On this, Ronald Reagan’s 99th birthday let us all give thought and thanks to a man who helped this great nation in ways that are still being recognized to this day. Reagan didn’t govern by the polls; he didn’t succumb to political pressure, instead preferring to do what was the right thing, even when it wasn’t the easy thing.
All my loyal and regular readers here at Present Discontent know that I am a HUGE Reagan fan. I recently posted an article entitled, “The Prescience of Reagan” over at Conservative Hideout 2.0, in which a stump speech he gave in 1988 articulated and described so very accurately then candidate for Senate, Harry Reid. It seems that Ronald Reagan’s penchant for pinpointing and highlighting issues in a way that resonated with the public are still working long after his death. President Reagan had a talent that not even he was aware of; he seemed to be able to read the future. Now maybe he could or maybe the face of liberalism never really changes. Either way, his words from decades ago lend themselves to the problems we face in America today. Problems like combating liberalism and deciding the fate of the GOP.
I submit for you portions of his speech to what was then the 2nd annual CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) Convention in March of 1975.
“Since our last meeting we have been through a disastrous election. It is easy for us to be discouraged, as pundits hail that election as a repudiation of our philosophy and even as a mandate of some kind or other. But the significance of the election was not registered by those who voted, but by those who stayed home. If there was anything like a mandate it will be found among almost two-thirds of the citizens who refused to participate.
Bitter as it is to accept the results of the November election, we should have reason for some optimism. For many years now we have preached “the gospel,” in opposition to the philosophy of so-called liberalism which was, in truth, a call to collectivism.”
“Make no mistake, the leadership of the Democratic party is still out of step with the majority of Americans.
Speaker Carl Albert recently was quoted as saying that our problem is “60 percent recession, 30 percent inflation and 10 percent energy.” That makes as much sense as saying two and two make 22.
Without inflation there would be no recession. And unless we curb inflation we can see the end of our society and economic system. The painful fact is we can only halt inflation by undergoing a period of economic dislocation — a recession, if you will.
We can take steps to ease the suffering of some who will be hurt more than others, but if we turn from fighting inflation and adopt a program only to fight recession we are on the road to disaster.”
“Inflation has one cause and one cause only: government spending more than government takes in. And the cure to inflation is a balanced budget. We know, of course, that after 40 years of social tinkering and Keynesian experimentation that we can’t do this all at once, but it can be achieved. Balancing the budget is like protecting your virtue: you have to learn to say “no.” This is no time to repeat the shopworn panaceas of the New Deal, the Fair Deal and the Great Society.”
Reagan touched on many issues in this speech. Isn’t it amazing how his words ring true today? Time after time when he would speak, he connected with the American public. Even those who were his political rivals admired and respected him, with nary a negative word being spoken about him. Reagan is being touted as the spiritual leader of the Tea Party Movement and even though I know his values and those of the Tea Partiers are in harmony, Reagan would warn us of a third party and the damage that it could do to the conservative cause.
In 1977, at the 4th annual CPAC Convention, Reagan addressed this issue:
“You know, as I do, that most commentators make a distinction between [what] they call “social” conservatism and “economic” conservatism. The so-called social issues — law and order, abortion, busing, quota systems — are usually associated with blue-collar, ethnic and religious groups themselves traditionally associated with the Democratic Party. The economic issues — inflation, deficit spending and big government — are usually associated with Republican Party members and independents who concentrate their attention on economic matters.
Now I am willing to accept this view of two major kinds of conservatism — or, better still, two different conservative constituencies. But at the same time let me say that the old lines that once clearly divided these two kinds of conservatism are disappearing.
In fact, the time has come to see if it is possible to present a program of action based on political principle that can attract those interested in the so-called “social” issues and those interested in “economic” issues. In short, isn’t it possible to combine the two major segments of contemporary American conservatism into one politically effective whole?”
What Reagan is saying here is that united we stand, divided we fall. Today, the phrase “Big Tent” is thrown around quite a bit, but Reagan was espousing just that philosophy over three decades ago. Easier said than done, but it was achieved, for if it had not been achieved then Reagan would never have been elected to the Oval Office. But how do we do this? How do we reconcile the different branches of conservatism? Let us once again turn to Reagan:
“Let me say again what I said to our conservative friends from the academic world: What I envision is not simply a melding together of the two branches of American conservatism into a temporary uneasy alliance, but the creation of a new, lasting majority.
This will mean compromise, but not a compromise of basic principle. What will emerge will be something new: something open and vital and dynamic, something the great conservative majority will recognize as its own, because at the heart of this undertaking is principled politics.”
Reagan then went on to explain what he saw as conservative answers to the issues of the day:
“When a conservative states that the free market is the best mechanism ever devised by the mind of man to meet material needs, he is merely stating what a careful examination of the real world has told him is the truth.
When a conservative says that totalitarian Communism is an absolute enemy of human freedom he is not theorizing — he is reporting the ugly reality captured so unforgettably in the writings of Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
When a conservative says it is bad for the government to spend more than it takes in, he is simply showing the same common sense that tells him to come in out of the rain.
When a conservative quotes Jefferson that government that is closest to the people is best, it is because he knows that Jefferson risked his life, his fortune and his sacred honor to make certain that what he and his fellow patriots learned from experience was not crushed by an ideology of empire.”
Lastly, Reagan made certain that he believed in keeping the integrity of the two party system against populist ideals that would only serve to fracture the process and ensure Democratic majorities.
“Our first job is to get this message across to those who share most of our principles. If we allow ourselves to be portrayed as ideological shock troops without correcting this error we are doing ourselves and our cause a disservice. Wherever and whenever we can, we should gently but firmly correct our political and media friends who have been perpetuating the myth of conservatism as a narrow ideology. Whatever the word may have meant in the past, today conservatism means principles evolving from experience and a belief in change when necessary, but not just for the sake of change.
Once we have established this, the next question is: What will be the political vehicle by which the majority can assert its rights?
I respect that view and I know that those who have reached it have done so after long hours of study. But I believe that political success of the principles we believe in can best be achieved in the Republican Party. I believe the Republican Party can hold and should provide the political mechanism through which the goals of the majority of Americans can be achieved. For one thing, the biggest single grouping of conservatives is to be found in that party. It makes more sense to build on that grouping than to break it up and start over. Rather than a third party, we can have a new first party made up of people who share our principles. I have said before that if a formal change in name proves desirable, then so be it. But tonight, for purpose of discussion, I’m going to refer to it simply as the New Republican Party.
The New Republican Party I envision is one that will energetically seek out the best candidates for every elective office, candidates who not only agree with, but understand, and are willing to fight for a sound, honest economy, for the interests of American families and neighborhoods and communities and a strong national defense. And these candidates must be able to communicate those principles to the American people in language they understand. Inflation isn’t a textbook problem. Unemployment isn’t a textbook problem. They should be discussed in human terms.”
Again, President Reagan’s words could be used today. So let us draw power and knowledge from them and put forth a strong Conservative movement that holds the GOP accountable to the people, for Government that governs least, governs best.