It may have been the most effective political ad in history. President Reagan‘s 1984 “Prepared for Peace” ad was a 30-second spot featuring a bear. It put the essential question to the American voters and let them decide who was right. They decided that Reagan was right: It was best to be as strong as the bear, if there is a bear. President Reagan carried forty-nine states that year.
It’s helpful to remember what was happening in the world at that time. Just the previous September, the USSR had shot down a civilian jetliner, KAL 007. The jet was brought down over Kamchatka, a peninsula in Soviet East Asia.
Initially, the Soviets tried to deny killing the 269 helpless passengers, including a U.S. Congressman. Soon, the truth came out. They knew the airliner was unarmed. The Soviet pilots could see the faces of the people they were about to murder in cold blood.
President Reagan reacted strongly, but he did not overreact. He closed down a number of Soviet consulates in the U.S. that were little more than home bases for the Soviets’ KGB spy activities. He tightened export licenses on strategic materials to the USSR. But he let the world see the Soviet bear’s fangs and claws. Those who had denounced Reagan for warning of “an evil empire” had to do some explaining to the American people and to the citizens of Western European democracies.
In that same election cycle of 1984, a young John Kerry was running for the U.S. Senate. Although Ronald Reagan carried Massachusetts (the last Republican to do so), Kerry sledded into the Senate on the issue of the Nuclear Freeze.
Kerry thought that the correct response to Soviet placement of Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles in Eastern Europe was for the United States to reject the pleas of our NATO allies for Pershing missiles to be placed in Western Europe. Instead, Kerry wanted us to freeze. As in, we should freeze in terror.
We now know that the Nuclear Freeze Movement, which brought out millions of leftist protesters here and in Western Europe, was stoked by the KGB. Young Vladimir Putin was then training for bigger things in the KGB.
All of those Western liberals who advocated the freeze were dupes of the Kremlin. None of them has ever had to account for his colossal misreading of the USSR and its aggressive intentions.
Young Barack Obama was a student at Columbia University then. He may have been among the millions who came out to Central Park to cry out for the Nuclear Freeze, but that part of his record has been discreetly airbrushed. He is rumored to have written his senior thesis for Columbia about the Nuclear Freeze, but if so, that revealing bit of background has also been swept from public view. No reporter has ever asked him to confirm or deny these points. We know this much: There was not a leftwing cause that Barack Obama did not embrace then or now. Ditto John Kerry.