Posts tagged with: ronald reagan

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Acton adjunct scholar and sometime PowerBlog contributor Eric Schansberg links to a bit of background to Ronald Reagan’s remarks at the Brandenburg Gate provided by Anthony Dolan, Reagan’s head speechwriter, in today’s WSJ.

Ronald Reagan at the Brandenburg GatePeter Robinson is credited with the famous utterance, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” In his remarks at this year’s Acton Institute Annual Dinner, Rev. Robert A. Sirico recalled that President Reagan’s challenge was derided by the world’s media at the time. As Dolan writes, in this speech it was thought that Reagan “would embarrass himself and the country by asking Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, which was going to be there for decades.” It wasn’t until the Wall fell a mere two years later that the prescience of Reagan’s challenge was validated.

For more on presidential speechwriters, check out the Podium Pundits blog, which “brings together former presidential speechwriters, from both Democratic and Republican administrations, to analyze and comment on major speeches, messaging strategy, and the business of communications.” Also be sure to check out Ray Nothstine’s reflections on this same anniversary from two years ago, in which he relates the views of another Acton Annual Dinner speaker, former Estonian prime minister Mart Laar.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
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A great deal has been made in recent weeks about Ronald Reagan‘s critique of nationalized or socialized health care from 1961:


We can go back a bit further, though, and take a look at an intriguing piece from 1848, a dialogue on socialism and the French Revolution and the relationship of socialism to democracy, which includes Alexis de Tocqueville‘s critique of socialism in general.

One interesting note is that Tocqueville identifies one of the traits common to all forms of socialism as “an incessant, vigorous and extreme appeal to the material passions of man,” including the exhortation, “Let us rehabilitate the body.” Reagan’s point of departure in his broadcast is the observation that “one of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine. It’s very easy to disguise a medical program as a humanitarian project.”

And here’s Tocqueville on socialism in America:

America today is the one country in the world where democracy is totally sovereign. It is, besides, a country where socialist ideas, which you presume to be in accord with democracy, have held least sway, the country where those who support the socialist cause are certainly in the worst position to advance them[.] I personally would not find it inconvenient if they were to go there and propagate their philosophy, but in their own interests, I would advise them not to.

It may well be that ideologically democracy (as Tocqueville conceived it) and socialism are opposed, as Tocqueville claims. But historically they may well be linked. Lord Acton connected “absolute democracy” (something like majoritarian rule) to socialism: “Liberty has not only enemies which it conquers, but perfidious friends, who rob the fruits of its victories: Absolute democracy, socialism.” And once the majority discovers that it can use the power of the State to plunder the wealth of a minority, the road is well-paved toward socialism.

rebellion In the new book The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan, James Mann wants you to meet Reagan as the rebel who parted ways from cold war hawks in his own administration and foreign policy “realists” who were loyal to containment. It could be argued that Reagan was the atypical conservative dove in Mann’s view.The author does provide a relatively fresh thesis on Reagan’s role in ending the Cold War, which reinforces his rejection of what he calls “both left wing and right wing extremes.” Mann believes conservatives who champion Reagan as the president who had a well formulated economic and military plan to execute the end of the Soviet Union, and left wing critics who saw Reagan as lucky, overly simplistic and vapid, were both wrong.

When it comes to Soviet diplomacy, Mann’s account is highly praiseworthy of Reagan and his Secretary of State George Schultz. He sees the end of the Cold War as a result of both of men’s instincts and creativity in dealing with Mikhail Gorbachev, rather than the heavy arms build up, resistance to détente, and “saber-rattling” of Reagan’s first term. Critics of Reagan from the right, “failed to see the dynamics that were propelling change [in the Soviet Union]. Reagan would come to grasp the situation better and more quickly than they did,” says Mann. (more…)

panamaWhen I was in college, a popular refrain from many academics was to explain the rise of the “Right” or conservatism in the American South as a dynamic brought about because of race. Books like Dan T. Carter’s The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of the New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics attempted to link the politics of George Wallace to Ronald Reagan’s brand of conservatism. And if you are suspicious of that theory because Wallace was a New Dealer there is even an explanation for this lofty leap in a book by Joseph Lowndes titled From the New Deal to the New Right: Race and the Southern Origins of Modern Conservatism.

