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Ronald Reagan and Conservatives in the Wilderness

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

It seems like political conservatives are in the wilderness right now. Having been beaten in the November 2012 elections and fracturing even more since, some are turning on each other.


Reagan has the answers. Recently, I was reviewing some of his speeches because I was looking for nuggets from him on the subject of prayer. He did not disappoint.

Gary Bauer served the Reagan administration in a couple different capacities, including as an adviser on domestic policy. He told me in a recent interview: “Ronald Reagan was very clear what the winning coalition was if you were a conservative. He referred to it as the three legs of the stool…the economic leg...the foreign policy leg…and the third leg of the stool is the leg of values…He was pro-life, he was pro-family…he spoke out for religious liberty.”

I want to focus on that third leg. Consider what Reagan said about prayer: "We can't have it both ways. We can't expect God to protect us in a crisis and just leave Him over there on the shelf in our day-to-day living. I wonder if sometimes He isn't waiting for us to wake up, He isn't maybe running out of patience" (“Landon Lecture”, 9/9/82).

He pointed out why our society is in such a mess today---which is even truer in our day than his: “Without God, there is no virtue, because there's no prompting of the conscience….Without God, there is a coarsening of the society. And without God, democracy will not and cannot long endure" (“Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast”, Dallas, 8/23/84).

Long before we became a nation, Americans were a praying people. Various colonies and then later Congress and presidents called for national days of prayer and fasting and thanksgiving. Ronald Reagan observed, "Throughout our history, Americans have put their faith in God, and no one can doubt that we have been blessed for it.”


In the same document, he proclaimed, “While never willing to bow to a tyrant, our forefathers were always willing to get to their knees before God. When catastrophe threatened, they turned to God for deliverance” (“National Day of Prayer Proclamation”, 3/19/81).

Reagan told the National Religious Broadcasters, certainly a sympathetic audience: “I was pleased last year to proclaim 1983 the Year of the Bible. But, you know, a group called the ACLU severely criticized me for doing that. Well I wear their indictment like a badge of honor. I believe I stand in pretty good company. Abraham Lincoln called the Bible ‘the best gift God has given to man.’ ‘But for it,’ he said, ‘we wouldn't know right from wrong.’”

And Reagan added, “Like that image of George Washington kneeling in prayer in the snow at Valley Forge, Lincoln described a people who knew it was not enough to depend on their own courage and goodness; they must also look to God their Father and Preserver. And their faith to walk with Him and trust in His Word brought them the blessings of comfort, power, and peace that they sought” (1/30/84, “NRB in DC”).

Somehow if one of our modern politicians, even many conservative ones, started talking like this, the rest of the establishment would start shifting in their seats---feeling embarrassed for the speaker, as if he had somehow lost his marbles. But Reagan has the answers.


Reagan was so opposed to the killing of the unborn that he even wrote a book about it---Abortion and the Conscience of a Nation. It’s a great book. My copy is dog eared and heavily underlined.

He wrote that book in 1984, when he was running for re-election. It’s hard to imagine some of our modern “conservative” politicians writing a forthright book against abortion during an election year. But that was Reagan. He believed what he believed, and he expressed it well. And he won re-election in a landslide.

In Abortion and the Conscience of a Nation, Reagan wrote, “Despite the formidable obstacles before us, we must not lose heart. This is not the first time our country has been divided by a Supreme Court decision that denied the value of certain human lives. The Dred Scott decision of 1857 was not overturned in a day, or a year, or even a decade” (p. 19).

In that book, Reagan also wrote, “The question today is not when human life begins, but, What is the value of human life? The abortionist who reassembles the arms and legs of a tiny baby to make sure all its parts have been torn from its mother’s body can hardly doubt whether it is a human being” (p. 22).

It’s hard to picture a politician today being as bold as to write something like that---in an election year no less. Would that more of our leaders take a page from Ronald Reagan’s playbook.


Dr. Paul Kengor, a political science professor at Grove City College, has written a few books on our 40th president, including God and Ronald Reagan.

In 2004, I interviewed Kengor for a TV piece on Reagan’s faith. He said, “What the historical record has overlooked is that Ronald Reagan was carried by a set of Christian convictions that go back to the 1920’s that carried him even longer, and that, in fact, informed those political convictions that came later. And that’s the side of Ronald Reagan that we all missed.”

For a nation wandering, as it were, in the political wilderness looking for guidance, consider this zinger from President Reagan at a prayer breakfast in Dallas on August 23, 1984: “If we ever forget that we're one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under.”

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