By Reagan benchmarks, it’s ‘morning again in America’

Is life in America as horrible as Donald Trump painted during last night’s speech?

It all depends on whether you like Donald Trump. It always does with presidential campaign messages.

If politicians tell us things are great — and we like them — then we think things are great, despite, in some cases, what the deposit of our unemployment check in the bank account might tell us.

If they tell us things are bad, then we’ll ignore personal experience and nod our heads.

That’s why presidential campaigns are so much selling soap and prescriptions. With the right message, you can create whatever reality you want, no matter what reality actually is. A TV commercial can make you think you have toe fungus or restless leg syndrome that only a pill can cure. With a little blue pill, you can end up naked in a bathtub on a mountain-top meadow with another person naked in another bathtub next to you. With the right message, everyone wants a bathtub with a view.

“Morning in America” is probably the second-most-popular presidential campaign ad ever, next to Lyndon Johnson’s “Daisy” ad, which painted a grim picture.

I don’t tire of ever watching Morning in America because it’s such a great lesson for politicians. Despair doesn’t usually work.

Here, let’s hold hands and watch:

This is a classic case of putting lipstick on a pig. The economy was a disaster, but Americans crave hope.

Check what provided hope back then from the bullet points of the ad vs. the same benchmark today.

1) Then: “Today, more men and women will go to work than at any time in our country’s history”

Now: According to employment data released this month, about 144,175,000 will go to work today (ignore the fact it’s Friday and nobody actually seems to go to work on Friday in the summer). That’s more than at any time in our country’s history, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Of course, the statistic, while truthful, lacks the obvious context that the population is growing and that people are working harder for less. But the political ads aren’t about context.

2) Then: “With interest rates at half the record highs of 1980.”

Now: June’s 30-year fixed rate averaged 3.57 percent, a little less than four years ago and not quite half what they were eight years ago.

The average 30-year fixed mortgage in 1980 was 14.21 percent. In November 1984, it was 13.64 percent. So Reagan’s ad was misleading. But it doesn’t really matter in the big scheme of things. It’s all about telling people what they already wanted to believe.

3) Then: “Nearly 2,000 families today will buy new homes. More than at any time in the past four years.”

Now: According to a news release yesterday from the National Association of Realtors, there were 15,260 sales of of existing homes per day.

A third of those buying homes in June were first-time buyers. I couldn’t get the historical home sales (they make you pay for it), but it’s not a figure that’s higher than the last four years. But four years ago, 11,972 homes were selling per day.

One note: The Realtors report monthly sales based on an annual number of total sales and calls it a “rate.”

4) Then: “This afternoon, 6,500 young men and women will be married.”

Now: Assuming weddings are spaced out equally over 365 days, 5,863 couples will be married this afternoon.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that the marriage rate in the U.S. has been declining for years. It’s a matter of debate whether this is a legitimate benchmark for the state of the nation, but clearly it played to President Reagan’s audience that insisted then — and insists now — that it is.

5) Then: “… and with inflation at half of what it was just four years ago.”

Now: The inflation rate is currently 1%. Not quite half of what it was four years ago.

Reagan’s ad was wrong about the inflation rate. The rate had dropped to almost a third. In 1980, the inflation rate was 12.5 percent. By Election Day 1984, it stood at “just” 4.1%. Of course, these are different times when inflation — at least to some degree — is good.

6) Then: “… they can look forward with confidence to the future.”

Now: The June Consumer Confidence survey was up 5.6 points in June to 98. Four years ago, it stood at 73.7 percent

Of course, this is an entirely subjective statistic. Nobody needs anyone’s permission to be confident or not confident so consumers can always look forward to the future with confidence. Whether they do is a matter of many variables, including whether they they’re told things are good or things are bad.

We know this to be true because of the emotional nature of recessions, in which emotion about a perception of the economy can push a country into recession. That’s why economist Alfred Kahn referred to them as “bananas” rather than “recessions.”

The University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index shows a different picture — a drop in confidence.

Funny thing about historical drops in consumer confidence. They tend to occur leading up to elections.


7) Then: “Our country is stronger, and prouder, and better.”

Now: It depends whom you talk to.

Reagan’s ad so warmed America that several people and institutions have tried to copy it with varying results.

Marco Rubio tried a new riff on Morning in America during his failed presidential run, but he did so turning to the gloomier side of the same benchmarks.

Rubio’s campaign was a dud. And it didn’t help when it was learned his soap salespeople used footage from Canada.

Even struggling car companies sought salvation in the emotion of the ad. Chrysler did during the Super Bowl in 2012.

Months later, Clint Eastwood would appear at the Republican National Convention, talking to an empty chair, and telling a different story.

“We all rallied around what was right and acted as one,” Eastwood said in the Chrysler commercial. “Because that’s what we do.”

On TV, you can create any reality, even if it’s not real.

  • Mike Worcester
  • Jeff

    Politicians distort the economic picture for political gain? The hell you say!

    • Not really the point of the post.

      • Jeff

        So the point is that we’re not so bad off today versus even 1984 where Reagan tried to sell us on how good things were back then?

        I think it’s a very individual experience…I believe Trump is speaking to those people who feel left behind with all these recent changes, the rural individual, the manufacturing worker, the people with no college degree who can’t find a job in their previous industry.

        I’m still waiting for politicians to talk about real solutions to our problems instead of doing more of the same or trying to turn back the clock…those things won’t work, we need to innovate…I thought it was great how Peter Thiel and Trump both advocated for LGBTQ rights in their speeches last night. I suppose that’s a step in the right direction.

