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Four years later, his party, now confirmed in its conservatism, turned to him like a heliotrope. He was lucky to run against (Eastern, brittle) George Bush for the nomination; he was lucky to be beaten early in Iowa, before the so-called momentum against him was real; he was lucky to have Jimmy Carter as his opponent. On the night of Nov. 4, 1980, just 16 years after he had spoken his mind in behalf of a man too far right to be elected President, the amateur politician who will become 70 in February watched state after state turn in his direction.
For that, in part, Reagan is TIME'S Man of the Year—for having risen so smoothly and gracefully to the most powerful and visible position in the world. He is also the idea of the year, his triumph being philosophical as well as personal. He has revived the Republican Party, and has garnered high initial hopes, even from many who opposed him, both because of his personal style and because the U.S. is famished for cheer. On Jan. 20 Reagan and the idea he embodies will both emerge from their respective seclusions with a real opportunity to change the direction and tone of the nation.
Reagan is also TIME'S Man of the Year because he stands at the end of 1980 looking ahead, while the year behind him smolders in pyres. The events of any isolated year can be made to seem exceptionally grim, but one has to peer hard to find elevating moments in 1980. Only Lech Walesa's stark heroism in Poland sent anything resembling a thrill into the world. The national strike he led showed up Communism as a failure—a thing not done in the Warsaw Pact countries. Leonid Brezhnev, a different sort of strongman, had to send troops to Poland's borders, in case that country, like Czechoslovakia and Hungary before it, should prove in need of "liberation."
Otherwise, the year was consumed with the old war-and-death business. Afghanistan enters the year as a prisoner of its "liberating" neighbor; Iran and Iraq close the year at each other's throats. In between, Cambodians are starved out of existence; terrorists go about murdering 80 or more in Bologna, and a mere four outside a Paris synagogue. In Turkey, political violence kills 2,000; in El Salvador, more than 9,000 die in that country's torment. All this on top of natural disasters: Mount St. Helens erupts in Washington State; one earthquake in Algeria kills 3,000; another in Italy takes the same toll. Human enterprise is tested, and responds with black market coffins.
In February Americans flinch at an inflation rate of 18% that drops to a hardly bearable 12.7% as the year ends. February is also the month when the U.S. hockey team's victory over the Soviets ignites national pride. But in April the U.S. boycotts the Summer Olympic Games to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In May Cuban refugees flee Castro, and the U.S. greets them at first with an "open arms" policy, then a state of emergency in Florida, then a closing of the open arms—the entire pilgrimage eventually capped off with riots at Eglin Air Force