Yep - I'm one of those whose formative years were framed by Ronald Reagan as President. To me, he was able to articulate the things I believed and was an example of how to stand for your principles in the face of intense criticism. As an elected official, I followed his strategy - go directly to the people when articulating your positions, your votes and your philosophy. They're the ones who matter the most.
In honor of his birthday, and the influence he had on me and our nation, I recommend reading this brief from The Patriot Post.
They say that history repeats itself and that fact is demonstrated by the similarities between today - with our fight against terrorism - and the 1970s when we feared a nuclear war. Reagan gave a speech entitled "The New Republican Party" that contains a message critical to us today.
The issues our Republican Party faces today are similar to the ones faced then. Defining who we are and what we believe in seemed to be lost in the politics and other issues. I'm a conservative before I'm a Republican. I'm a member of the Republican Party because it's always been the closest party to my own core personal beliefs. Reagan, in his speech, said:
"If there is any political viewpoint in this world which is free from slavish adherence to abstraction, it is American conservatism.
When a conservative states that the free market is the best mechanism ever devised by the mind of man to meet material needs, he is merely stating what a careful examination of the real world has told him is the truth.
When a conservative says that totalitarian Communism is an absolute enemy of human freedom he is not theorizing -- he is reporting the ugly reality captured so unforgettably in the writings of Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
When a conservative says it is bad for the government to spend more than it takes in, he is simply showing the same common sense that tells him to come in out of the rain.
When a conservative says that busing does not work, he is not appealing to some theory of education -- he is merely reporting what he has seen down at the local school.
When a conservative quotes Jefferson that government that is closest to the people is best, it is because he knows that Jefferson risked his life, his fortune and his sacred honor to make certain that what he and his fellow patriots learned from experience was not crushed by an ideology of empire.
Conservatism is the antithesis of the kind of ideological fanaticism that has brought so much horror and destruction to the world. The common sense and common decency of ordinary men and women, working out their own lives in their own way -- this is the heart of American conservatism today. Conservative wisdom and principles are derived from willingness to learn, not just from what is going on now, but from what has happened before.
The principles of conservatism are sound because they are based on what men and women have discovered through experience in not just one generation or a dozen, but in all the combined experience of mankind. When we conservatives say that we know something about political affairs, and that we know can be stated as principles, we are saying that the principles we hold dear are those that have been found, through experience, to be ultimately beneficial for individuals, for families, for communities and for nations -- found through the often bitter testing of pain, or sacrifice and sorrow.
One thing that must be made clear in post-Watergate is this: The American new conservative majority we represent is not based on abstract theorizing of the kind that turns off the American people, but on common sense, intelligence, reason, hard work, faith in God, and the guts to say: "Yes, there are things we do strongly believe in, that we are willing to live for, and yes, if necessary, to die for." That is not "ideological purity." It is simply what built this country and kept it great."
Then, as now, there is talk of a strong third party. Reagan addressed this issue as well:
"I have to say I cannot agree with some of my friends -- perhaps including some of you here tonight -- who have answered that question by saying this nation needs a new political party.
I respect that view and I know that those who have reached it have done so after long hours of study. But I believe that political success of the principles we believe in can best be achieved in the Republican Party. I believe the Republican Party can hold and should provide the political mechanism through which the goals of the majority of Americans can be achieved. For one thing, the biggest single grouping of conservatives is to be found in that party. It makes more sense to build on that grouping than to break it up and start over. Rather than a third party, we can have a new first party made up of people who share our principles. I have said before that if a formal change in name proves desirable, then so be it. But tonight, for purpose of discussion, I’m going to refer to it simply as the New Republican Party."
He articulated his view of what this new party would stand for, mirroring it on the 1976 platform:
"Tonight I want to offer to you my own version of what such a declaration might look like. I make no claim to originality. This declaration I propose is relatively short, taken, for most part, word for word from the Republican platform. It concerns itself with basic principles, not with specific solutions.
We, the members of the New Republican Party, believe that the preservation and enhancement of the values that strengthen and protect individual freedom, family life, communities and neighborhoods and the liberty of our beloved nation should be at the heart of any legislative or political program presented to the American people. Toward that end, we, therefore, commit ourselves to the following propositions and offer them to each American believing that the New Republican Party, based on such principles, will serve the interest of all the American people.
