It took some time but the Republicans were finally able to cash in on Reagan's 1985 vision of American life in the 1994 midterms, overturning the House and splitting the Senate as America saw a profound demographic shift take place. Bill Clinton exacerbated the situation by bringing up dreaded health care reform and a rather modest push for an open policy toward gays in the military. Newt and the GOP seized on these issues in the midterms, putting forward their Contract with America, which was largely based on Reagan's 1985 State of the Union address. Of course, conveniently forgotten was that all that deregulation Reagan championed led to the collapse of the Savings and Loan Associations across America. A lot of persons woke up in a deep funk, having lost their life savings.
No matter, it was a new era of optimism. Even our sense of military prowess was restored when George H.W. Bush successfully led an international mission to restore Kuwait's independence from the evil tyranny of Saddam Hussein, reputed to have the fifth largest military in the world. But, the Persian Gulf War turned into a rout and the media became more interested in the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Of course, this was taken as a second great victory, as American values and democracy had triumphed over communism in an epic Cold War. This seemed to justify America's unprecedented military build-up over the previous 10 years, as the United States became the world's lone super power. Dixiecrats no longer identified the GOP as the Party of Lincoln, but as the Party of Reagan, flocking to the Republican Party in record numbers, which set the stage for the political rout in 1994 that saw Republicans not only retake the House for the first time in 40 years, but capture many traditional Democratic state legislatures and gubernatorial seats, with the Bush brothers winning Texas and Florida.
Yep, it was definitely a new morning that seemed to catch Democrats completely by surprise, and one they weren't able to recover from until 2006 when they retook the House as the "Dubya" Bush administration began to unravel. But, the Republicans dusted off the contract again in 2010, bathed it in the same Reagan glow, and regained the House. As, dear Ronnie would say, "there you go again."
I often think what a different morning we would have had if Carter had been re-elected, but the failed mission to rescue the hostages in Iran pretty much killed any chance he had. His administration was already mired in economic woes and his battles with fellow Democrats split the party in 1980. Granted, Carter wasn't a very effective leader, but as Douglas Brinkley noted in his book, The Unfinished Presidency, Carter had set one of the most ambitious executive agendas since FDR, with his signature legislation being a new energy policy that would have greatly reduced US dependence on foreign oil. He even had solar panels installed on the White House roof to signal this change in environmental awareness. He also had the White House switch to more fuel efficient Chrysler K-cars, after bailing out the auto manufacturer.
Not surprisingly, one of the first executive actions Reagan did was to remove the solar panels and restore the fleet of limousines. Having been part of the gilded era of Hollywood, Reagan knew that appearances count, and he couldn't possibly restore optimism in America, without making the White House look like a Presidential Palace, not an experiment in solar energy.
Obama, who himself offered a bold new energy policy in his 2008 campaign, vowed to restore the solar panels on the White House, but here we are five years later and no solar panels and no energy policy, thanks largely to an obstructionist House which refuses to fund such initiatives. It looks like we woke up from that "Morning in America" with a pretty bad hangover.