Skip to comments.Ronald Reagan: Citizen, President, American Hero (by KARL ROVE)
Posted on 06/16/2005 4:05:51 AM PDT by linkinpunk
Thursday, June 16, 2005
Ronald Reagan: Citizen, President, American Hero
By Karl Rove
(Note: the following is the text of a speech by Karl Rove, Senior Advisor to the President & Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, delivered at The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on June 11.)
Today, we can say with confidence and with the supporting evidence of history, that Ronald Reagan ranks alongside his hero Franklin Roosevelt as the greatest President of the 20th century.
In studying the life of Ronald Reagan, youll find he was continually misunderestimated. Some of us in the Bush White House are familiar with the particular charge. In what surely ranks as proof that you should sometimes be careful of what you wish for in politics, Jimmy Carter and his political adviser desperately wanted to face Ronald Reagan in the 1980 presidential election. He was, they believed, a right-wing ideologue whom they could easily handle and easily defeat.
It was a comforting myth. But then they faced the man from Dixon, Illinois, both on the campaign trail and in a nationally televised debate. And on Election Day 1980, Ronald Reagan carried 44 out of 50 states and 489 out of 538 electoral votes. It was an epic victory and one that almost no one in the media predicted and saw coming.
How shocking it must be to those of you here today to find out that many members of the media did not see in Ronald Reagan what so many of his fellow Americans saw.
Over the years it has been said, even by critics, that Ronald Reagan was lucky, likeable, charming, good-looking, amiable, affable, avuncular, a fine actor, a superb television performer, Teflon-coated, a man who understood the myth of power, a Great Communicator, and a great speechmaker. President Reagan was all of those things but to his critics he was only those things. They thought he won despite his ideas, not because of them.
How wrong they were.
Ronald Reagan, while certainly an amiable and charming individual, was pre-eminently a man of ideas. He was a Great Communicator because he had great ideas to communicate. They were ideas he championed, with remarkable consistency, and clarity, and passion through four turbulent and remarkably different decades. Ronald Reagan did so as an American citizen as governor of California and a President of the United States. And these ideas are worth considering again today briefly in light of events and circumstances in which we find ourselves as a nation.
* * * *
It had long been argued that in the battle between freedom and tyranny, tyranny had the upper hand. You may recall from your reading, as I do from my teenage years, Whitaker Chambers -- a brave and admirable man who thought he was joining the losing side when he left communism.
The core of this argument, the argument that he espoused, was that free societies, for intrinsic reasons, would eventually crumble like sand castles when pitted against totalitarian regimes. Democracies were slow to perceive dangers and slow to act when confronted by them. And, it was said that liberty inevitably slid into license and freedom would lead to softness and decadence.
In the late 1960s and 70s in particular, the intellectual class and many of our political leaders were deeply pessimistic about Americas future. They obsessed about our limitations and spoke about a paralyzing crisis in confidence among our people.
Faced with a ruthless and determined enemy, it was said, the United States and the West could not summon the will and the courage to survive and prevail. And, the goal of statesmen was to navigate and manage the inevitable decline of the United States and the West.
But Ronald Reagan would have none of it. He believed that in the conflict between freedom and totalitarianism, freedom would win. And why? For a very simple belief: because freedom is consistent with human nature and freedom therefore leads to excellence and greater human achievement. Communism was the enemy of freedom; therefore, communism was at war with human nature; and ultimately human nature will prevail.
You need not take my word for what Ronald Reagan believed. Thanks to this magnificent institution, and scholars like Martin and Annelise Anderson, we are now able to know what Ronald Reagan thought and wrote, and when he wrote it. The Andersons work is historically invaluable and fascinating, too; because it gives us a path to understand the thought of the great man as citizen, governor, and President. For example, thanks to the book Reagan In His Own Hand, we know what Citizen Ronald Reagan said in a 1975 radio address previously lost. He said:
Communism is neither an economic or political system it is a form of insanity a temporary aberration which will one day disappear from the earth because it is contrary to human nature.
And here is what President Reagan said in a 1983 speech:
I believe we shall rise to the challenge [posed by Marxism-Leninism]. I believe that communism is another sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages even now are being written. I believe this because the source of our strength in the quest for human freedom is not material, but spiritual. And because it knows no limitation, it must terrify and ultimately triumph over those who would enslave their fellow man.
President Reagan understood the power of freedom and he understood that freedom needs to be backed up by the sword and the shield. And so President Reagan rebuilt the United States military and restored it to a position of preeminence in the world.
Has there ever been a wiser investment?
