- - Thursday, February 19, 2015


Thirty-five years ago this month, America began its climb back from the malaise and uncertainty that defined the decade of the 1970s. Two tracks, one sports-related and one political, combined to give America a renewed sense of confidence that would usher in the dynamic decade of the 1980s.

The Obama apologists of today maintain that the president inherited the worst fiscal mess since the Great Depression. Actually, 1980 was much worse because of the decade that preceded it, but more importantly, because America had lost its self-confidence. Leading scholars and historians were not shy to opine that America’s best days were behind it and that we could at best look forward to scarcity and rationing of natural resources and a sharply reduced role in the world. These are views, incidentally, that are also held by key members of the Obama administration as well as the president himself.

As if on cue, the end of 1979 saw the country hit by stagflation, gas lines, the takeover of the American Embassy in Iran and imprisonment of our diplomats by Muslim extremists, and the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. The country’s leadership had few answers. However, in just five days 35 years ago, things changed suddenly and dramatically.

Friday, Feb 22: In the greatest upset in sports history, the U.S. Olympic hockey team (average age 22) defeated the Soviet national team 4-3 at the Lake Placid Olympic Games. The Russians were the best team in the world by far, having won the gold medal in four consecutive Olympics. Earlier that year, they had won a series of exhibitions against the best teams of the National Hockey League and had defeated the American Olympians decisively in a pre-Olympic match just 10 days earlier. The ending of the game was punctuated by broadcaster Al Michael’s famous call, “Do you believe in miracles?”

The game was played as the Russian war machine rolled into Afghanistan. American and international protests were swept aside. As with Iran’s taking of the hostages the previous November, Americans felt powerless to alter world events. The American victory against the Russians set off a national celebration, rekindled national pride, and gave hope that the new decade would be better than the one just endured.

Saturday, Feb. 23: Former Gov. Ronald Reagan decisively won a Republican primary debate in New Hampshire against his chief rival, George H.W. Bush (“41”), who would later become president in his own right. Reagan had been on the ropes, losing to Bush in Iowa and trailing during the entire New Hampshire campaign. Key to the win in the chaotic beginnings of the debate was Reagan’s response to the moderator who asked that Reagan’s microphone be turned off. “I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green [sic].” Reagan debated with a fire and intensity that night that he had not previously shown. His performance made him a solid favorite to win the GOP nomination.

Sunday, Feb. 24: The American hockey team completed the impossible dream by defeating Finland for the gold medal. The Soviet game was a semi-final match and the U.S. squad still had to defeat Finland, a good team in its own right. Herb Brooks, the brilliant U.S. coach, told the team before the game, “If you lose this game, you’ll take it to your [expletive] grave.” Properly motived, the team won the game going away. The victory set off joyous celebrations around the country as a decade of frustration was swept away. The old problems remained, but there again seemed hope that America could still compete and win against the best in the world.

Tuesday, Feb. 26: Reagan wins the New Hampshire primary by a decisive margin. His momentum was such that he couldn’t be stopped on his way to nomination and election. Reagan talked confidently about America’s future and maintained that our best days lay ahead. He outlined a program to fix America’s economy and end double-digit inflation and unemployment. He also proposed military rearmament and a strategy of confronting Soviet Communism around the world. Reagan won in November and implemented his ideas ushering in strong economic growth and the eventual demise of the Soviet Union, making the ‘80s a decade far different from the previous one.

At a time when hopelessness again seems on the upswing, it’s important to remember that America has faced challenges far more difficult, and not only survived but thrived. As Reagan said in his first Inaugural address in 1981, “I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing.” This is a resilient country dominated by risk-takers and advocates of hard work. Our turnaround can begin again with a new leader who has a positive, uplifting vision to lead America. We are looking for the candidate who will propose a bold platform that offers a clear contrast with the dead-end economic policies of the last six years.

Herb Brooks told his team before the Soviet game, “This is your time. Go out and take it.”

The future is again waiting for us — if we can imagine it.

Frank J. Donatelli is a former assistant to President Reagan for political and intergovernmental affairs, past deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee and past chairman of GOPAC.

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