Books like these dismiss the more obvious causes like migration from the Frost Belt to the Sun Belt, the rise of the “New Left,” and a surge of evangelicals participating in the political process. The reason I mention these works is because they share a striking similarity to Adam Clymer’s new book Drawing the Line at the Big Ditch: The Panama Canal Treaties and the Rise of the Right. Clymer has his own explanation for the rise of conservatism on a national scale, the Panama Canal Treaties. It is true that the Panama Canal issue was a pivotal issue that helped to rescue the insurgent Reagan primary campaign against Gerald Ford, but Clymer supposes if Reagan had lost in North Carolina in 76, where his back was up against the wall, he would have never ran for president again or won in 1980.

Odd statements like “His [Reagan] five-minute daily commentaries had a good number broadcast outlets, and an audience estimated at 20 million listeners a week, but they never stirred national notice” reinforce Clymer’s misunderstanding of Reagan. Reagan’s appeal was both national and popular, and Reagan was already deeply entrenched in the conservative grassroots movement. His radio addresses were highly effective in selling conservatism to mainstream audiences. Those that listened to him knew he of course wasn’t a single issue minded leader and his career wouldn’t end or be extended with the Panama Canal Treaties.

The Panama Canal fiasco however was a powerful and visible symbol for the decline of American might and influence around the globe after retreat from Vietnam. Reagan and other conservative politicians capitalized on the unpopularity of giving it away while the Soviets were flexing their might across the world. But in its symbolism attacking the canal giveaway represents, especially in regards to Reagan, Cold Warriors frustrated with the overall policy of American retreat and détente, which was magnified all the more under Jimmy Carter’s watch.

Clymer does cite some credible evidence that the canal issue brought grassroots conservative organizations together to raise money, but that was for a short time and other issues like the Equal Rights Amendment surely did the same. Clymer notes:

David Keene, then an ACU board member and subsequently its long-term chairman, observed in 2007 that the Canal issue was a double edged sword. He explained, ‘The canal issue was a great boon for us. It raised a lot of money. Afterwards, there was a letdown and it almost destroyed us.’

Clymer’s overarching point is that the Panama Canal issue transformed the Republican Party into a more conservative party. He also claims that Democrats become more conservative nationally because of the canal issue, a statement many may like to challenge.

Clymer also identifies five conservative Republican Senators who won their seats in 1980 campaigning against the Canal Treaty. But he even undercuts his own premise by noting the Democrat incumbents who lost their Senate seats were probably too liberal for the districts they represent and other issues in those campaigns were often just as formative, if not more so, like high unemployment and inflation to name a few. Ultimately Clymer laments the Panama Canal as a divisive issue because he sees it as a major downfall in the politics of consensus building and the rise of hot button issues like abortion, gun control, and same-sex marriage. Clymer bemoans with his own example:

It is not a long conceptual leap from suggesting that a McIntyre or Church [Democrat Senators defeated in 80] is a dupe of the Soviets designs on the Canal to Saxby Chambliss’s 2002 ads suggesting that Senator Max Cleland, a triple amputee from Vietnam was soft on terrorists, Saddam Hussein, and Osama bin Laden because he voted against the Bush administration on some elements of the bill creating the Department of Homeland Security.

While his book does a respectable job in tracing the canal issue through several presidential administrations and the debate in Congress, Clymer’s conclusions about the canal in relation to the ascendancy of conservatism is over – reaching and incoherent. Much of his evidence seems to contradict his own premises. One is forced to wonder if Clymer came up with the thesis and title before he started the actual research. Those interested in the rise of conservatism would be much better served reading Alfred S. Regnery’s recent book Upstream: The Ascendance of American Conservatism.

Blog author: rnothstine
Friday, February 29, 2008
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Nicholas Wapshott’s new book Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher: A Political Marriage offers a fresh look at the political relationship and friendship of two profound leaders in the late 20th Century. While the biographical information is not new for those who have read extensive biographies of Reagan and Thatcher, the author examines some of the deep disagreements the two leaders had in foreign policy. While there were arguments between the two over the Falklands War, Grenada, sanctions, and nuclear disarmament, and were often heated, the rifts healed quickly.

Wapshott initially traces the roots of their family life which helped foster an embracing of fiscal conservatism. While Reagan’s father was a New Dealer and an admirer of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, he also instilled a sense of optimism in Reagan about the ability to succeed in America through hard work. Both of their fathers were involved in business, and of modest means, especially Reagan’s alcoholic father. Thatcher’s father owned a grocery store, which was still much more modest than many of the backgrounds of conservative party leaders in Great Britain. “Neither Reagan nor Thatcher thought for a moment that to be involved in trade was any less admirable than to be involved in the professions. It provided both of them with a matter of fact approach to life and marked absence of social snobbery,” Wapshott says. Reagan and Thatcher also grew up in homes where the Christian faith was taught, and both shared a devotion to the Protestant work ethic.

