Paul  Kengor

Editor’s note: This article first appeared at TheBlaze.com.

A rudderless Republican Party, afraid to assert itself in the face of a rising liberal/progressive onslaught. A confident Democratic Party in the White House, undermining the nation, its economy, and its foreign policy, with timid Republicans feckless in response. A battle for the heart of the GOP and the next presidential nomination among conservative Republicans and liberal Republicans.

Sound familiar? Of course. But I’m not just talking about March 2014. I’m also talking about March 1977, when a genuine conservative Republican named Ronald Reagan surveyed the political landscape and saw something hauntingly similar. Reagan resolved to do something about it, and he laid out that vision 37 years ago, at CPAC, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. What Reagan said in that speech remains crucial for conservatives and the Republican Party today.

Ronald Reagan began speaking at CPAC in 1974, its first gathering. He addressed the faithful 13 times through his final year in the White House. But perhaps his most vigorous defense of conservative thinking came in his remarks delivered on February 6, 1977, his 66th birthday.

Reagan began by explaining his view of conservatism: “The common sense and common decency of ordinary men and women, working out their own lives in their own way—this is the heart of American conservatism today. Conservative wisdom and principles are derived from willingness to learn, not just from what is going on now, but from what has happened before.”

Conservatism rests on time-tested principles worth conserving and preserving for the best of the country, its culture, its people. Said Reagan: “The principles of conservatism are sound because they are based on what men and women have discovered through experience in not just one generation or a dozen, but in all the combined experience of mankind. When we conservatives say that we know something about political affairs, and that we know can be stated as principles, we are saying that the principles we hold dear are those that have been found, through experience, to be ultimately beneficial for individuals, for families, for communities and for nations—found through the often bitter testing of pain or sacrifice and sorrow.”

Reagan told the CPAC brethren that he believed the “old lines” dividing social and economic conservatives were “disappearing.” He hoped the time had come “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.”