The Obama Watch

Reagan’s Third Inaugural Address

As Obama speaks, what would Reagan say?

By 1.20.09

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A new inaugural address is making the rounds. Not Obama's but Ronald Reagan's.

There is, it turns out, a heavenly White House. Roomier than the one at 1600 Pennsylvania, it is built to accommodate former presidents who have left the proverbial mortal coil behind. It is, I've learned, a fairly convivial place, a sort of super-exclusive social club for the collection of equals who have served in America's highest political office. Truman and Harding regularly indulge their mutual love for poker and whisky, while Lincoln loves to try to get Coolidge to laugh. Washington and Teddy Roosevelt ride horses with Reagan, while JFK sails, sometimes, to the silent admiration of his colleagues, with Marilyn.

As would be suspected, there is ample time at the club for discussions about their latest successor of the moment. Comparing challenges present to those they each faced and even those as yet unseen, or at least thought to be unseen. To the irritation of some and the amusement of others, former President Reagan was concerned enough about the direction of current events to pen what some of his peers began referring to (in various terms of respect or derision -- partisanship, it seems, does not fade completely at heaven's gate) as "Reagan's Third Inaugural Address." What Reagan has been typically discreet enough not to reveal is the quiet help he received from Lincoln, JFK and even a truculent FDR. Not surprisingly, someone got a hold of a copy and leaked it to the media down here. Herewith Reagan's Third Inaugural Address. I'm also informed that if you look hard enough at the television pictures today, you just might catch a ghostly glimpse of President Reagan happily speaking away over there to the right of the new President Obama.


EMBARGOED FOR DELIVERY UNTIL: January 20, 2009

Chief Justice Roberts, President Obama, Vice President Biden, Former Presidents Bush, Clinton, Bush and Carter. Members of Congress. My Fellow Americans:

I am filled with deep emotion at finding myself standing here overlooking this beautiful Mall once again. So many of you have kindly suggested to me that in my hands is the task of saying words aimed at restoring peace to the present distracted condition of our country. This setting provides an unexpected yet welcome opportunity to address my fellow Americans with a candor and decision which the present situation of our nation impels.

Today is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. As one of my predecessors, Franklin Roosevelt, said on the occasion of his own first inaugural in my young adulthood: "Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." President Roosevelt said it well.

Yet in speaking the truth, frankly and boldly, there are some things that must be said, for 2009 is not 1933. We must be candid that retreating to the provably failed big government answers of eight decades ago is no more of an advance than summoning forth the philosophy that once insisted slavery was both an American value as well as a constitutional right. Our government has no power except that granted by the people. It is time -- well past time -- to check and reverse the growth of government. Now is decidedly not the time to tolerate not just trillion dollar deficits but to compund our nation's troubles with trillion dollar spending plans. This is instead very much the time, the long overdue moment, that calls for an end to the selfish and arrogant concepts and practices that lie behind big government. Concepts and practices that have all but bankrupted our people and our nation. It is the moment as well to begin putting an end to the reign of those who, corrupted themselves in the halls of Congress, seek now to "investigate" that very corruption. It is time indeed to raise the question of just who investigates the so-called "investigators" of Congress.

It should once again be our intention to curb the size and influence of the federal establishment, an establishment that has, all too predictably, brought upon the American people the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and the administration of my own predecessor, Jimmy Carter. And in speaking truth boldly and frankly, it needs to be said that while the Great Depression itself was indeed launched by the stock market crash of 1929, the real culprit in turning a stock market crash into a more than a decade-long economic debacle in those days was the panicky government meddling that followed the crash. It was government that intervened to order post-crash wages upward, when history records they should have been allowed to come down of their own accord. It was the government's Smoot-Hawley tariff that dropped a protectionist wall around an America desperate for the jobs and economic growth that can only be provided by free trade. Most importantly, it was the government that made the decision to raise taxes, the worst economic decision that could be made in bad economic times, a policy directly punishing the hard-working men and women of America even as it worked to snuff out the nation's entrepreneurial spirit.

So that there will be no misunderstanding, it is not my intention to do away with government. It is, rather, to limit it, to make it work -- work with us, not over us. To stand by our side, not ride our back. Had government been allowed by a vocal few in Congress to stand by Fannie Mae by preventing the all-too obvious abuses others wanted so desperately to stop, it is well conceivable our country and our people would not now be suffering as they so acutely now are. Yet for typically predictable reasons of political and governmental corruption, another course and as all now know a disastrous course was chosen. It is still remarkable to me that yet another governmental disaster that was Hurricane Katrina seems not to have caused any wonder at all about the situation the good citizens of New Orleans found themselves in before the hurricane -- a situation that involved a city run completely by liberal big government principles even as those principles shortchanged residents with everything from bad schools to bad housing to, tragically, abysmally bad levees that were supposed to protect the people.

