Ronald Reagan's America - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Ronald Reagan’s America

“It has nothing more to say, nothing to add to the debate. It has spent its intellectual capital, such as it was — and it has done its deeds.”
— President Reagan on liberalism
Conservative Political Action Conference

March 1, 1985  

With every passing minute of every passing day, the truth Ronald Reagan long ago understood is once more emerging from the political fog.

“Somewhere a perversion has taken place,” Reagan said in discussing his former political faith as a Democrat and a “near hopeless hemophilic liberal.” The party of Jefferson and Jackson had headed down a different road altogether “under the banners of Marx, Lenin and Stalin.” Or, as he was also unafraid to say and in words that resonate vividly today in the Obama era, the objective of the modern liberal was “to impose socialism” on the American people.

Reagan would have none of it.

He had spent decades carefully studying what was happening, leading the Hollywood branch of the fight as the president of the Screen Actors Guild. As he made the change from actor and union leader to governor of California and president, Reagan minced no words, which is precisely why Americans would come to revere him. He was not afraid to speak the truth — and that truth applies even more today than when he was sharply critical of the Democrats of his own day.

In the midst of what can only be described as a laughable attempt by Obama aides and the President’s left-wing media allies to wrap Obama in the Reagan mantle — a photo-shopped Time magazine cover has the two paired like grinning escapees from a presidential buddy movie — the nation prepares to celebrate Reagan’s centennial birthday. More to the point, the reminder of exactly why Reagan’s presidency was such a stunning success, and Obama’s thus far a stunning failure, can easily be found by pairing Reagan’s wisdom with Obama’s results.

Ronald Reagan understood to his core what Barack Obama has not only never accepted but rejects out of hand based on both his actions as a private citizen and president: that socialism is now and has always been a failed philosophy. Obama, as well documented from his days at Occidental College to today — is a now (if belatedly) well-documented socialist true believer.

To believe that the Obama presidency will end in other than utter failure because he thinks he speaks Reaganite at a State of the Union speech is to believe that a man who has spent an adult lifetime disbelieving in gravity will survive a leap from the Empire State Building because he’s suddenly muttering incantations from Newton on the way down.

Amidst all the sudden veneration for Reagan from today’s left as a man of moderation (in contrast, but of course, to the wicked conservatives of today) those with longer memories recall vividly that liberals of the day hated Ronald Reagan’s guts. This jewel of a statement from his arch-adversary House Speaker Tip O’Neill is but an understated example, as Reagan biographer Steven Hayward has noted:

“The evil is in the White House at the present time. And that evil is a man who has no care and no concern for the working class of America and the future generations of America, and who likes to ride a horse. He’s cold. He’s mean. He’s got ice water for blood.”

In fact, as Time magazine notes well, while Tip O’Neill was fuming about Reagan and others compared him to Hitler, Columbia student Barack Obama was so angered he decided to personally devote himself to the task of changing the White House. Reports Time of Obama’s sentiments toward Reagan:

“I personally came of age during the Reagan presidency,” Obama wrote later, recalling the classroom debates in his courses on international affairs. When he graduated from Columbia in 1983, Obama decided to become a community organizer. “I’d pronounce the need for change,” Obama wrote in his memoir. “Change in the White House, where Reagan and his minions were carrying on their dirty deeds.” A decade later, he was still at it, leading a 1992 Illinois voter-registration effort aimed at breaking the Reagan coalition’s hold on his state’s electoral votes.

Right, right, right.

But why did Ronald Reagan summon such utter hatred and contempt as exhibited in the 1980s from House Speaker O’Neill and Columbia graduate Obama? Amid the current cries for civility it should be noted that Reagan’s career brought forth a particularly vehement vitriol from the left on a regular basis. Whether it was the liberal fellow actor who spat in Reagan’s face in a chance street encounter in late 1940’s Hollywood (hissing “Fascist!”) or the anonymous voice on a phone threatening to throw acid in his face (as was actually done to labor columnist Victor Riesel, like Reagan prominent for his anti-communist views. Riesel was disfigured for life, losing his eyesight), Ronald Reagan’s habit of plainly speaking truths obvious to increasing millions infuriated leftists while worrying his friends. The latter acid-throwing threat against then-actor Reagan had his alarmed movie studio boss Jack Warner summoning the police, who insisted on issuing Reagan both a gun permit and a loaded .32 Smith and Wesson.

