Anyone loosely conversant in American politics will recall Reagan’s “Morning in America” 1984 re-election ad. Almost as famous as the “Daisy” ad, and justly so, it, almost alone, is responsible for the modern-day rhetorical equation between the name “Reagan” and the mood “optimism.” The ad’s message is simple, as simple as it needed to be: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Of course, query whether the picture Reagan paints is accurate, but when times are good, for the incumbent, a positive tone substitutes for any substantive discourse. The candidate can plausibly promise more of the same, more of what people want.
Now, pick up the nearest flashlight. Place your hand between the flashlight and the wall, and turn the light on. When you look at the resulting shadow, you’re looking at a darker, infinitely more shallow representation of your hand, something with actual depth, and actual substance. This is essentially what the modern Republican party, through Newsmax, has done with “Mourning in America,” a nearly shot-by-shot remake of Reagan’s ad, warning of the veritable downfall of American civilization. We have a shadow remake of the original, deprived of any power but fear, and bereft of any actual utility as a message.
Set aside the complicated questions of causation that make the ad’s attribution of blame somewhat questionable. “Morning in America” was a promise. It told voters what they’d get. “Mourning in America” contains no such pledge and offers no clue as to the opposition’s policy. And by abandoning hope and positive thought, it’s an utter derogation of everything Reagan’s legacy, as represented to us by conservative America, stands for. Negative campaigning, in optics and effects, is profoundly different from positive campaigning. Its modern heirs have fallen from whatever majesty the conservative movement, or Reaganism, once possessed. One can only hope that the electorate will hold them responsible for ads like this one.