February 6th, 2011 marks the Centennial of the birth of Ronald Reagan, America’s 40th president (January 20, 1981-January 20 1989).
On July 2, 2009 President Obama signed the act which set up a commission to celebrate the 100th anniversary. In the presence of Nancy Reagan, President Obama stated:
“President Reagan had the ability to communicate directly and movingly to the American people, to understand both the hardships they felt in their lives and the hopes that they had for their country. President Reagan helped as much as any president to restore a sense of optimism in our country, a spirit that transcended politics, that transcended even the most heated arguments of the day.”
And, those “most heated arguments” of those days, very closely resemble the “most heated arguments” of today that have energized and inspired the Tea Party in its challenge to the present state of America.
Ronald Reagan debunked what was then a default assumption that America was in retreat, suffering “malaise”, essentially bigoted and greedy and in need of fundamental reform. He recruited the advice and participation of prominent anti-Communist neoconservatives, former liberals who had been coopted by the radical ideology and “blame America first” of the New Left which minimized the threat of Communism and the Soviet Union.
But, he was a neoconservative long before. He was an anti-Communist union leader in the 1940s; a free market conservative in the 50s; among the harshest critics of Johnson’s “Great Society” socialist programs in the 60s; he was a strong advocate of a bill introduced in Congress in 1947 by Rep. William G. Stratton, a Republican from Illinois, to permit 400,000 displaced refugees of World War II to enter the United States.
There will be a torrent of retrospectives about Ronald Reagan, but now as then his own his own words speak best.
In a speech in 1952, at a commencement address at Williams Woods College he said this about immigration:
“I, in my own mind, have always thought of America as a place in the divine scheme of things that was set aside as a promised land. It was set here and the price of admission was very simple: the means of selection was very simple as to how this land should be populated. Any place in the world and any person from those places; any person with the courage, with the desire to tear up their roots, to strive for freedom, to attempt and dare to live in a strange and foreign place, to travel halfway across the world was welcome here.”
In a speech promoting the candidacy of Barry Goldwater in 1964:
“It’s time we asked ourselves if we still know the freedoms intended for us by the Founding Fathers. James Madison said, “We base all our experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government.”
“This idea that government was beholden to the people, that it had no other source of power is still the newest, most unique idea in all the long history of man’s relation to man. This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.”
The Founding Fathers knew a government can’t control the economy without controlling people. And they knew when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose. So we have come to a time for choosing.
We need true tax reform that will at least make a start toward restoring for our children the American Dream that wealth is denied to no one, that each individual has the right to fly as high as his strength and ability will take him…. But we cannot have such reform while our tax policy is engineered by people who view the tax as a means of achieving changes in our social structure….
You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness. If we fail, at least let our children and our children’s children say of us we justified our brief moment here. We did all that could be done.”
That’s Tea Party talk.
In a monumental speech in 1976 as a challenger to then President Ford named “To Restore America” Ronald Regan wrote:
“Inflation is the cause of recession and unemployment. And we’re not going to have real prosperity or recovery until we stop fighting the symptoms and start fighting the disease. There’s only one cause for inflation— government spending more than government takes in. The cure is a balanced budget. Ah, but they tell us, 80 percent of the budget is uncontrollable. It’s fixed by laws passed by Congress. Well, laws passed by Congress can be repealed by Congress. And, if Congress is unwilling to do this, then isn’t it time we elect a Congress that will?”
“Before leaving this subject of our economic problems, let’s talk about unemployment. Ending inflation is the only long range and lasting answer to the problem of unemployment. The Washington Establishment is not the answer. It’s the problem. Its tax policies, its harassing regulation, its confiscation of investment capital to pay for its deficits keeps business and industry from expanding to meet your needs and to provide the jobs we all need.”
That’s Tea Party talk.
On national security he said this:
“Our nation is in danger, and the danger grows greater with each passing day. Like an echo from the past, the voice of Winston Churchill’s grandson was heard recently in Britain’s House of Commons warning that the spread of totalitarianism threatens the world once again and the democracies are ‘wandering without aim.’
