Since Jul 10, 2003
It's not enough for conservatives to be against the nincompoopy counter-culture
Now that the Berlin Wall has long since been made into paperweights, its easy to forget how Ronald Reagan brought about the breakup of the Soviet Union.
To understand the magnitude of Reagans achievement, you have to remember that Communism seemed unstoppable in the 1970s. Country after country had been swallowed up by the Soviet bloc. Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot had killed more than 85 million people during the 20th century. And the threat of nuclear annihilation hung over everybodys consciousness, all the time.
There was a depressing acceptance that the Soviet Union was simply too powerful to be opposed, and nearly all American politicians were pursuing détente.
Long before he was elected president, he was pointing out ways to defeat the Soviets.
His call for a strong defense against Communism made him the favorite of the conservative wing of the Republican party. When he appeared before the Washington State Republican Convention in 1976, he was the man of the hour. I was sitting in the third row with the other delegates from Ferry County, all women, and our attention focused at first on Nancy Reagan.
She was different from most candidates' wives, who eventually got bored listening to their husband's same old speech over and over again and would start picking the lint off their skirts. Nancy's gaze never wandered. She looked at Ronnie with a sort of intense rapture during his entire speech. The media used to say she was putting on an act, but those of us who observed her up close knew it was genuine. She was fascinated with watching him speak because she loved him so deeply.
The convention was in love with him, too. They could hardly contain their excitement. I remember two elements of his speech that were well received, both about defeating the USSR.
First, Reagan said we should encourage the opposition movements in Eastern Europe to rise up against their Soviet masters. The Soviets were vulnerable, he said, because their totalitarian system was despised by the captive nations.
Secondly, he felt that our free economy was superior to an inefficient socialist economy. In an all-out race our system is stronger, and eventually the enemy would be forced to give up the race.
This was exhilarating talk in those days, and of course, it was exactly what we all wanted to hear. He got 13 standing ovations from the convention.
My husband and I met Reagan twice that summer, in Spokane and Seattle. My impression of him personally was that he was basically a shy individual who totally lacked that driving ambition and ego that propels most politicians.
In fact, we were worried that if he lost the nomination in 1976 he might simply retire to private life, since he was already 65 years old. Many Republicans, including myself, begged him to please run again in 1980.
Well, he did, and the rest is history. But what about that speech? How did Reagan carry out his plan to challenge the Soviet Union?
Recent books about President Reagan have shed light on how he won the Cold War. The most complete is Reagans War: The Epic Story of His Forty Year Struggle and Final Triumph Over Communism, by Peter Schweizer, a scholar at the Hoover Institution. According to Schweizer, Reagan had a complicated strategy to defeat the Communists. Its way too lengthy for this article. But it contained the same ideas we heard in his long-ago Spokane speech.
First, he encouraged opposition movements behind the Iron Curtain. Reagan secretly funded the Polish Solidarity movement. He sent fax machines, communication equipment and $8 million a year to them, and supported guerilla insurgencies wherever else he could, which was pretty much on every continent but Australia and Antarctica. He enlisted the aid of the Pope, a staunch anti-Communist, and Maggie Thatcher.
Then there was the economic war. Bankrupting the USSR through increased defense spending and the threat of SDI, or Star Wars, was only the beginning. Reagan delayed their gas pipeline to Europe and then persuaded Saudi Arabia to drastically drop oil prices. This decreased the Soviets main cash income (oil exports) while at the same time it helped the U.S., the largest consumer of oil. Hmmm.
There was much more, but like I said, its way too long. Schweizer's book is well worth reading. Reagan was the first to boldly predict an end to Communism and do something tangible to bring it about.
Thats why Margaret Thatcher said, Ronald Reagan won the Cold War without firing a shot.
Without God, there is no virtue, because there's no prompting of the conscience. Without God, we're mired in the material, that flat world that tells us only what the senses perceive. Without God, there is a coarsening of the society. And without God, democracy will not and cannot long endure. If we ever forget that we're one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under. If I could just make a personal statement of my own -- in these 3 1/2 years I have understood and known better than ever before the words of Lincoln, when he said that he would be the greatest fool on this footstool called Earth if he ever thought that for one moment he could perform the duties of that office without help from One who is stronger than all.
Reagan's favorite president was conservative Calvin Coolidge, a modest and quietly observant individualist, who said:
"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. Genius will not. Education will not. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."
From Reagan's1967 California Gubernatorial Inauguration Speech:
"Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people. Those who have known freedom, and then lost it, have never known it again."
Reagan's description of his first political speech:
" I've been accused of majoring in extracurricular activities at Eureka. Technically, that wasn't true. My major was economics. But it is true I thrived on school activities - although my expectation of sweeping onto the campus and becoming an overnight football sensation was, to say the least, not fulfilled. I soon reached the conclusion that Coach McKinzie didn't like me. He was not only unimpressed by my high school exploits, he kept me on the bench most of the season and I spent much of my freshman year sulking about it.
" While I didn't play much football that fall, I did taste another type of combat - my first taste of politics.
" To make ends meet, Bert Wilson, the new president, decided to lay off part of the faculty and impose other cuts. When the students and faculty got wind of the plan, resentment spread over the campus like a prairie fire . . . . .
" I was chosen to present our committee's proposal for a strike. Giving that speech - my first - was as exciting as any I ever gave. For the first time in my life, I felt my words reach out and grab an audience, and it was exhilarating. When I'd say something, they'd roar after every sentence, sometimes every word, and after a while, it was as if the audience and I were one. When I called for a vote on the strike, everybody rose to their feet with a thunderous clapping of hands and approved the proposal for a strike by acclamation.
" A week after the strike began, the president resigned, the strike ended, and things returned to normal at Eureka College. "