        • No, the point is people will believe — unquestionly — whatever they’re told if they like whomever is saying it. And that hope almost always sells, which is probably the one thing that says more about Americans than anything.

        • X.A. Smith

          I think it’s worth noting that Trump advocated to protect LGBTQ rights specifically from Islamic Terrorism and Sharia Law. Meanwhile, his running mate and party platform are quite the opposite of advocating for LGBTQ rights.

    • Khatti

      And people are allowed to gamble in Rick’s Place in Casablanca.

  • Jeff

    The speech reminded me more of another guy…

  • Robert Moffitt

    I remember the ad well. Unlike many people, I never fell under the spell of the commercial or the product. It will be interesting to compare and contrast the mood and message of these two conventions.

  • PaulJ

    Is this why you can’t get a straight answer out of them? I’m sure it’s great when taxes equal expenses for a quarter or preschoolers learn to read but it leaves out the problem that victory in WWII no longer insulates us from the desperation rife in the world.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    The one Clinton ad I’ve seen this week is more like the Daisy than Morning in America. (It’s the one with kids watching TV in darkened rooms while some of Mr. Trump’s “greatest hits” from the primary campaign appear on the screen.)

    I suspect we will get more optimistic advertising during the DNC next week. The question is whether the Trump campaign or the Republican Party or some third party independent expenditure will have strong anti-Clinton advertising during the Democratic Convention coverage.

    • Jeff

      You know what’s odd though, I can’t think of a single major program/project that Hillary is pushing for…at least with Trump we can see he wants to build a wall, add more tariffs and obliterate ISIS…not that I agree with all of those ideas he’s standing for “something”. I’m just not really sure what Hillary stands for, maybe just more of what Obama did but there’s nothing new there…

      I say that as a person who isn’t voting for Trump or Hillary.


        * Noted disclaimer: I don’t vote top of ticket so I’m not in her camp.

        • Jeff

          Well sure, I’m not saying she doesn’t have some ideas or programs…I’m saying I can’t think of any off hand and if I don’t know (since I’m actually paying attention) then the average voter has no clue what she stands for. The only thing I can think of is free community college…which was pushed by Obama and even Bernie forced her hand to agree to at least that much just to gain support from the far left so it’s not really her idea nor is it new. Is there some major program she’s mentioning in debates or in speeches I’m missing? Or is her campaign so based in “not Trump” that she doesn’t really feel the need to campaign FOR something???

          • Jack Ungerleider

            Let’s check in next week after she’s had her chance to deliver an acceptance speech. I think we’ll get some definition. The ideas don’t need to be new, the presentation and the timing have to be right to get the ideas through Congress. I think what Secretary Clinton understands better than most is the dynamic between the Executive and the Legislative branches.

            The question is whether the House GOP (assuming they retain control) will move away from the concept that “Compromise = Capitulation” which seems to have become ingrained more and more each session since the “Gingrich Revolution” of 1994.

          • Jeff

            She’s been campaigning for years now…sort of sad we don’t have anything of substance at this point.

          • In what form? For example, she says she’ll end family detention. That seems like a specific.

            But this is a weird election. Each candidate’s platform is basically “I’m not the other person running.”

          • Jeff

            What’s family detention? Like detaining whole families during immigration or something else? I’m sorry I haven’t heard anything about that policy…maybe Trump has sucked up all the attention but I seriously haven’t heard a word about that and I watched the Democratic debates and I’m following the news. Maybe the rhetoric about “building a wall”, “banning Muslims”, “kicking ISIS’s ass” and “Mexico sending their worst” have simply been far more outrageous so we hear about those things while Hillary’s proposals are simply minor shifts in current policy so the news organizations don’t bother to cover it with the same intensity.

            Well I’m off to Boston tomorrow morning on my way up to Maine…do you have any recommendations where I should stop for lunch in New Hampshire??? Which is the best tax free NH liquor store on the way up?

          • All the tax free liquor stores are state owned. They’re at the border.

            I haven’t been up to NH in a long time. Heck, I haven’t even been to Mass. in a year. Sad, really.

          • Jeff

            Well I’ll have a lobstah for ya, hopefully you get a chance to get back to Boston soon.

      • Khatti

        I will be voting for the lady who, if nothing else, knows how to drive the damn bus. Under the circumstances this has become a Maintenance Election for me. Not very inspiring, but frankly elections usually aren’t.

  • lindblomeagles

    America has its problems, but the problems aren’t really what Trump is concerned about. Public education of and police relations with minority communities, specifically African Americans, is a problem (especially in Minnesota). The economy is creating a lot of jobs (I’ve actually looked for the past 4 months), but the skills employers are looking for are very specific, and a lot of jobs don’t require an advanced degree. That’s a problem. Mental illness, specifically among males, is a huge problem, and I think its the reason why terrorism exists in the world at all. Munich, Nice, Orlando, and Bangladesh terrorist attacks were all committed by lone men from different nationalities (Tunisian, Bangladeshi, Afghanistani, and Iranian) thousands of miles apart, who, were in every case, LEGAL citizens of the countries they carried their attacks in. ISIS is good, but they aren’t that good. Some of this is being caused by depression and mental illness rather than some sophisticated, secretive, Internet based, Islamic teachings. Then, there’s some of us, as US Citizens, who see race as an issue, but can’t bring themselves to acknowledge to themselves they have a problem with race. Case in point, Donald Trump, who says Mexicans love him, but he keeps reminding voters Mexicans pose a security risk to the country. And 14 million Americans agree with him on this point, and cry “political correctness” when you point out the flaw in these two statements.