Sunday, July 01, 2007

Another "Rendezvous with Destiny"

Regrettably, prior to opening this book this weekend I had never read the famous speech that Ronald Reagan gave in support of the unsuccessful 1964 Barry Goldwater campaign for President. That speech launched Mr. Reagan's political career. While many of the particulars of the speech are unique to that time frame, philosophically the speech remains current today. In fact, with many conservatives believing that they are on the outside looking in on today's political environment, the current milieu bears some resemblance to that earlier period. What is certain is that no Republican politician since Mr. Reagan has spoken to the nation at large with such philosophical clarity.

You and I are told increasingly that we have to choose between a left or right, but I would like to suggest that there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down--up to a man's age-old dream, the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order--or down to the ant heap totalitarianism, and regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on this downward course.

In this vote-harvesting time, they use terms like the "Great Society," or as we were told a few days ago by the President, we must accept a "greater government activity in the affairs of the people." But they have been a little more explicit in the past and among themselves--and all of the things that I now will quote have appeared in print. These are not Republican accusations. For example, they have voices that say "the cold war will end through acceptance of a not undemocratic socialism." Another voice says that the profit motive has become outmoded, it must be replaced by the incentives of the welfare state; or our traditional system of individual freedom is incapable of solving the complex problems of the 20th century. Senator Fullbright has said at Stanford University that the Constitution is outmoded. He referred to the president as our moral teacher and our leader, and he said he is hobbled in his task by the restrictions in power imposed on him by this antiquated document. He must be freed so that he can do for us what he knows is best. And Senator Clark of Pennsylvania, another articulate spokesman, defines liberalism as "meeting the material needs of the masses through the full power of centralized government." Well, I for one resent it when a representative of the people refers to you and me--the free man and woman of this country--as "the masses." This is a term we haven't applied to ourselves in America. But beyond that, "the full power of centralized government"--this was the very thing the Founding Fathers sought to minimize. They knew that governments don't control things. A government can't control the economy without controlling people. And they know when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose. They also knew, those Founding Fathers, that outside of its legitimate functions, government does nothing as well or as economically as the private sector of the economy.

Conservative critics of Mr. Reagan sometimes point out that his administration did not roll back government to the extent that this speech described as ideal. While that criticism is accurate, one must remember that Mr. Reagan did not restrict himself to giving speeches about political principles -- he ran for office and governed in a real world that required implementing principles in the face of political realities. Those who recall the lead up to the Reagan administration can not deny that President Reagan rolled back the rate of government growth and successfully changed the terms of the debate. It was Mr. Reagan's long shadow that forced Bill Clinton to declare, prematurely it must be said, that the era of big government was over.

Sadly, the current Republican administration, by expanding domestic spending rapidly, has undone much of the good accomplished by Mr. Reagan. Once again, debates are not centering on the legitimate role of government; they only focus on the extent and direction of new spending. Some have dismissed the wish for "another Reagan" as misplaced nostalgia. However, who can deny the need for a political figure who can clearly communicate to a national audience that our choices are not merely about the creation of new entitlements? The choices are about freedom and tyranny.

Today's politicians mostly live on the public policy fringes, promising this or that, but not explaining both the means and ends of good government. We should be able to do better.

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