From threats of violence to the type of sentiment like the one expressed by O’Neill — the sitting Speaker of the House when he made the remark — Reagan decades later was still targeted for a special hatred reserved both for himself and his fellow conservatives. With liberals simply not caring in the least. Imagine the reaction today if House Speaker John Boehner referred to President Obama as the “evil… in the White House.” And how long would it take before the drumbeat would begin for Boehner’s resignation?


But why? There is, of course, a reason. A very big reason. 

Along the way in his journey from movie actor to transformational president of the United States, what Reagan saw as central human truths that applied throughout history had became that rarest of opportunities: the chance to put his ideas into practice as president. If there was a contempt reserved by the left for Reagan as union president and a prominent conservative figure on what Reagan called “the mashed-potato circuit,” there was a special hatred reserved for Reagan’s committing that greatest of human sins as president: being proved right.

In the great 20th century struggle between the Communist/socialist world view and freedom, Reagan repeatedly drew fire for bluntly speaking what came to be understood as essential truths. And then using government policy to illustrate the point. Here are a few Reaganisms from over the years that shocked the liberal status quo to disbelief followed by anger followed by the kind of hatred that was expressed with an appalling regularity in the 1980s by everybody from House Speaker O’Neill to community organizer Barack Obama:

• “Sadly, I have come to realize that a great many so-called liberals aren’t liberal: they will defend to the death your right to agree with them.”

• “The classic liberal used to be the man who believed the individual was, and should be forever, the master of his destiny. That is now the conservative position. The liberal used to believe in freedom under law. He now takes the ancient feudal position that power is everything.”

• “The conservatives believe in the unique powers of the individual and his personal opinions. The liberals (in)… forced fiat.”

• “It’s time we asked ourselves if we still know the freedoms intended for us by the Founding Fathers..

• “Today there is an increasing number who can’t see a fat man standing beside a thin one without automatically coming to the conclusion the fat man got that way by taking advantage of the thin one.”

• “Already the hour is late. Government has laid its hand on health, housing, farming, industry, commerce, education, and to an ever increasing degree interferes with the people’s right to know.”

• “But the truth is that outside of its legitimate function, government does nothing as well or as economically as the private sector of the economy.”

• “Our natural unalienable rights are now presumed to be a dispensation of government, divisible by a vote of the majority.”

• “It is time we realized that socialism can come without overt seizure of property or nationalization of private business.”

• “We approach a point of no return when government becomes so huge and entrenched that we fear the consequences of upheaval and just go along with it.”

• “No nation has survived the tax burden that reached one-third of its income.”

• “Are you willing to spend time studying the issues, making yourself aware, and then conveying that information to family and friends? Will you…realize that the doctor’s fight against socialized medicine is your fight? We can’t socialize the doctors without socializing the patients.”

• “There can be no security anywhere in the free world if there is no fiscal and economic stability within the United States.”

• “Those who ask us to trade our freedom for the soup kitchen of the welfare state are architects of a policy of accommodation.”

• “The weakness in this country for too many years has been our insistence on …carving an ever-increasing number of slices from a shrinking economic pie. Our policies have concentrated on rationing scarcity rather than creating plenty. As a result, our economy has stagnated. But those days are ending.”

• “Rebuilding prosperity…is the true meaning of fairness and compassion.”

• “When the liberals say ‘family’ they mean ‘Big Brother in Washington.’ When we say ‘family’ we mean ‘honor thy mother and father.'”

• “I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing.”

• “It’s time to realize that profit, property and freedom are indispensable. You cannot have any one of them without the others.”

• “America’s prosperity was not a gift from the government or anyone else. Free enterprise, not government, is the source from which our blessings flow.”

• “If you want to know which way to go in the future, you have to know which path you took in the past and where you stepped in a gopher hole along the way.”

• “Government does not produce revenue, it consumes it.”

• “We don’t have a trillion-dollar debt because we haven’t taxed enough: we have a trillion-dollar debt because we spend too much.”

• “Presidents come and go. History comes and goes. But principles endure.”

• “Those who preach the supremacy of the state will be remembered for the sufferings their delusions caused their peoples.”

• “We can leave our children with an un-repayable massive debt and a shattered economy, or we can leave them liberty in a land where every individual has the opportunity to be whatever God intended us to be. All it takes is a little common sense and recognition of our own ability.”

