The Right Word
By Kelly Sloan
Ronald Reagan would have celebrated his centennial birthday last Sunday. It may be mere coincidence that the occasion falls on the dawn of a fresh Presidential election cycle, or maybe Providence exercises a sense of adventure; either way, the natural inclination of Republicans to commence their hunt for the “next Reagan” is somewhat amplified this year.
This is understandable (he was undeniably conservatism’s Lord Nelson), and even as the comparisons are rather unfair and unrealistic, they are a mark of the man’s greatness. He was arguably the most effective President of modern time, and considered by many, not exclusively Republicans, to be among the top tier of the Presidential class. And so Ronald Reagan has set the bar by which Presidents, both sitting and potential, will be evaluated for some time to come.
This being so, it is useful to remind ourselves on occasion what it was that made him great. Part of it was his policies and his principled, unwavering championship of conservative philosophy. His embracement of supply side economics, which resulted in the largest period of peacetime economic growth in U.S. history and rescued the nation from the quicksand of stagflation (that economic phenomenon that consisted of an incongruous mix of sluggish economic growth and sky-high inflation, that only liberal-democrat interventionist policies could create), defined his domestic achievements.
His economic program – pro-growth and inflation-hammering monetary policy, loosening the choking grip of regulation, and reducing tax rates on both labor and capital – centered on his belief that freedom, in the hands of the American people, was the antidote to the economic disaster that collectivism and government interference had delivered.
On the international front, Reagan’s ultimate contribution – not only to the United States but to humanity in general – was the dismantlement of what he correctly termed the Evil Empire, Soviet Communism. The defense buildup, SDI, the stationing of Pershing and Cruise missiles in Western Europe, all had the desired cumulative effect on the regime behind the iron curtain. But as important as these concrete policies were, they really served as a backdrop to his more abstract, but vital, moral warfare against the Soviets. Reagan defined and communicated the threat represented by the Soviet Union in clear terms, and re-established the moral superiority of freedom and of the West, and in so doing rejected his predecessors policies of détente and “co-existence” (terms that a generation earlier were called “appeasement “ ). As in economic policy, Reagan’s belief in freedom and the righteousness of America was the core of his foreign policy.
And that, really, is the essence of what made him great. Reagan’s greatest gift to America was his optimism, his faith in this country and her people. Ronald Reagan sold America on herself. He re-taught Americans just what it meant to be American – to have the same faith and trust in themselves as he had in them. He genuinely believed in the goodness of America and the value of freedom, and knew how to communicate it.
In this, Reagan seems to have set the bar unattainably high for some of his successors. Had Reagan occupied the White House during Iran’s recent “Green Revolution”, for instance, there would have been no equivocation or hesitancy – his support would be with the protesters on the streets of Tehran; and the world would know it, in no uncertain terms.
In regards to the current situation in Egypt, he would have communicated no indecisiveness there, either. While neither throwing his lot in with the Mubarak regime, nor risking a fundamentalist takeover by throwing it under the bus, he would recognize that those were not the only two options. Conjecture is always dangerous, but the historical record of Reagan suggests a man who could orchestrate a positive outcome in Egypt simply by doing what came naturally to him – supporting freedom, faithfully offering America’s hand to those who sought it, and being willing to back up his words (ask Colonel Khaddafi’s opinion on that matter.) The Egyptians would have the opportunity to emerge from their troubles with a free and democratic nation, secure in the knowledge that the leader of the free world heard their cries, as faithfully as he heard those of the dissidents locked in Soviet Gulags. They would be equally secure in the knowledge that the establishment of an Iranian style thuggocracy would carry very real risks, knowing that Reagan could be faithful in that too.
That is leadership. That, more than anything is what made Reagan great. And that is why he is so missed.
This column first appeared in the Grand Junction Free Press, Feb. 11, 2010. Reprinted with permission