Posts tagged with: ronald reagan

Over at the Liberty Law Blog, there is an excellent post titled “Ronald Reagan, Whittaker Chambers, and the Dialogue of Liberty” by Alan Snyder. Snyder delves into the influence Chambers had on Reagan and how their worldviews differed as well.

Many conservatives and scholars felt Chambers’ prediction that the West was on the losing side of history in the battle against Marxism collapsed after the fall of the Iron Curtain and the Soviet Union. For many, the ideas of Chambers and his pessimism about the future of freedom seemed dated. Snyder elaborates on the relevance of Chambers and that the testimony of his witness still stands:

One of Chambers’s closest friends, Ralph de Toledano, noted that when the “evil empire” collapsed, people asked him: “Would Whittaker Chambers still believe that he had left the winning side for the losing side?” He replied that Chambers, long before the collapse, had already seen “that the struggle was no longer between Communism and Western civilization, but one in which Western civilization was destroying itself by betraying its heritage.” In essence, “Communism had triumphed, not in its Marxist tenet but in its concept of man—a concept which the West has accepted.” It goes back to Chambers’s insistence that there are two faiths and the West must make a decision: God or man? As he wrote in Witness:

God alone is the inciter and guarantor of freedom. He is the only guarantor. External freedom is only an aspect of interior freedom. Political freedom, as the Western world has known it, is only a political reading of the Bible. Religion and freedom are indivisible. Without freedom the soul dies. Without the soul there is no justification for freedom. …

… There has never been a society or a nation without God. But history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations that became indifferent to God, and died.

For more on Chambers and the impact of his witness, read my review of Richard Richard Reinsch’s Whittaker Chambers: The Spirit of a Counterrevolutionary. This exceptional book is a must read.

Concerning the HHS mandate, somehow getting lost in the shuffle is the primacy of religious liberty. Mollie Hemingway offers a good post at Ricochet on the media blackout.

Certainly, political partisanship and lust for power is clouding the centrality of the First Amendment. I recently heard two women chatting in a public place about this issue. They had convinced themselves that Rick Santorum wanted to snatch their birth control pills away from them. You have an administration ratcheting up the partisanship to mobilize their base for the reelection. Tuning into the 24 hour news cycle, one can watch punditry on the political right make embarrassing statements and then doubling down to defend it. If you jump on social media, so many are engaged in a “he said,” “she said,” but she said it even worse gotcha game about Rush Limbaugh, Sandra Fluke, and a host of partisan commentators.

Some are now or already have dug into the past of a Georgetown Law student to discredit her opinions, however goofy and misinformed they well may be. The fake outrage when somebody is offended is equally disturbing. It’s all for power, votes, and influence mind you. A friend pointed out: Would you really be sent into a tizzy if a stranger was called an inappropriate name, unless it was your daughter, wife, or a close friend? So much of politics is about symbolism and news bites, until the symbol is used up and cast away.

I know it’s all just a reflection of our modern culture and lack of critical thinking as lightning fast statements and words are rushed to the microphone or publication. That the current executive branch is unwilling to accommodate the Catholic Church on religious conscience is truly troubling. More troubling indeed is a real trampling of the “First Freedom,” religious liberty. It’s all largely lost and subservient to contemporary partisanship.

It used to be with some presidents that their word was golden. And I don’t mean to say we’ve never had a dirt bag president and certainly we will have some in the future too. Ronald Reagan and former House Speaker Tip O’Neal cut many deals in the 1980s over the bond of their word. I am currently reading a lot about Calvin Coolidge this year and in almost every election he ran, he refused to mention his opponent by name. After the election, he’d write his opponent a gentlemanly note praising his character, even if his opponent lacked character. Coolidge would then do everything to strengthen their friendship.

Partisanship is good and there are clear moral differences that have to reconciled through governing and the civil authorities. This country faces daunting issues that unfortunately, for the most part, are being sidelined or ignored. The federal debt is over $15 trillion. An alarming number of our problems are really cultural and moral problems and no amount of politcking will solve it. I think David Paul Deavel pointed this out very well in “One Percent or 33: America’s Real Inequality Problem” in Religion & Liberty .

In 2010, Jordan Ballor and I hosted an Acton on Tap on the topic of “Putting Politics in its Place.” The comments we made are worth revisiting. Jordan words are here and you can find my remarks here.