My main point is this: Ronald Reagan advocated policies that were anchored in ideas and his ideas were based on deep insights into the relationship between freedom and human nature. He was not a utopian; he was a realist. He understood if liberty was the design of human nature, then democracy is the political system that will bring about the greatest good: economic prosperity; stronger social attachments; medical, scientific, and artistic achievements; peace; and much, much more.
President Reagan, as a realist, understood it takes time for civic habits to develop. He knew we need social institutions to support us. And he knew when the Berlin Wall finally fell, as it must, a democratic ethic would not immediately or easily arise.
But Ronald Reagan also knew it would rise because freedom was the key to human flourishing and freedom is the natural desire of every human heart. He knew the Berlin Wall, which was a symbol of totalitarian shame, must be torn down and when it came tumbling down, a great moment in human history would begin to occur.
Playing a central role in bringing down a malevolent regime might not be everything but it is certainly quite a lot. And Ronald Reagan did not just happen to guess right about communism, as Dan Rather once said. Ronald Reagan was right about communism because he possessed remarkable judgment and a first-rate mind.
* * * *
Let me turn to the ideas undergirding Ronald Reagans economic views. And again, we have a wonderful path to understanding them with the materials here in this library.
We too easily forget today, but a few decades ago there was a raging debate about which should prevail: a free market or an economy planned and controlled by the government.
Over the years Ronald Reagan was a great champion of free markets and the entrepreneurial spirit of the American people. Time and time and time again he pointed out that employment and prosperity are the function and responsibility of private enterprise and that governments duty is to remove roadblocks to economic growth. He wanted to end regressive taxation and regulatory policies that penalized hard working men and women; in their place, he wanted to provide tax and regulatory policies that would help encourage small business and enterprise to flourish.
And again, we see it throughout his life. When he was running for governor in 1966, Ronald Reagan gave a speech in which he proposed a constructive alternative to the Great Society. He called it A Creative Society and in his speech he said that the role of those in political leadership was to enlist and mobilize the incredibly rich human resources of the American people. There is no major problem that cannot be resolved by a vigorous and imaginative administration willing to utilize the tremendous potential of our people, Mr. Reagan said.
In 1976, Citizen Reagan, in discussing Americas strength, said this in a radio address:
our system freed the individual genius of man. Released him to fly as high and as far as his own talent and energy would take him [capitalism] may not be a perfect system but its better than any other thats ever been tried.
And in 1981, President Reagan said this:
[I]t's not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work -- work with us, not over us; to stand by us, not ride on our back. Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it. If we look to the answer as to why for so many years we have achieved so much, prospered as no other people on Earth, it was because here in this land we unleashed the energy and individual genius of man to a greater extent than has ever been done before.
You see, President Reagan viewed citizens not as passive wards of the state; he saw them as energetic and independent, self-sufficient and talented, upright and hard working. These underlying assumptions informed his economic policies. And these were not his views alone. In the words of Ludwig von Mises, whose work greatly influenced this President:
Several generations of economic policy... have enormously increased the wealth of the world. Capitalism has raised the standard of living among the masses to a level which our ancestors could not have imagined... if [society or the government] does not load the individual with quite unbreakable chains, if it does not surround the prison in which it encloses him with quite unsurmountable walls, it has done all that can be expected of it. Genius will soon find a way to win its own freedom.
In good measure because of Ronald Reagan, the debate over the merits of capitalism versus a command and control economy has been settled. Even the 42nd President of the United States had to admit that the era of big government is over. The free market has won in a rout, and economic growth and prosperity have followed in its path.
* * * *
As I mentioned earlier, it is often said Ronald Reagan was optimistic about America. But often people speak about President Reagans optimism as if it were simply a personality trait, a particular disposition, an orientation towards life, easily dismissed. In the condescending words of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., always fun to quote:
[Reagan] had the vision thing in abundance ....alas, not too much else. He had no capacity for analysis and no command of detail. But in eloquent words, a genius for simplification and contagious optimism, he set forth the broad direction in which he wanted to move the country and the world.
Like so much of what Professor Schlesinger has written in recent years, his words look and sound utterly foolish.
It is true that Ronald Reagan was an optimist. After all, he loved to tell the story about the two boys, youve heard it, one a pessimist and the other an optimist. The pessimist was crying in a room filled with toys. When asked what he was crying about, the boy said, Well, I know somebody is going to come and take these away from me. Sounds like my 16 year old. The optimist, on the other hand, was sitting on a pile of manure, throwing it over his shoulder, as happy as could be. And when asked what he was doing, the optimistic boy replied, Theres got to be a pony in here someplace.
