Ronald Reagan: Beau Ideal Statesman for Young Americans
American civilization endures because it has been placed on the rock of the Constitution. However, that Constitution, under relentless assault by those who wish to undermine and fundamentally transform it, requires support and aid from those who believe in its principles. June 5th, 2014 marks the 10-year anniversary of the passing of Ronald Reagan, a conservative giant who understood this better than anyone.
Ronald Reagan once famously said in a 1961 speech:
Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.
It should go without saying that Ronald Reagan was the unsurpassed conservative champion of his time. Picking up the reins from Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, Reagan brought his conservative principles and ideas to the White House in 1980. The Reagan Revolution transformed American politics and shaped the world in the decades that followed. It is from Reagan’s life that we may look to for inspiring examples of leadership and unswerving dedication to timeless principles.
Abraham Lincoln once called Henry Clay, the great Kentucky Legislator that dominated Congress in his time, his “beau ideal of a statesman.” Lincoln tried to emulate Clay, and in doing so became far greater than his hero ever was. In the same way, Reagan idolized Franklin Roosevelt as a young man, picking up on FDR’s incredible ability to communicate ideas to the American public. Reagan’s political life was to a certain extent dedicated to undoing many of the policies of his hero, yet his understanding of how to communicate grand ideas with a simple message stuck.
Reagan, like all good leaders, looked beyond his own time and saw the need to perpetuate American ideas past transient election cycles. He wanted to ensure that there would be many more informed patriots in the future who would stand by the principles of the Founding Fathers and the American Revolution.
Reagan specifically addressed young Americans in his 1987 State of the Union Address. He explained how he had educated himself about the ideas of the American Constitution and studied many other constitutions throughout the world. Reagan highlighted why the American Constitution was special in particular:
In our Constitution, we the people tell the Government what it can do, and it can do only those things listed in that document and no others. Virtually every other revolution in history has just exchanged one set of rulers for another set of rulers. Our revolution is the first to say the people are the masters and government is their servant. And you young people out there, don't ever forget that. Someday you could be in this room, but wherever you are, America is depending on you to reach your highest and be your best—because here in America, we the people are in charge.
Reagan was above all a man of ideas, and it is important to highlight the juxtaposition of his views and those of several current and Supreme Court Justices. For instance, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg explained to an Egyptian audience in 2012 that the U.S. Constitution is inferior because it is old. She said, “I would not look to the US constitution, if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012. I might look at the constitution of South Africa.” Recently retired Justice John Paul Stevens also found fault in the Constitution, opining that the individual right to bear arms protected by the Second Amendment should be changed to a collective right that the government can take away through regulation.
There were unmistakable differences between the principles of Reagan and the philosophy of modern progressives and Reagan’s goal was to show the public the clear distinction between them. Ultimately, a man with sound judgment, common sense, and unshakeable convictions has more lasting appeal than politicians that spout focus-group tested platitudes.
Though Reagan was the oldest president to serve in the Oval Office, it was his principles that appealed greatly to young Americans. In 1980 only 20 percent of the youth vote went to the GOP compared to 46 percent who supported the Democrat Party, but the two parties were roughly even by 1988. This was the power of strong leadership, and effective communication of ideas.
Undoubtedly, like Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln, Reagan will continue to influence Americans for generations to come. By perpetuating the Founder’s principles and ideas, and standing on the foundation of the Constitution that those men built, Reagan paved the way for a bold, robust conservative movement to restore the nation.
Reagan challenged Americans in his 1982 State of the Union, saying:
Let it be said of us that we, too, did not fail; that we, too, worked together to bring America through difficult times. Let us so conduct ourselves that two centuries from now, another Congress and another President, meeting in this Chamber as we are meeting, will speak of us with pride, saying that we met the test and preserved for them in their day the sacred flame of liberty—this last, best hope of man on Earth.
A decade after Reagan’s death, American founding principles, though seemingly battered and derided, live on through the vast network of organizations and individuals that take inspiration from Reagan. In Reagan, young Americans have a shining example of a man who effectively communicated powerful ideas about governance and the Constitution in a way that could be easily understood by anyone with common sense. It is for us, the living, to educate ourselves about the ideas of the founding and communicate that message like Reagan did, so that both in our time and in the future, freedom may endure.
The "Great Communicator," as Reagan came to be called, emulated the great men from American history and insisted that our country's greatness stemmed from timeless ideas and its fundamentally good people. It is now our turn to emulate Reagan.