It may not be cool as it once was to like George Washington in this country. But as a leader, he set the benchmark. Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee eulogized our first president stating: “The purity of his private character gave effulgence to his public virtues.” In a remarkable 2006 essay by David Boaz on Washington, he concluded by saying:

The writer Garry Wills called him “a virtuoso of resignations.” He gave up power not once but twice – at the end of the revolutionary war, when he resigned his military commission and returned to Mount Vernon, and again at the end of his second term as president, when he refused entreaties to seek a third term. In doing so, he set a standard for American presidents that lasted until the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose taste for power was stronger than the 150 years of precedent set by Washington.

Give the last word to Washington’s great adversary, King George III. The king asked his American painter, Benjamin West, what Washington would do after winning independence. West replied, “They say he will return to his farm.”

“If he does that,” the incredulous monarch said, “he will be the greatest man in the world.

With media attention focused on the Republican presidential primaries and how the race could change as it moves South, I thought it would be good to add an update to my 2007 post, “The Spirit of 76: Reagan Style.” The Mark Levin Show linked to the piece yesterday, helping to motivate me to add a few additional thoughts and highlight a newer article on that race.

In my original post, I noted the deep influence former North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms had on rescuing Reagan and in turn rescuing conservatism,

Tom Ellis and then Senator Jesse Helms helped resurrect Reagan’s campaign from the dead. By spearheading a grassroots movement and focusing on Reagan’s conservative credentials, it led to a shocking upset in the Tar Heel State. Reagan’s victory meant it was the first time a sitting president had been defeated in a primary of a state where he actively campaigned. Many more primary victories for Reagan would follow.

John Dodd, president of The Jesse Helms Center, elaborated on this in a 2011 piece in the Carolina Journal. Dodd explains,

Ignoring the Washington, D.C., professionals who wanted to feature Reagan’s resume, Helms focused on Reagan’s conservative views and the difference those views would make in the way the United States made decisions on national defense, control of the Panama Canal, and relations with the USSR.

In North Carolina, with the considerable help of his political ally Tom Ellis, Helms proved that voters cared much more about these issues than the Reagan operatives realized. Following Helms’ lead, the Reagan campaign won seven more primaries in May and three in June.

Very few have understood the power of grassroots politics and his electorate more than Jesse Helms. Having the pulse of his own state, he knew it was the power of conservatism and its ideas that could transform a presidential race that already seemed over. In my Spirit of 76 post, I added,

That Republican presidential candidates try to emulate Reagan only adds to his glory, but also creates an unrealistic expectation for themselves. But If conservatism is ever going to be revolutionary, anti-establishment, and popular again, the country and candidates will have to recapture some of the Spirit of 76.

While we have discussed Mitt Romney’s Mormonism extensively on the PowerBlog, it’s quite probable that his association with private equity firms could be a bigger issue in the South, where states like the Carolinas suffer higher unemployment than Iowa or New Hampshire. How he defends his record and articulates a vision for a free-market resurgence will be critical. I suspect statements where Romney has said he understands what it’s like to fear getting a pink slip may not help him in his endeavor. Helms understood that authenticity and conservative ideas were critical to electoral success, not pandering, where suspicion is often magnified in many Southern states.

John J. Miller has an interesting article about Ronald Reagan and his relationship with Eureka College. Those that have studied the 40th president have long known that Eureka, a Disciples of Christ school, has not always embraced its most notable graduate. This from Craig Shirley’s masterpiece Rendezvous with Destiny, a chronicle of Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign:

Even Reagan’s alma mater, Eureka College in downstate Illinois, seemed ambivalent about him. Reagan was clearly Eureka’s most famous alumnus, and if he became president it would rain attention and much-needed endowments onto the sleepy, perpetually cash-strapped school. Still, there were no outward signs of support for Reagan at Eureka. The tiny school did not even bother to display the rare items and documents he had donated over the years. The material instead was stored in the basement of one of the institution’s six red brick buildings.

Reagan, who adored Eureka for his entire life, certainly received considerable spiritual formation there. Eureka, more recently, has embraced the former president, and he is an essential aspect of fundraising at the school. Here is an interesting tidbit from Miller’s piece concerning the spiritual:

Among the displays in Eureka’s Reagan Museum is a copy of the college’s 1932 yearbook, propped open to page 43. Pictures of six students are on the page, including Willie Sue Smith. Reagan’s photo is at the top. There’s a quote beside it: “The time never lies heavily upon him; it is impossible for him to be alone.” When I asked Morris what this meant, he wasn’t sure. A Google search revealed it to be a line from The Spectator, an 18th-century British periodical. The author is Joseph Addison, a prominent moralist, who wrote it in 1711. In the section of the essay that contains this line, Addison urges his readers to develop a habit of prayerfulness because then they’ll always be in the presence of God. His broader theme is time and how to make the most of it.

