Politics & Policy

Stick to Your Reagan Guns

Reflections on the Gipper's enduring legacy.

In the celebration of Ronald Reagan’s 90th birthday this week, it’s worth noting that his influence is just as strong now as ever. President George W. Bush is essentially governing with Ronald Reagan’s policy agenda. Bush campaigned on lower tax rates, hemispheric free trade, SDI, military readiness, private investment accounts for Social Security, shrinking government as a share of the economy, freeing energy prices, and removing energy production barriers — the very same issues that gave Reagan landslide victories in 1980 and 1984. Reagan’s convservative agenda is alive and well in Washington, 11 years from the time the Gipper left the beltway to retire to California.

Why? Conservative principles are electoral winners.

Unleashing the energies of private citizens, limiting the scope of government, protecting our national security, and promoting religious faith are winning issues and successful governing principles. Reagan’s great genius was recognizing this conservative model of political prowess. Run as a conservative. Be not afraid to communicate clearly to the public. And when the mainstream consensus starts its usual trashing, stick to your conservative guns.

Perhaps Reagan’s greatest insight was that a strong domestic economy was the absolute key to a strong national defense. He was able to blow Gorbachev out of the water precisely because the Soviets knew that the U.S. literally had the goods to make good on its promises of military superiority. And Reagan knew that from a strong economic base, he could communicate American values of freedom, democracy, and prosperity to the rest of the world. He never hesitated to do so. And those values spread to every nook and cranny of the globe.

On his 90th birthday, the Gipper’s influence on America today is greater than it was twenty years ago. And it is certainly a more profound influence than critics on the Left are willing to acknowledge. That Reagan is rising in the opinion of historical polls is also testimony to the enduring strength of his message. I predict that over time, he will move into the ranks of the near-great presidents, and at this point leave open the strong possibility that future historians will judge him as one of the great presidents. Without question, his free-market economic policies of tax cutting, deregulating, and disinflating paved the way for the two-decade-old economic boom. Without question, his policies of military strength and readiness paved the way for world peace and the end of Soviet Communism. Equally as important, his personal characteristics of grace, humor, humility, and the ease with which he was ready to give credit to others, enhance his stature.

Because of the wonderful new book, Reagan, In His Own Hand, the whole world can now learn of his strong intelligence and detailed expertise in all areas of public policy. The Left may never concede this, but there it is, in cold print, speech after speech, radio message after radio message, written in his own hand. How many public figures today actually do their own work? Compile their own notes? Collect their own facts? Very few in my experience. This, too, adds to Reagan’s greatness.

Of course, there is a clear political lesson in all this, not just for George W. Bush, but for Republicans running for office everywhere. Conservative principles succeed at the ballot box. Conservative principles also succeed in the real world when they are put into practice. For every Republican candidate out there, every time he or she reads a negative poll, or fears a tough legislative confrontation, or worries about making the next politically astute move, perhaps they will pause a moment and ponder Reagan’s wisdom. Conservative principles win. Stick to them.

From the book Reagan, In His Own Hand, I came upon one of his favorite quotes, that “America still is the last, best hope of mankind.” Turns out that the Gipper took this from a London Daily Mail column by historian Ferdinand Mount. Reagan used it in a radio broadcast on September 21, 1976 and he credited Mount with the thought. Down through the years, the Gipper used this line again and again. You might say it became his mantra — one that will endure for a long, long time. Just as the Gipper’s legacy will.


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