Reaganism and the External Threat

“There’s a bear in the woods,” warns ad man Hal Riney, as a grizzly appears on screen.  “For some people, the bear is easy to see.  Others don’t see it at all.  Some people say the bear is tame.  Others say it is vicious and dangerous.  Since no one can really be sure who’s right, isn’t it smart to be as strong as the bear?  If there is a bear.”

In the last scene, a man appears, and the bear steps back.  Cut to a picture of Ronald Reagan: “President Reagan, prepared for peace.”

The highly effective “bear ad” ran as part of President Reagan’s 1984 reelection campaign, one that included ads featuring the memorable tag lines “It’s morning again in America” and “America’s back!”  The ads were optimistic, did not “go negative” in political-attack mode, and complimented Reagan’s avuncular pitchman persona.

The bear ad was softer than the President’s anti-Soviet rhetoric, taking some edge off the image of a man who had called the Soviet Union an “evil empire” and, in a sound test caught by a live microphone, said he would “outlaw Russia.”  (“My fellow Americans.  I’m pleased to announce that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever.  We begin bombing in five minutes.”)  The...

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