In their rise to power Wapshott also declares, “Both were painted by opponents – not least in their own parties – as unrealistic extremists with strange, unworkable ideas.” When Reagan addressed both Houses of Parliament in 1982 with his now famed Westminster Speech, he was considered a divisive figure by many in Britain. 195 of the 225 Labour MP’s boycotted his address, which has been considered one of his finest assaults on the Soviet Union. Thatcher toasted Reagan after the speech declaring, “We are so grateful to you for putting freedom on the offensive.” Because of Reagan’s optimism and his faith in developing a missile defense shield, or the Strategic Defense Initiative, he also wanted to rid the world of nuclear weapons later in his presidency, while Thatcher who was less optimistic and more of a realist, ascribed to mutual assured destruction (MAD), arguing that a nuclear stalemate prevented conventional war with the Soviets. In the end, the Soviet obsession with SDI, and Reagan’s refusal to abandon the research, did help accelerate the Soviet demise.

Wapshott’s publication shows strength in printing more of the personal correspondence between Reagan and Thatcher. The reader clearly sees there is a level of affection and admiration that transcends just a shared political ideology, national interests, and the occasional sharp disagreements. In public the two always lavishly praised one another and their respected nations, both leaders who were united in conservative principles and committed to expanding freedom at home and abroad.

Reagan wrote Thatcher who attended his 83rd Birthday Party in 1994, and just months before his letter to the American people telling them of his Alzheimer’s diagnosis saying:

Throughout my life, I’ve always believed that life’s path is determined by by a Force more powerful than fate. I feel that the Lord brought us together for a profound purpose, and that I have been richly blessed for having known you. I am proud to call you one of my dearest friends, Margaret; proud to have shared many of life’s dearest moments with you; and thankful that God brought you into my life.

In frail condition from multiple strokes, Thatcher defied medical orders not to travel and attended Reagan’s funeral service in Washington and California. She called Reagan “The Great Liberator” and said in her recorded eulogy:

We have lost a great president, a great American, and a great man. And I have lost a dear friend. In his lifetime Ronald Reagan was such a cheerful and invigorating presence that it was easy to forget what daunting historic tasks he set himself. He sought to mend America’s wounded spirit, to restore the strength of the free world, and to free the slaves of communism…Ronald Reagan knew his own mind. He had firm principles – and, I believe, right ones. He expounded them clearly, he acted upon them decisively…The President resisted Soviet expansion and pressed down on Soviet weakness at every point until the day came when communism began to collapse beneath the combined weight of these pressures and its own failures. And when a man of goodwill did emerge from the ruins, President Reagan stepped forward to shake his hand and to offer sincere cooperation. Nothing was more typical of Ronald Reagan than that large-hearted magnanimity – and nothing was more American.

Blog author: rnothstine
Thursday, January 24, 2008
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Ronald Reagan delivers his radio commentary

When I lived in Egypt one of the Egyptian drivers for diplomats at the American Embassy in Cairo explained how people had to wait five to seven years for a phone. He proudly stated he was on the list, but poked fun at the long wait for service. Of course, he also added that you might be able to speed the process up by a few months with bribes, or as it is more affectionately knows as in Egypt, “baksheesh.”

Ronald Reagan loved to tell jokes about the former Soviet Union, especially about the stark differences between the United States and Soviet economic systems. It was a tactic he often used to take the hard edge off his criticism of the Soviets, while still drawing sharp contrasts between the competing systems. It also deftly showed his solidarity or sympathy with the Russian people.

Often to the horror of some of his top foreign policy advisers, he loved delivering the jokes directly to Mikhail Gorbachev at summit meetings. Gorbachev would politely smile or sometimes counter by adding that the joke was just a caricature of the Soviet system. But Reagan had carefully collected many of the jokes from former citizens of the Soviet Union, diplomatic officials, and some of them were passed to him by the CIA. Many of them were real jokes that had circulated inside the Soviet Union.

Many of Reagan’s jokes were a critique of the insufficiency of the Soviet system.

A Russian man goes to the official agency, puts down his money and is told that he can obtain delivery of his automobile in exactly 10 years. “Morning or afternoon,” the purchaser asks. “Ten years from now, what difference does it make?” replies the clerk. “Well,” says the car-buyer, “the plumber’s coming in the morning.”

