they wanted him to “whip” things into shape. Like Reagan, Carter would have his own stable of celebrity endorsers including, Johnny Cash, Mary Tyler Moore, and Willie Nelson.