Studying and writing about Ronald Reagan is it is like unwrapping a new package each day. He may have been the most prolific writer and lecturer and commentator ever to serve in the Oval Office and he remains one of the most interesting and fascinating men to have ever served in public life.
Today may be Reagan’s birthday, but his role in history and the legacy he left is a gift to all in this country and around the world. The intellectualization of Reagan is not complete but the misinformation about his supposed lack of acumen and intelligence have largely been banished.
The reporters who covered him over the years often complained that he wasn’t saying anything new and in a simplistic regard, they were right. Since the dawn of man when Cain first slew Abel, men have debated power and where it resides. Does one person have the right to determine the fate of another?
Cain’s surly and rhetorical question to God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” had been a question for all time, for all people. From the time of the New Deal forward, both parties embraced the notion that government was our keeper.
Until men like Bill Buckley and Ronald Reagan came along.
Thank God for people like Marty and Anillese Anderson and Kiron Skinner and Paul Kengor and Stephen Hayward and Jeff Lord and others who have collected and put to paper the writings and thoughts and musings of one of America’s four greatest presidents, as measured by several liberal historians.
And of course, Lou Cannon, who must be regarded as first among equals when it comes to Reagan historians.
One of the best quotes I’ve recently come across is President Reagan in 1984, saying as the head of state, “In the political world, the cult of the state is dying; so, too, the romance of the intellectual with state power is over. Indeed, the excitement and energy in the intellectual world is focused these days on the concerns of human freedom, on the importance of transcendent and enduring values.”
Reagan was speaking at the time about the Contras fighting for freedom in Nicaragua (Reagan compared them to our Founding Fathers) and the Velvet Revolution in then Czechoslovakia and the Solidarity Movement in Poland. But the sentiment is certainly applicable to today’s American Tea Party Movement, which is also motivated by the intellectual thoughts of Natural Law, Natural Rights and populism, that man’s destiny is freedom.
But Reagan was also arguing for the redistribution of centralized power in Washington back to the American citizenry.
Once he became president, few in his party dared challenge him openly about the cause of freedom and individual self-determination.
Since, however, with the carnage of Bushism, Romneyism and a consulting class leaving the GOP badly divided and broken, there are new voices calling for the Republicans to reject Reaganism and embrace an even newer form of redistribution of power from the populace to the elites. In essence, the permanent creation of a second big government party in America.
A couple of former Bush aides recently wrote that what was needed was “a guide to appropriate governmental action—Needed when local and private institutions are enervated or insufficient in scale to achieve the public good.” One hears the faint echo of “From each, according to his ability, to each, according to his need” in their monograph. One also bizarrely (and wrongly) said the Tea Party “undermines conservatism.”
Indeed, it is the Tea Party movement which argues for the redistribution of power and thus, the redistribution of wealth.
Reagan helped reignite the old but important debates over government and man which had been missing in this country since the founding and the Framers.
He knew though that American conservatism was–and is–unique and unlike European conservatism.
There, institutions and royalty rule. Here, the people rule. Power does–and should—reside with the many and not the few.
It is reckless to say what Reagan would say or do today about the plight of the modern GOP but as he made a career fighting the Republican establishment and articulating his belief in individual freedom in thousands of letters and speeches and commentaries there is little for the Big Government Republicans to draw solace.
They are on the wrong side of history and they are on the wrong side of Reaganism and American conservatism.
Yet for those who believe that America’s destiny is “maximum freedom consistent with law and order” as he said in 1964, there is much to draw comfort.
This is Reagan’s gift to America.
Craig Shirley is the president of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs and is the bestselling author of several books about Ronald Reagan.