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U.S. Politics and the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Author: James M. Goldgeier, Dean, School of International Service, American University
November 9, 2009


The fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago Monday was a triumph for the West and for those suffering under communist rule throughout Eastern Europe who had courageously fought for their freedom. It also appeared to signify a political triumph for the Republican Party.

After all, Ronald Reagan had stood near the Brandenburg Gate in 1987 and told Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall." Two years later, the wall was gone. No one would have imagined it on Nov. 9, 1989, but Republican domination of the presidency went down with it. That's one reason former Vice President Dick Cheney has charged President Barack Obama with being naive about terrorism and with dithering on the war in Afghanistan, but the former vice president's unpopularity limits his effectiveness in attempting to resuscitate the Republican brand.

It's a far cry from the two decades prior to the end of the Cold War, when voters hadn't trusted Democrats to manage foreign policy in the face of the Soviet threat. Nixon-McGovern in 1972, Reagan-Mondale in 1984 and Bush-Dukakis in 1988 were campaigns in which the American public viewed the Democratic candidate as weak on national security.


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