Another joke Reagan liked to deliver summed up his thoughts well. Two Russians are walking down the street, and one says, “Comrade, have we reached the highest state of communism?” “Oh, no,” the other replies. “I think things are going to get a lot worse.” (more…)

The newly released Charlie Wilson’s War is a film based on a book that chronicles the semi-secret war that led Afghan freedom fighters to defeat the Soviet military during the 1980s. Tom Hanks plays former Democratic Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson, who is also known as “Good Time Charlie” for his womanizing, drinking, and recreational drug use. The viewer is led to believe Congressman Wilson is not serious about his elected position until he takes up the cause of the Afghan people, who suffered immensely under Soviet aggression. Other starring roles are Julia Roberts as Christian “right wing” financier Joanne Herring, and the late CIA officer Gust Avrakatos, played by actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman. The dialog between the main characters is intense and entertaining.

First of all this film is not for children. Wilson suffers from a severe bout of immorality, which is graphically depicted. However, the film does teach several important moral and foreign policy lessons. In the 1980s the United States did transition from a policy of containment of the Soviet Union to a more aggressive policy which called for greater engagement, including everything from harassment to actually formulating a policy to reverse Soviet expansion, putting it on the retreat.

While this film does not lack entertainment value, one of the drawbacks is the depiction of the Afghan struggle. America’s support is quickly glossed over, with no background information or deep treatment of the subject ever provided. In addition, some conservative officials in the Reagan administration have criticized the film. Bill Gertz at the Washington Times added:

The movie also erred by showing Mr. Wilson and his CIA collaborator, Gust Avrakotos, as enthusiastic backers of supplying advanced U.S. Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to the Afghan rebels. Fred Ikle, the undersecretary of defense in the Reagan administration, said the CIA initially fought against sending Stingers, while Mr. Wilson was lukewarm on the matter. Both later supported the plan once rebels began downing Soviet gunships with them.

Additionally, some conservatives felt the film’s intent is an attempt at revisionist history by cutting out Ronald Reagan entirely and key members of his cabinet who enthusiastically supported the Afghan Rebels. In fact, Reagan’s epic war against communism can be traced back to his days as a labor leader in Hollywood.

There is certainly enough material in the film to make conservatives wince. Apparently the movie was supposed to be much worse, but Wilson had to step in and demand changes in much of Aaron Sorkin’s script. In the film, Christians are slyly depicted as hypocrites. Additionally, the film needed to be more triumphant at the end. The movie also reinforces the myth that support for the Afghan freedom fighters led to the rise of Osama bin-Laden and his cohorts, who supposedly were armed by the United States.

There are positives however. While it is inaccurate to portray Wilson and his CIA partner as lone mavericks against Soviet aggression, it is right in making a hero out of a committed anti-communist. It also depicts the evil of the Soviet military that specifically wounded Afghani kids, targeting them intentionally. The film also depicts the importance of standing up to and countering communist aggression, and that there was a strong moral component to funding the freedom fighters. Perhaps the greatest lesson of the film is how bipartisanship support was needed to combat America’s enemies, a fact which seems to be lost on Washington today.

Blog author: rnothstine
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
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Ronald Reagan on the campaign trail 1976

As we enter the presidential primary season, a look back at the 1976 Republican Primary is appropriate, considering it was a pivotal moment in American conservatism. It is a presidential race that conservative writer Craig Shirley calls a “successful defeat.” While Ronald Reagan ultimately lost the nomination to incumbent President Gerald Ford, this race would end up transforming the conservative movement, the Republican Party, the country, and eventually the world.

Reagan came into the 1976 North Carolina primary having lost the first five consecutive primaries to Ford. The national party establishment was against Reagan, the media started to write him off, and his campaign was broke and in debt. Needless to say, the pressure to drop out of the race was nearly overwhelming.

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.

During the race in the state, Reagan continually brought up the issue of the Panama Canal, following a rumor the Ford Administration was going to turn it over to Panama’s dictator. With heated energy and anger Reagan would repeatedly shout at every campaign stop, “It’s ours! We built it! We paid for it! And we should keep it.!” It was classic Reagan, and North Carolinians loved it.

Reagan also hit the administration hard on federal spending, government regulations, and being soft on Soviet aggression. He also attacked leaders in the other party, taking aim at Senator Ted Kennedy’s universal health care proposal. Reagan warned:

What the nation does not need is another workout of a collectivist formula based on an illusion promoting a delusion and delivering a boon-doggle. It is up to the private sector to provide answers in the onrushing health care political battle. If not, nationalized medicine will represent one more instance of surrendering a freedom by default.