On this Inaugural Day of 2009 there should be no doubt that calls from some to move beyond the time-tested principles of conservative ideology are in reality a call to retreat to the failed principles of liberalism, a most decidedly failed ideology. With all due respect to my newest successor, President Obama, a "declaration of independence" from ideology is precisely the backward-thinking that has, once again, led us to all-too familiar painful circumstances. It is as if someone stepped forward to announce the need to get past the ideology that proclaims the earth is not flat. There should be no place for the easy instincts that always result in making government bigger. There should be no place for redefining "independence" as less independence, less freedom and more bureaucrats in make-work jobs that are a dead hand on economic growth for our nation and economic opportunity for our people. There should never be an occasion when, as my old friend Margaret Thatcher use to chide her colleagues, we are not thinking big thoughts.

For decades we have piled deficit upon deficit, mortgaging our future and our children's future for the temporary convenience of the present and the enhanced governmental power of the few. It should now be obvious that to continue this long trend is to guarantee highly negative social, cultural, political and economic upheavals.

You and I, as individuals, can by borrowing live beyond our means, but only for a limited period of time. Why then should we think that collectively, as a nation, we're not bound by that same limitation? We must act today in order to preserve tomorrow.

In the present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem. From moments in our history ranging from the Dred Scott decision, which tried to impose a constitutional right to slavery, on to government actions such as the Smoot-Hawley tariff or the so-called War on Poverty, big intrusive government has again and again proved itself a serious and sometimes even tragic problem for Americans. It is no coincidence that our present troubles parallel and are proportionate to the intervention and intrusion in our lives that result from unnecessary and excessive growth of government. Yet we're not, as some would have us believe, doomed to an inevitable decline. I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing.

There are, unfortunately, some who apparently need what many of us consider an unnecessary reminder of the effects of big government. But there is a reason the tide of history is -- yes, even to this day -- moving in the direction of conservatism. That reason is self-evident in the program put forth by the other side. Yet again it is showing that it is virtually bankrupt of ideas, even as it is busy bankrupting so many of us. It has nothing more to say, nothing to add to the debate beyond yet another recitation of the tax and spend principles behind the discredited idea of trickle-down government. It has spent its intellectual capital (such as it was) and it has done its deeds. With mere days into its new session it has already begun restricting the freedom of entrepreneurs by having the government mandate so-called "fairness" in pay. In fact, it seeks to do the same deeds of this type over and over for eternity, inflicting one unsuspecting generation after another with a continuous stream of Fannie Mae-style disasters in everything from public education to bailouts.

We on our side are currently out of power as we once were for almost fifty years. The other side, then as now, did win support. And the result was chaos, weakness and drift, all of which eventually became starkly obvious. A second depression within a depression in 1937, an unsuspecting and unready military in 1941 and again in 1980 even as policies of 1930s style appeasement brought murderous disaster to Southeast Asia in the 1970s. When Americans are led into a retreat from the principles of freedom and liberty, this puts free-loving men and women around the world not only on the moral defensive but the intellectual, military, political and economic defensive. Let's not forget such gems as school busing or the skyrocketing crime rates as liberal-run cities faced little short of anarchy or the malaise of the Carter era, or the near bankruptcy of Social Security and Medicare.

Ultimately these and so many other failures yielded one great thing -- conservatives. They will bring forth conservatives of the future who will profit in the same way as conservatives of the past -- because ultimately they will win the contest of ideas. Now, as then, we have the opportunity to be the party and the country of brilliant and dynamic minds -- young and even not so young.

Conservatism will once again be represented by those with character, passion and integrity. I remember these kinds of people from years ago, running around scrawling Laffer curves on table napkins, going to symposia and talking -- correctly -- about how social programs did not eradicate poverty but entrenched it -- writing studies on why the latest weird and unnatural idea from the social engineers is weird and unnatural.

All of a sudden we were not the defenders of the status quo but the creators of the future.

My fellow Americans, it will be again. So I leave you with this request: Don't just mark time. Make a difference. Make the City on a Hill that is America freer and be sure it is always in good hands. With a good conscience your only sure reward, with history the final judge of your deeds, go forth on this winter day to lead the land we all love. Asking His blessing and His help that here on earth, God's work must truly be your own.

And so, one last time, good-bye, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.