For the Reagan Centennial, I published “Deeper Truths Magnify Reagan Centennial” and hosted an Acton on Tap on “Faith and Public Life in Reagan’s America.” I will also briefly address Reagan and his relationship with evangelicals and his outreach to Catholics on the upcoming Acton on Tap on “Religion and Presidential Campaigns” on November 10.

Thursday, October 20, former United Kingdom Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher will be honored with the 2011 Faith & Freedom Award in Grand Rapids. The award will be accepted by former Thatcher adviser John O’Sullivan at Acton’s 21st Annual Dinner. O’Sullivan is currently vice president and executive editor Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Still a close friend of Thatcher, O’Sullivan defined the essence of ‘Thatcherism:’

Thatcherism is a combination of economic liberty, traditional conservative and Christian values, British patriotism, and a strong attachment to the United States and other like-minded countries in the English speaking world. In her intellectual life – her occasional lectures, her reading, her participation in seminars – she has been extremely consistent in her attachment to these ideas.

Religion & Liberty interviewed Thatcher in 1992. For a closer look at her special friendship with President Ronald Reagan, take a look at my review of Nicholas Wapshott’s Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher: A Political Marriage published in 2008.

“The Iron Lady” title was bestowed upon her upon by the Soviet Army newspaper Red Star in 1976 because of her piercing denouncement of communism. Thatcher, who of course loved it, allowed the moniker to stick. Below is a superb video of Thatcher sweeping away the socialist state.

I was fortunate to attend some of “Reagan: A Centenary Retrospective” at Hillsdale College from October 2 – 5. I was present for excellent lectures by Craig Shirley and Peter Robinson.

Shirley is the author of Reagan’s Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started It All and Rendezvous with Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign That Changed America, a book I reviewed on the PowerBlog.

Robinson, a former speechwriter in the Reagan White House, authored the famous “Tear Down this Wall” address and the book How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life. I have read all three of the above books and I can say they are easily top tier accounts on Reagan.

While there is so much to share from these two lectures, I’ll offer just a few notes. Shirley is the Reagan author who makes the most mention of Reagan’s admiration for Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The great Russian writer’s belief “that man’s purpose is as a divinely inspired agent to live out creation” had a deep resonance with the former president. At Reagan’s death, Solzhenitsyn eulogized him from Russia in 2004 saying,

In July 1975, I concluded my remarks in the Reception Room of the U.S. Senate with these words: ‘Very soon, all too soon, your government will not just need extraordinary men – but men with greatness. Find them in your souls. Find them in your hearts. Find them within the breadth of and depth of your homeland.’ Five years later, I was overjoyed when just such a man came to the White House. May the soft earth be a cushion in his present rest.

Robinson offered a conservative estimate that Reagan wrote over a half a million words on his own for public consumption. “Politicians have a network but Ronald Reagan had words. But words that convinced people that he was right,” added Robinson. He also noted that very few of the letters Reagan wrote in the White House were to people of prominence, but rather most of the letters he penned were to ordinary Americans. Robinson complimented Reagan by saying his “speechwriters just mimicked and parroted the sound and substance Reagan already created.”

Robinson was asked about the deep respect Ronald Reagan showed for President Calvin Coolidge. Reagan of course was at times mocked by the Washington press corps for hanging a Coolidge portrait in the White House. Robinson declared,

Ronald Reagan could remember Coolidge as a boy or young man. Coolidge loved words and was a beautiful writer and Reagan resonated not just with his ideology but his love for words.

Earlier this year I authored a commentary for the Reagan Centennial titled, “Deeper Truths Magnify Reagan Centennial.”

Richard Reinsch II has an excellent condensed summary of his book Whittaker Chambers: The Spirit of a Counterrevolutionary over at the Heritage Foundation. I really cannot praise Reinsch’s account enough. It is perhaps the best book I read in 2010.

