Friday, April 27, 2007

Reagan's Legacy

The love and reverance we see for Ronald Reagan is more than simply team spirit. Reagan was a genuine conservative whose convictions didn't change and "evolve" as he mounted the political ladder.

A couple of years ago I reviewed Lee Edwards' short biography The Essential Ronald Reagan. One incident stays in my memory. Edwards had an opportunity to visit the Reagans in their apartment shortly after Reagan entered the political scene. In a quiet moment, left alone in their den, Edwards browsed their bookshelves. Not only did the Reagans have copies of classic economics books by the likes of Hayek and Bastiat, they were well-worn, dog-eared, and thoroughly annotated by the owner.

Another book, Reagan In His Own Hand, is a collection of the essays he wrote for his radio broadcasts in the 1970's. They are brilliant, like gems of concise viewpoint from an unerringly conservative position, and cover a wide range of topics and issues. They are great examples of the art of writing, apart from their philosophical content.

The panel this evening is fleshing out the history with some of their personal recollections of Ronald Reagan. Former Lt. Gov. Jim Gardner shared his time spent with Reagan as a young Congressman in the 1960's and as political campaigner at other times. His wife observed that a campaign trip to Asheville, when then Governor Reagan stepped aside to allow her to exit the plane first, was "the first time I wasn't run down by politicians fighting their way to the microphone." He was a real gentleman as well as a real conservative.

Frank Gaffney served in Reagan's State Department and most recently got headlines when his documentary film, Islam v. Islamists: Voices from the Muslim Center, has been supressed by the PBS which commissioned it. He says our current fight against Islamofascism is exactly parallel to the fight against Soviet Communism in the 1980s. Gaffney says that we need to take the same steps that Reagan did, including defining political statements like his "Tear down this wall!" speech, and serious efforts to dry up the funding which keeps terrorism going.

Congressman Pat McHenry observes that Ronald Reagan made a point of befriending House Speaker Tip O'Neill to expedite the political battles he had to face. This is not standard practice now in Congress. On the other hand, Gaffney pointed out, Reagan had to contend with a Democratic Congress that wanted to impeach him over Iran-Contra, wanted to derail the Strategic Defense Initiative, and went absolutely bananas over his "destructive" statements confronting Communism.

The impact Reagan had on conservatism and this country as a whole can't even start to be appreciated in a single session, but it's always good to hear from those who knew him first hand and had experience in "the revolution". It's probably time for another.



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