Let Reagan Go?

Rebecca Hagelin

4/24/2008 12:01:00 AM - Rebecca Hagelin

I have one question for anyone who would have us “let Ronald Reagan go”: Are you kidding?

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a long-time Republican leader and public servant, recently urged a conservative audience to do just that. In a speech before the Fund for American Studies (which is a great organization), he warned that he planned to say something “somewhat controversial.”

Added Daniels: “Nostalgia is fine, and Reagan’s economic plan was good. But we need to look toward the future rather than staying in the past.”

Nostalgia? Does the good governor really think the Reagan Revolution was about creating nostalgic, warm and fuzzy feelings?

The Reagan Revolution was about pulling the nation out of ”malaise” after years of liberal economic policy disasters. It was about cutting inflation and interest rates and letting Americans keep more of their hard-earned dollars by lowering taxes. It was about dismantling the Berlin Wall and freeing millions from communist oppression, for crying out loud.

I suppose we could vanquish President Reagan to the “ash heap of history” with American revolutionaries such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, as the public schools are so fond of doing. But it might serve us better to understand that the very survival of our freedom depends on studying and duplicating the leadership, courage, principles and successes of such a man.

The American people elected Reagan twice by overwhelming margins. They were moved when he left Washington after two terms for his California ranch. They prayed for him when they learned he had Alzheimer’s disease. And they wept as they stood for hours amid the huge throngs that lined his funeral procession. Why?

Because Reagan was a courageous leader who stood fast for freedom and the rights of the individual. He had the guts to proclaim in his first address as president, just a few feet from members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, “We are a nation that has a government, not the other way around.”

In the finest tradition of our Founding Fathers, Reagan understood that far too many of those with power have the equation backward: They think the people exist to serve the government. Reagan dared to shake up the status quo and the good ol’ boys club -- and the average Joe was the better for it. The nation and the world were the better for it, too. Funny how that works, isn’t it? 

Consider what Reagan said on Aug. 16, 1982, to explain his support of controversial tax-cut legislation: “I’m told by many that this bill is not politically popular, and it may not be. Why, then, do I support it? I support it because it’s right for America.” Contrast that with so many politicians today, who wouldn’t dream of taking any stance that hasn’t been vetted and poll-tested by multiple focus groups.

America must have a strong, courageous leader who sticks to founding principles if we are to remain “Liberty’s Best Hope.” Reagan knew that we are “the shining city on a hill” because our Constitution protects citizens from oppressive government. He understood that the cry for freedom echoes through the hearts and souls of people worldwide. He understood that if we continue to grow government, tramp on the rights of the people, and stifle the creativity of the private sector in America -- well, then, what hope is there for the rest of the world? 

Although Ronald Reagan wasn’t perfect (as some today seem to demand that he should have been), he upheld our Constitution better than any other president in recent history. Everyone knows that running for office today is, for most, about politics. But for Reagan it was about public service. Holding office is a “job” that, executed properly, should rank up on the moral hierarchy with breaking the chains of those in slavery. It’s supposed to be about upholding the Constitution.

In an election year especially, America should be looking for a role model like Reagan -- for someone who, in our lifetime, proved to all the would-be senators, congressmen, legislators and presidents, that when you govern according to conservative principles -- the bedrock principles of the Constitution -- America flourishes. 

Let Reagan go? The problem is, too many elected officials already have done that. It’s far easier for them to retain power if he becomes just a fond memory. An entire generation has come of age with no first-hand experience of this strong, unique leader. For some of us who lived through the Revolution, Reagan was the man who dared to stare communism in the eye and make it blink. We know him as the one who gave us back our government.

There will always be those who seek to recast Reagan as nothing more than the kindly older president with the aw-shucks grin. But what history teaches us through the example of Ronald Reagan is that, when applied, the timeless constitutional principles of smaller government, individual freedom, strong national defense, traditional values and free markets result in a better America.