I reviewed the book on the PowerBlog and in Religion & Liberty. We also featured Whittaker Chambers as the “In The Liberal Tradition” figure in the last issue of Religion & Liberty. In the write up, we included the citation to the 1984 Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously awarded to Chambers by President Ronald Reagan. The citation reads:

At a critical moment in our Nation’s history, Whittaker Chambers stood alone against the brooding terrors of our age. Consummate intellectual, writer of moving majestic prose, and witness to the truth, he became the focus of a momentous controversy in American history that symbolized our century’s epic struggle between freedom and totalitarianism, a controversy in which the solitary figure of Whittaker Chambers personified the mystery of human redemption in the face of evil and suffering. As long as humanity speaks of virtue and dreams of freedom, the life and writings of Whittaker Chambers will ennoble and inspire. The words of Arthur Koestler are his epitaph: ‘The witness is gone; the testimony will stand.’

I encourage you to read Reinch’s summary. It is a fitting and informative tribute to one of the great minds of the 20th century.

Writing for the Huffington Post, Shane Claiborne is also asking “What Would Jesus Cut?” I’m still opposed to the whole notion of reducing Christ to budget director, as my earlier post points out. But Jesus as Secretary of Defense of the United States or rather, Jesus as secretary of peace as proposed by Congressman Dennis Kucinich is equally unhelpful. Mark Tooley, president of IRD, has already weighed in on Shane Claiborne’s not so brilliant drafting of Jesus for president.

As a signer of “A Call for Intergenerational Justice,” one should assume Claiborne is serious about deficit reduction. We should take him at his word, but what about defense spending for deficit reduction and the proper role of government? And as John has already pointed out in his post, and what everybody should know, is that defense cuts alone will not balance the budget.

There are responsible conservative lawmakers, like U.S. Congressman Justin Amash from right here in West Michigan, that have rightfully said defense cuts should be on the table as part of plan for fiscal responsibility. In terms of the proper role of government, defense spending is a clear federal mandate for taxing and spending (Article 1, Section 8). The constitution should still be relevant, and one could assume we may not be in the same spending mess we are in right now if it was taken more seriously.

Claiborne says, “Even though the 533 billion dollar military budget is the elephant in the room and the gushing, bleeding wound of America’s deficit … it has been the sacred cow.”

This is what is unhelpful, and Mark Tooley has already pointed this out in his own response to “What Would Jesus Cut?”, that “probably Claiborne doesn’t know that ‘programs of social uplift’ have out expensed defense for 40 years, starting with the Nixon Administration.” Defense spending is 20 percent of the annual budget, while Medicare and Medicaid takes up 23 percent of the budget and social security is 20 percent as well, but tack on another 12 billion in annual dollars. Claiborne says “As Dr. [Martin L.] King said, ‘A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” But this is clearly not the case as Clairborne just pulled out a pithy maxim without ever looking at any real numbers.

Tooley also makes a good point about Claiborne’s Anabaptist tradition as well:

Claiborne, an Anabaptist, is author of Jesus for President, a 2008 book describing government as the biblical Whore of Babylon. Oddly, many neo-Anabaptists ferociously denounce government as demonic, almost sounding Libertarian, while still demanding more and more government for politically correct social programs.

Claiborne believes America is the evil imperialist par excellence. But why is it then okay for God to ordain that same ‘evil’ state to fill the bellies of the masses and provide for their every social need through government fiat?

This brings up a good point about rhetoric versus reality. The nuclear freeze crowd of the 1980s hyperventilated across the United States and Western Europe with help from Moscow because Ronald Reagan was strengthening the NATO alliance by sending nuclear Pershing II missiles into Europe. Reagan’s efforts were disastrous for the Soviet Union, and the peace he achieved dwarfed the objectives of the same old arms agreements advocated by the nuclear freeze movement.

Perhaps, “A Call for Intergenerational Justice” would have been better served without the inclusion of such names as Jim Wallis and Claiborne. Serious matters call for a more serious discussion. I reviewed The Scandal of Evangelical Politics by Ronald Sider, who is also a signer of “A Call for Intergenerational Justice.” Still left of center, Sider praised market forces, saying, “On balance, a market economy respects human freedom better, creates wealth more efficiently, and tends to be better at reducing poverty.”

Claiborne can make no such statement. He seems to view the free-market as a construct of an evil imperialistic American empire. Markets seem only useful to him in the context of underpaid enlisted military men and women selling cookies to buy their uniforms. Claiborne may have something worthwhile to say every once in a while, his bio is interesting to say the least, but on budget matters and defense spending he’s clearly babbling.