‘Wandering without aim’ describes the United States’ foreign policy. …..Now, we are told Washington is dropping the word “détente,” but keeping the policy. But whatever it’s called, the policy is what’s at fault. What is our policy? Mr. Ford’s new Ambassador to the United Nations attacks our longtime ally, Israel. In Asia, our new relationship with mainland China can have practical benefits for both sides. But that doesn’t mean it should include yielding to demands by them, as the administration has, to reduce our military presence on Taiwan where we have a longtime friend and ally, the Republic of China.”
And on Kissinger and détente and the Soviet Union:
“Now we must ask if someone is giving away our own freedom. Dr. Kissinger is quoted as saying that he thinks of the United States as Athens and the Soviet Union as Sparta. “The day of the U.S. is past and today is the day of the Soviet Union.”
And he added, “. . . My job as Secretary of State is to negotiate the most acceptable second-best position available.” Well, I believe in the peace of which Mr. Ford spoke—as much as any man. But peace does not come from weakness or from retreat. It comes from the restoration of American military superiority.”
As President in his first term he acted upon the foregoing principles.
In August 1981, PATCO, the air traffic controllers’ union declared a strike. At the time, the unemployment rate was up to 7.4%, as the economy was moving into recession. President Reagan reacted by firing most of the striking controllers and hired permanent replacements. “Union busting” was an absolute taboo in American, nonetheless, when he ran for re-election it was never brought up by the Democrats.
It would be unwise to write a hagiography. The Reagan administrations were not without serious flaws.
On October 23, 1983, a day that Ronald Regan subsequently called the saddest day of his life, a five ton truck laden with the equivalent of 12,000 pounds of TNT crashed into the American Marine’s building in Beirut. The devastation, at the time the largest non nuclear explosion since World War II, killed 241 persons, among them 220 Marines. Ronald Reagan who had earlier pledged a firm response to terror conducted an unseemly retreat from Lebanon.
On June 7, 1981, 16 U.S.-made Israeli warplanes bombed and destroyed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear facility near Baghdad, more than 600 miles from Israel’s borders.
Israel was universally condemned. The White House advised Congress that a “substantial” violation of the Arms Export Control Act prohibition against the use of U.S. weapons except in self-defense “may have occurred” in Israel’s bombing of Iraq’s nuclear facility.
Although President Ronald Reagan said: “Israel might have sincerely believed it was a defensive move. It is difficult for me to envision Israel as being a threat to its neighbors.”Nonetheless, the United States joined the “blame Israel first” crowd at the United Nations in a resolution which “strongly condemned” Israel.
His advocacy of “Star Wars” missile defense was ridiculed by many in this country, but it was heard clearly in Russia. While he is widely and credibly given credit for bringing an end to the Cold War, he was dazzled by Gorbachev and in December 1987 signed a treaty with Russia eliminating the entire class of intermediate-range missiles. This led to disillusion and resignation of some top defense officials such as Frank Gaffney and Richard Perle.
These are not minor cavils but rather a reminder that all Presidents, even great ones, stumble. As Ronald Reagan said:
“If you agree with me eighty percent of the time then you are an ally, not a 20 percent traitor.”
However, as we begin to observe the lineup of pretenders to his legacy who will vie to run against President Obama in 2012, we see footprints too large for most of them. Someone will emerge.
Whoever it is should read closing of his majestic 1976 speech: Restore America Ronald Reagan said the following:
“Recently on one of my campaign trips I was doing a question-and-answer session, and suddenly I received a question from a little girl. I’d heard the question before but somehow in her asking it, she threw me a little bit. She said, why do you want to be president? Well, I tried to tell her about giving government back to the people; I tried to tell her about turning authority back to the states and local communities, and so forth; winding down the bureaucracy. [It] might have been an answer for adults, but I knew that it wasn’t what that little girl wanted, and I left very frustrated. It was on the way to the next stop that I turned to Nancy and I said I wish I had it to do over again because I—I’d like to answer her question.
Well, maybe I can answer it now. I would like to go to Washington. I would like to be president, because I would like to see this country become once again a country where a little six-year old girl can grow up knowing the same freedom that I knew when I was six years old, growing up in America. If this is the America you want for yourself and your children; if you want to restore government not only of and for but by the people; to see the American spirit unleashed once again; to make this land a shining, golden hope God intended it to be, I’d like to hear from you. Write, or send a wire. I’d be proud to hear your thoughts and your ideas.”
The Tea Party has heard and answered the call.
God bless the memory of Ronald Reagan – a true American patriot.