Part of the reason for Reagan’s eventual loss showcased the extreme power of incumbency and Ford’s ability to raise his political game as well. Ford was again overshadowed however, when he invited Reagan down from his sky box at the GOP convention after Ford finished his acceptance speech to lead the party. Reagan delivered some highly inspirational off the cuff remarks, which is still considered one of his best speeches. It has been reported that horrified party activists on the convention floor gasped, “Oh my gosh – we nominated the wrong candidate.” Reagan was 65 years old at the time, some undoubtedly saw his remarks as a farewell to the party.

After the primary the political landscape in the United States changed. Jimmy Carter also ran against Ford as a Washington outsider, who sought to reform government. In addition he was a self avowed born again Christian, who promised to return a high degree of ethics to the oval office in the wake of Watergate.

But Carter’s enduring legacy was mismanaging the country and creating an election ripe for Reagan’s brand of conservatism. However, the 1976 campaign is where it all really started on the national level. Many Reagan biographers are correct in assuming without 1976, there would have been no campaign in 1980. The primary campaign in 1976 saw the power of conservative ideas on a national stage, and a reference to modern conservatism other than Barry Goldwater’s failed presidential campaign in 1964.

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.

[For a complete study of the 1976 Republican Primary Campaign and its significance check out Reagan's Revolution by Craig Shirley]

Erika Andersen reviewed the “The Call of the Entrepreneur” for Human Events in a piece titled, “Entrepreneurship Preserves Life as We Know It.” The Call premiered last week to DC audiences at the E Street Cinema, as part of the Renaissance Film Festival.

In her article Andersen noted the international interest in the film:

Though it initially seems like the tale of the American dream, “The Call of the Entrepreneur” is an international story and is now being translated into Spanish and other languages. In fact, the film experienced its largest premier audience in Nairobi, Kenya with over 450 attendees.

Andersen also easily recognizes the importance of calling, or vocation, in business and in free markets:

The stories restore faith in entrepreneurs’ ability to build lives, strengthen nations and economies as well as fulfill God-given destinies. The film denounces the myth that capitalists are self serving, arguing rather that they are almost wholly devoted to others.

Human Events is one of the oldest modern conservative publications, and the one that President Ronald Reagan called his “favorite newspaper.”

There can be little doubt that one of the greatest political and economic problems in the US is the way that our Congress “earmarks” billions of dollars for special projects that benefit lawmakers in their bid for personal security and re-election.

The system works in a very straightforward way. Congress can pass massive spending bills and all the while representatives can add “earmarks” that benefit projects and people in their district or state. It is a form, quite often, of legal payback for favors rendered to the elected official. President Bush asked Congress, in his last State of the Union address, to give him a line-item veto. Don’t expect it to happen soon. The idea makes perfect sense really, and it has been done in several states, so why am I so pessimistic about the prospects? The simple answer is plain to see—both parties have found that it pays to spend money in this less accountable way. Incumbents use it to gain favor and to stay in power. Everyone knows that over 95% of the incumbents in the US House are re-elected every two years. Why fix a system that benefits those who are being asked to fix it? Supposedly smaller-government Republicans should favor this idea but many are just as adept at this “earmark” business as the most liberal Democrats.

All the recent talk we’ve heard about reforming the system is really not very impressive when you look at what really happens in Washington. But there have always been a few leaders who have risen above this type of spending and shown themselves to be consistent in their service of the common good of all the people. Michael Reagan recently told the story of how a wealthy businessman in California came to see his late father one day when he was running his first campaign for governor in the 1960s. The man left a paper bag with $40,000 on Reagan’s desk saying, “This is for you.” Reagan took the bag and threw it at his friend and walked out of the room. Later Reagan told this man that if he wanted to make a contribution to his campaign he should send the gift to his campaign committee. And he warned his friend to never try this stunt again, telling him that if he were elected governor the man should never expect to get a single favor from Reagan.

One could wish for more people like Ronald Reagan in public leadership. I think we call this integrity. The lack of such integrity is frankly harming all of us. Everyone knows that this growing practice of budget “earmarks” is called “pork.” Frankly, calling it pork is a disgrace to pigs, who have higher standards that many of those who spend public money to secure their spot in Congress. In a very real sense I call it “legalized bribery.” I pray for the day when the public has had enough of this and pressures Congress to clean up this mess. Changing parties in the last election cycle will not likely change the culture in Washington. We need something much bigger and stronger to do that. I would suggest that what we really need is leadership with courage and vision.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."