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Reaganism Was the Remedy America and the World Needed

Reaganism Was the Remedy America and the World Needed

U.S. President Ronald Reagan (C) salutes beside his wife Nancy Reagan after being sworn in as 40th President of the United States by Chief Justice Warren Burger during inaugural ceremony, on January 20, 1981 at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. At right is vice-president George W. Bush. (/AFP/Getty Images)

By and Andrew Shirley
Monday, 14 October 2019 12:49 PM Current | Bio | Archive

The esteemed diplomat, intellectual, fierce anticommunist and Ronald Reagan’s oh-so-effective ambassador to the United Nations, Jeane Kirkpatrick, once said: “I want to be a good scholar; to unearth the truth, and follow the truth no matter where it leads; and to expose falsehoods and lies. That is the definition of a good scholar.”

This is the matter before many historians, especially those of us who have written about Ronald Reagan.

The well-regarded Reagan historian, Paul Kengor, demonstrated how to be a good scholar when he tore apart the deceitful accusation that some leftists have made falsely charging Reagan with being a racist.

This author has also written several pieces on the matter and one would think the research of multiple Reagan historians and the overwhelming body of evidence would banish the falsehood to the ashbin of history, once and for all.

Alas, the left-inspired and poor-historian falsehoods continue for one simple reason: they know that to destroy American conservatism, they must destroy the most successful conservative of the 20th century.

Fortunately, those who would assault the legacy of Reagan have failed.

The Gipper remains one of the most revered presidents in history. An exception is the now-deceased liberal historian John Patrick Diggins. Throughout his life, Diggins wrote books recording the American left, on labor, women, and environmentalism. But in his last book, "Ronald Reagan, Fate, Freedom and the Making of History," Diggins writes that, like Washington, Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt, Reagan also saved or freed many, many people. In Diggins' light, this was the true measure of a great president.

Forty years ago, few thought Reagan would be a great president, much less president at all. So much so that many, even from within his own party, sought to destroy his 1980 campaign from its earliest days. Make no mistake about it; the GOP establishment loathed Reagan, hated Reagan.

He’d tried in 1968, losing the Republican nomination to Richard Nixon. He narrowly lost to Gerald Ford in 1976, mostly due to shenanigans in key primary states. But by 1980, he was the marginal frontrunner for the nomination, but nearly lost to Ambassador George Bush. Reagan righted his campaign, got focused, fired some ineffectual staffers, and charged to the nomination, at long last.

In a political career defined by defining moments, it’s difficult to say which were the most impactful and resonating. Some, like his famous 1976 “concession” speech, given extemporaneously, were immediately hailed for their impact and soaring rhetoric. The ending call to action, “We must go forth from here united, determined, that what a great general said a few years ago is true; there is no substitute for victory.” This defiant stand can be seen in the philosophy and principles of the conservative movement to this day.

Other moments, like his speech before the Brandenburg Gate calling on the Soviet Leader, Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall!” were largely dismissed at the time by the mainstream outlets that covered him. Only years later did some reexamine their own bias to see these words for the true impact they had.

But if we could ask the man himself what he felt were his greatest achievements in advancing the conservative movement, he’d dismiss it outright. To Reagan, conservatism was never about himself. He may have acknowledged his role in briefly carrying the torch forward, but he would be the first to say that the flame was fueled by the millions of Americans who rejected the notion that the greatest days of the United States of America were behind them. As he left office, he spoke with pride, the hope that the Reagan battalions of the 1980’s would carry on. It was about continuing the dream, not the dreamer.

Reagan was a true intellectual, having fashioned his own form of American conservativism. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “Reaganism,” the only president to gain such a designation. In 1980, the Washington Post stepped briefly out of character to say that Reagan had, “unleased an intellectual force” in America. Indeed he did.

As humble as he may have been, there is no denying the central role he played in truly making America great again. As early as 1964, his 30 minute “Time for Choosing” speech, an intended campaign ad for Barry Goldwater, demonstrated that destiny had a higher calling for Reagan than being a mere advocate. His speech was such an apt and profound indictment of centralization, collectivization, and the bureaucracy that, with only a few edits, were it delivered today, it would hold as true as it did forty years ago.

