But we got our answer in 1980, when Ronald Reagan's unwavering confidence in the conservative message and the sound judgment of the American people was validated. And let there be no mistake: He campaigned as an unapologetic conservative.
Reagan's achievement was no mean feat, considering that liberals, whose vision culminated in the years of Carter malaise, had written off our nation's greatness as a thing of the past. I'll never forget a visiting economics expert guest lecturing my labor economics class at the University of Missouri, telling us we could expect nothing but economic gloom and doom in America in perpetuity.
Reagan, obviously, didn't share that vision. He knew that America's greatness resided with her people, as long as they remained dedicated to freedom and were unshackled by oppressive governmental restraints. His goal was merely to give back the reins to the people.
Reagan proved that a conservative could win running as a conservative, provided he didn't allow the opposition to define him, as Goldwater had. But more importantly, Reagan governed as a conservative, shepherding through Congress monumental, growth-igniting tax cuts and single-handedly winning the Cold War against the Soviets by simultaneously defeating internal liberal opposition at home to our prosecution of that war.
Above all, Ronald Reagan was real; there wasn't an ounce of phoniness in him. He believed in and loved America with a passionate, contagious patriotism that rippled through the body politic into the national soul. He made it acceptable to believe in the greatness of this country again, in its economic potential and its benevolent military might.
We still have essentially two competing visions for America, one characterized by the Reaganesque belief in the uniqueness of the American constitutional experiment and the other longing to emulate the "enlightened" European continent with its socialist economies and pacifist foreign policies.
Ronald Reagan passed away, but his legacy and vision live on, more relevant and urgent today than ever before. The best way for the nation to repay its debt to his service is to return to his timeless prescriptions for America's greatness. Ronald Reagan, R.I.P.