• “We’re returning to the age-old wisdom of our culture, a wisdom contained in the book of Genesis in the Bible: In the beginning was the spirit, and it was from this spirit that the material abundance of creation issued forth.”

THERE’S MORE, of course. A lifetime of these hard won insights — insights that in one fashion or another describe exactly the Age of Obama — by a man and a president whose centennial birthday will be marked with much fanfare in the next few days. They also illustrate precisely why the left hated Ronald Reagan — hated him. He was fearless in taking on their shibboleths and their myths, directly challenging the dominant liberal narrative of the day, turning liberalism into a laughingstock.

Thus even in the Age of Obama it is important to remember that millions of Americans can say, with a hat tip to that famous Lloyd Bentsen quote: “We knew Ronald Reagan. And Mr. Obama, you’re no Ronald Reagan.”

The tragedy of the Obama presidency is its utter addiction to an old and failed philosophy that Ronald Reagan understood in his bones was always doomed to failure. A failure which he graphically illustrated by contrasting it with America’s free-market successes and adherence to peace through strength. The American people know, as he did, that real economic justice is directly connected to economic growth. That America’s current problems, as Reagan accurately noted repeatedly, were caused by too much government. Whether today’s culprits are Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Community Reinvestment Act or ObamaCare or any of by now countless failed government schemes, the American people — whom he once described as “good, decent, rambunctious and creative people who raise the families, go to church, and help out when the local library holds a fund-raiser; people who have a stake in the community because they are the community” — understand what’s at stake. The game, as a number of signs over in those Egyptian crowds are proclaiming in English, is over.

Why? Because, as Reagan also noted of his fellow Americans:

“These people had held true to certain beliefs and principles that for twenty years the intelligentsia were telling us were hopelessly out of date, utterly trite, and reactionary. You want prayer in schools? How primitive. You oppose abortion? How oppressive, how anti-modern. The normal was portrayed as eccentric, and only the abnormal was worthy of emulation. The irreverent was celebrated, but only irreverence about certain things: irreverence toward, say, organized religion, yes; irreverence toward establishment liberalism, not too much of that. They celebrated their courage in taking on safe targets and patted each other on the back for slinging stones at a confused Goliath, who was too demoralized and really too good to fight back.

“But now one simply senses it. The American people are no longer on the defensive. I believe we …have captured the imagination of the American people.”

 And so he had. So he still has.

Ronald Reagan summoned America not to “a passing era of good feelings, but a true golden age of freedom.” And in that golden age, the American people thrived, unemployment tumbled, people had jobs, they owned homes, the Berlin Wall crumbled, the Iron Curtain fell and freedom reigned in lands that had not seen it in generations. That’s the real reason why Ronald Reagan was so hated by the left — because he was right.

Reagan would be the first to survey the landscape that is the Obama-era and understand it is littered with the inevitable telltale debris of socialism: bankrupt states, double-digit unemployment, rising inflation, skyrocketing gas prices, defaulted mortgages, an insolvent Social Security system (which he warned about all the way back in 1964) ruined credit, a government takeover of health care and trillion dollar deficits. Quietly but firmly he would surely say today as he has before:

“The moment is ours, and we must seize it…We stalled the judgment day, but we no longer have that luxury. We’re out of time.”

Indeed we are.

The celebration of Ronald Reagan’s life has come not a moment too soon for a dispirited, angry country momentarily derailed into the dead end of socialism. Or what Reagan once described as:

“..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 men.”

Once again we will be reminded of the man who accurately predicted these bizarre chapters would always be doomed to “the ash heap of history.” We will remember the president who urged Americans to look up to the vision of the shining city on a hill, we will hear again the inspiring exhortation that “You and I have a rendezvous with destiny” and the challenge to “Mr. Gorbachev: tear down this wall.”

As with us all, the Lord called Ronald Reagan home. But he left us knowing that he and we would always have “the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future.”

For America, he said, we must always remember that “there will always be a bright dawn ahead.”

He was right.

Thank you, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday.

Jeffrey Lord
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Jeffrey Lord, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is a former aide to Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp. An author and former CNN commentator, he writes from Pennsylvania at His new book, Swamp Wars: Donald Trump and The New American Populism vs. The Old Order, is now out from Bombardier Books.
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