His ’76 campaign against the unelected president Ford could have easily resulted in a nomination, were it not for the machinations of a Republican establishment who found Reagan’s populism and principles distasteful to their pragmatism. This would be far from the first time these two forces would all but come to blows.

Allowing Reagan the chance to give a concession speech at the close of the convention was meant to be portrayed as a magnanimous act by a triumphant Ford. The truth was that Ford hoped the unprepared Reagan would seem foolish enough that the Republican viewing public would be reassured that the right decision had been made. This was far from the only strategy that would backfire on Ford in 1976.

Reagan’s 1980 campaign had more moments than can be counted, but if it is to be remembered, it should be so for its totality. There were moments; debate zingers like when Carter passively-aggressively slandered Reagan and he shot back, “There you go again!” These may be fondly remembered but the 1980 campaign was, in the truest sense, a battle, not just between men, but between great ideals.

Were America’s greatest days truly behind it? With, stagflation, gas lines, the ongoing illegal imprisonment of American citizens in Iran, it’s not an absurd assertion. To Carter and the left, conceding that our children would have a darker future than the preceding generation and withdrawing from the world stage, ceding ground to the Iron Curtain, was portrayed as “mature” and “adult.” American Exceptionalism was seen as “quaint” and “naive.” Like a Norman Rockwell painting, patriotism was a lovely image that captured the idealism of a simpler age but not something for the modern world.

Reagan dissented.

To Reagan and his battalions, this “maturity” was chastised as cynicism and moral relativism. A distorted false philosophy meant to cover over the failures of the Carter Administration and liberalism. These conservatives believed that the greatest days of America lay ahead of it, that the “Evil Empire” of the Soviet Union could not be accommodated, only defeated. Above all, they refused to surrender their children’s future to a world in which America would play second fiddle to dictators and despots, with the children becoming helots.

Winning the 1980 GOP nomination was the first step. He then had to face the juggernaut of Carter. Carter, by common agreement, was a mediocre president and was presiding over a poor economy and an even worse foreign policy but as a fierce campaigner, he was without peer.

For most of the fall, 1980 campaign, Carter maintained a lead over Reagan. Americans did not like to kick elected presidents out of office, only doing so in 1912 (which was anomalous with William Howard Taft, Teddy Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson all running) and 1932, when in the face of the terrible Great Depression, FDR defeated the hapless Herbert Hoover.

The odds were stacked against Reagan.

But in the one and only debate, in Cleveland, Reagan zinged Carter with his immortal line, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” One week later, Reagan won one of the largest landslide elections in history and in so doing, changed history.

The era of Reagan had begun. Without guile, without hatred, without deception, Reaganism would prove to be the remedy America and the world needed, forty years ago, but whose legacy still casts a long shadow over all of us.

Craig Shirley is a Ronald Reagan biographer and presidential historian. His books include, “Reagan’s Revolution, The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started it All,” “Rendezvous with Destiny, Ronald Reagan and the Campaign that Changed America,” "Reagan Rising: The Decisive Years," and “ Last Act: The Final Years and Emerging Legacy of Ronald Reagan." He is also the author of the New York Times bestseller, “December, 1941” and his new 2019 book, “Mary Ball Washington,” a definitive biography of George Washington’s mother. Shirley lectures frequently at the Reagan Library and the Reagan Ranch. He has been named the First Reagan Scholar at Eureka College, Ronald Reagan’s alma mater and will teach a class this fall at the University of Virginia on Reagan. He appears regularly on Newsmax TV, Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

Andrew Shirley is a Navy vet and writer who lives in Washington, D.C.

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Without guile, without hatred, without deception, Reaganism would prove to be the remedy America and the world needed, forty years ago, but whose legacy still casts a long shadow over all of us.
reagan, reaganism, election
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2019-49-14
Monday, 14 October 2019 12:49 PM
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