Jim Wallis and a number of other Christians involved in politics are trying to gain attention for the question, “What would Jesus cut?” The answer to this question is supposed to be as obvious as it is in other moral contexts. For example, would Jesus lie about the useful life of a refrigerator he was selling for Best Buy? No way. Would he bully a kid into giving away his lunch money? Not a chance. Would you find him taking in the show at a strip club on interstate 40 in Arkansas? Unlikely to the extreme.

Would he agree to a 2% cut in the marginal tax rate for income made above $250,000? Would he EVER accept a cut in welfare spending? Those take a little more thought. Jim Wallis and others think it’s a no-brainer. Let us reason together.

As I look over what Wallis wrote, I see several things worth noting. For example, he complains that some Republicans want to cut domestic spending and international aid, while they support an increase in military spending. The implication is that this is obviously a sub-Christian position. But is it? Probably the most essential purpose of government is to protect the life and freedom of citizens. The government achieves this goal through military means. Unless one takes the position that Christianity implies corporate pacificism, then it is unclear the Republicans have blundered according to Christian ethics. Now, match the question of military spending versus international aid and/or domestic spending. Are the latter obviously superior to the former? No. It depends on not only what the stated objective is for the different types of spending, but whether they actually achieve their purposes. To simply state that the Republicans want to bolster military spending while cutting international aid and domestic spending is to achieve nothing at all by way of an indictment.

Here’s another example. Wallis complains bitterly that tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans add billions to the deficit. He is referring to the extension of George W. Bush’s cuts in the marginal tax rates that existed under Bill Clinton. The first question I have is how does Jim Wallis know that the level of taxation was just to begin with? And why take Bill Clinton’s tax levels as the Platonic form of taxation? Maybe they were too high or too low. The highest marginal tax rates have fluctuated drastically in the United States during the last century. John F. Kennedy made a big cut, with impressive economic effects, as did Ronald Reagan. Is Wallis sure that by cutting taxes those men robbed the poor and gave to the rich? Maybe a lot of poor people got jobs because of them. And we aren’t even getting into the question of whether rich people actually have an enhanced duty to pay taxes. If there is a community need, is it righteous to grab a rich person and employ the power of legal coercion to extract the needed funds?

Still another problem with this redistributionist attitude about taxes and spending is that it assumes a zero sum state of affairs. For example, one could assume that the most people would be better off under a system like the old Soviet Union that spread resources out to citizens in a way that prized equality of rations. The United States system didn’t do that nearly as much, not nearly at all. But which of the two systems provided a better life for people? The answer is easy. The United States and its emphasis on liberty did. Why? A more free economic system produces far more wealth than an unfree one. If your equality system produces a little, bitty pie, it may give you a lot of philosophical satisfaction, but it doesn’t do as much actual good for people as the system that prizes free productivity and success over equality.

What Jim Wallis is saying comes from a good heart. He is worried about things like fairness and, of course, about helping people. But the reasoning he employs in doing so assumes that federal programs actually achieve what they set out to do, which is far from obvious, and that they don’t create incentives for behavior that results in greater problems, which often happens. He also assumes a zero sum society. It is entirely possible that economic thinking that concerns itself more with productivity than with equality will actually leave the great majority of people better off.

Blog author: rnothstine
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
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Reagan at Danilov Monastery

I point you to Paul Kengor’s insightful 2008 piece on Ronald Reagan’s 1988 summit to Moscow in Christianity Today because it is directly related to this Thursday’s Acton on Tap. I will spend some time discussing the Moscow Summit and Reagan’s revolutionary comments at Spaso House, Danilov Monastery, and Moscow State University. Kengor notes:

Ronald Reagan clearly had a personal religious motivation at the summit, which he pursued on his own volition, certainly not at the urging of advisers.

For Thursday, I also plan to focus heavily on Reagan’s lifelong battle against communism and the 1981 assassination attempt on the president and how they shaped his faith life. Other topics that will be addressed is Reagan’s 1994 letter to the American people announcing his Alzheimer’s affliction and a brief discussion of President Barack Obama and all the news reports comparing him to Reagan.

Most of all, we want to hear your voice. If you are in the Grand Rapids area please make plans to join us and participate. Find the Facebook page here.

Then come back March 2 for another Acton on Tap hosted by Dr. Carl Trueman.