This story tells us a lot about how Ronald Reagan saw the world. But what is often overlooked is that Ronald Reagans optimism about America was anchored in reality. It was rooted in an understanding of the strengths and resilience and basic decency of the American people. It was grounded in a fundamental understanding of the history of our country. He believed deeply, in his bones, that there was something special and unique about American haracter. Americans have been called to do great tasks because we have been blessed with great gifts. Ronald Reagan agreed with the anonymous writer in North East Chronicle, in the dark days of December 1775 who wrote: We have a glorious prospect before us, big with everything good and great.
Some of you may recall in the 1970s there were lots of people, both at home and abroad, who were fierce critics of the United States. It was said that America was corrupt and materialistic, bigoted and imperialistic. But in the words of Governor Ronald Reagan, We have been picked at, sworn at, rioted against, and down-graded until we have a built-in guilt complex.
Governor Reagan had had enough and in a speech that year he provided, in 1970, a spirited defense of our nation. It is time, he said we ended our obsession with what is wrong and realized how much is right, how great is our power, and how little we have to fear.
In a 1976 speech, Citizen Reagan said this:
I believe God had a divine purpose in placing this land between the two great oceans to be found by those who had a special love of freedom and the courage to leave the countries of their birth weve come from every corner of the world, from every race and every ethnic background, and weve become a new breed in the world. Were Americans and we have a rendezvous with destiny.
And in the first words he spoke just after high noon on January 20, 1981, President Ronald Reagan told a watching world that the United States was:
special among the nations of the earth We have every right to dream heroic dreams [we need to] believe in ourselves and to believe in our capacity to perform great deeds, to believe that together with Gods help we can and will resolve the problems which now confront us. And after all, why shouldnt we believe that? We are Americans.
For Ronald Reagan, the term American wasnt simply a description of a nationality; it was a high calling and a noble designation and in his view, we are a providential people.
* * * *
It was just over a year ago that Ronald Reagan passed from this life into the life to come. In the wake of his death, we witnessed an extraordinary outpouring of affection. It was clear to the entire world that he was more than a figure who would occupy a special place in our history books; Ronald Reagan was also a figure who occupied a special place in our hearts. The people whom he led and whom he served understood that Ronald Reagan was not only a very great man; he was also a very good man.
In his eulogy for Americas 40th President, President Bush said, Ronald Reagan belongs to the ages now but we preferred it when he belonged to us. In a very limited sense, he still does. Ronald Reagan belongs to us because so much that is good and right in this world is because of him. President Reagan understood the power of ideas, the enduring power of ideas and he advanced them. He saw mortal dangers to America and he vanquished them. He appreciated the virtues of compassion, and courage, and patriotism, and honor and he embodied them.
To paraphrase George Will, Ronald Reagan was the captain who calmed the ship and the sea. He was an American President and is an American hero.
In his Goodbye Letter to the American people, Ronald Reagan wrote, When the Lord calls me home, whenever that may be, I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours
A year and six days ago, the Lord called Ronald Reagan home and he left with the greatest love of our country. We were very blessed to have him and we still miss him.
Thank you for inviting me to speak. And above all, thank you for keeping alive the extraordinary accomplishments and the hopeful, history-changing ideas of Ronald Wilson Reagan. Thank you.
Ronald Reagan was the closest thing to a Republican President that I expect I'll ever see.
Who does not matter? Reagan or Rove?
We've got a live one!
Uhh -- no speaky de English?
Great speech by Karl Rove.
Ronald W. Reagan is one of the greatest President ever.
Thank you for a wonderful way to start the day.
Thank God for saving Ronald Reagan's life in order to preserve the Republic and suitably reward those who wished otherwise.
Spanky, go take a look at "cold war", and who is responsible for the Berlin Wall coming down.
You're A troll, facts don't matter to you.
oh please. go eat some lemon-glaze chicken with your Gitmo comrades...
As Dick Cheney said to Patrick 'Leaky' Leahy,
I will say in all honesty however (Mr. Rove, you taking notes here?), that President Reagan would NEVER have allowed our southern border to become a sieve for illegals, terrorists and the criminal element. Reagan would have dispatched the 3rd Armored Division if necessary and told Vincente Fox to be glad he wasn't sending the descendents of Black Jack Pershing.
God Rest Ronald Wilson Reagan.
Today Mexicans are coming here to be Mexicans and Muslims are coming here to be Muslims. They are insulted that we suggest they should be Americans first if they are going to live here and be citizens here. Even our journalists are insulted that we think they should be Americans first. They have a higher calling, ..."Journalists". If they only knew in what low esteem the rest of us hold them compared to their opinions of themselves.
It is easy to see why the left hates Reagan and Bush. The left hates America and all she stands for.
You sir, are a moron. Plain and simple.
I believe that there are only two presidents now who deserve the designation "great" - Washington and Reagan.
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