We believe that liberty can be measured by how much freedom Americans have to make their own decisions, even their own mistakes. Government must step in when one’s liberties impinge on one’s neighbor’s. Government must protect constitutional rights, deal with other governments, protect citizens from aggressors, assure equal opportunity, and be compassionate in caring for those citizens who are unable to care for themselves.
Our federal system of local-state-national government is designed to sort out on what level these actions should be taken. Those concerns of a national character -- such as air and water pollution that do not respect state boundaries, or the national transportation system, or efforts to safeguard your civil liberties -- must, of course, be handled on the national level.
As a general rule, however, we believe that government action should be taken first by the government that resides as close to you as possible.
We also believe that Americans, often acting through voluntary organizations, should have the opportunity to solve many of the social problems of their communities. This spirit of freely helping others is uniquely American and should be encouraged in every way by government.
Families must continue to be the foundation of our nation.
Families -- not government programs -- are the best way to make sure our children are properly nurtured, our elderly are cared for, our cultural and spiritual heritages are perpetuated, our laws are observed and our values are preserved.
Thus it is imperative that our government’s programs, actions, officials and social welfare institutions never be allowed to jeopardize the family. We fear the government may be powerful enough to destroy our families; we know that it is not powerful enough to replace them. The New Republican Party must be committed to working always in the interest of the American family.
Every dollar spent by government is a dollar earned by individuals. Government must always ask: Are your dollars being wisely spent? Can we afford it? Is it not better for the country to leave your dollars in your pocket?
Elected officials, their appointees, and government workers are expected to perform their public acts with honesty, openness, diligence, and special integrity.
Government must work for the goal of justice and the elimination of unfair practices, but no government has yet designed a more productive economic system or one which benefits as many people as the American market system.
The beauty of our land is our legacy to our children. It must be protected by us so that they can pass it on intact to their children.
The United States must always stand for peace and liberty in the world and the rights of the individual. We must form sturdy partnerships with our allies for the preservation of freedom. We must be ever willing to negotiate differences, but equally mindful that there are American ideals that cannot be compromised. Given that there are other nations with potentially hostile design, we recognize that we can reach our goals only while maintaining a superior national defense, second to none."
These principles are as true today as they were then. And in all that he did, he appealed to the common values we share. He recognized that good people would always have differing views. Rather than cater to the differences among us, he brought us together by focusing on our shared perspectives. His message appealed to individuals of all parties, resulting in the term "Reagan Democrats" not because they'd switched parties, but because, as Reagan said, the majority of American already shared basic core conservative values of freedom and individual rights. He concludes his speech with some words of wisdom that Republicans need to remember:
"Our task now is not to sell a philosophy, but to make the majority of Americans, who already share that philosophy, see that modern conservatism offers them a political home. We are not a cult, we are members of a majority. Let’s act and talk like it.
The job is ours and the job must be done. If not by us, who? If not now, when?
Our party must be the party of the individual. It must not sell out the individual to cater to the group. No greater challenge faces our society today than ensuring that each one of us can maintain his dignity and his identity in an increasingly complex, centralized society.
Extreme taxation, excessive controls, oppressive government competition with business, galloping inflation, frustrated minorities and forgotten Americans are not the products of free enterprise. They are the residue of centralized bureaucracy, of government by a self-anointed elite.
Our party must be based on the kind of leadership that grows and takes its strength from the people. Any organization is in actuality only the lengthened shadow of its members. A political party is a mechanical structure created to further a cause. The cause, not the mechanism, brings and holds the members together. And our cause must be to rediscover, reassert and reapply America’s spiritual heritage to our national affairs.
Then with God’s help we shall indeed be as a city upon a hill with the eyes of all people upon us."
Today, many of us are not exactly thrilled with the leaders in our party. As a final comment on Pres. Reagan, I recommend reading this column, "Wanted: Another Reagan" by Mark Alexander. His message is simple - Reagan was right and we'd be well-served to remember that.