Today is the 105th anniversary of the birth of Ronald Reagan in 1911. The former actor, union activist, conservative leader, Governor of
(1967-1975) and 40th President of the United States (1981-1989), who died
in 1994, continues to inspire Americans and others around the world. Some historical lessons from Reagan are
especially timely to study.
In the midst of another presidential election campaign, I thought it useful to recall Reagan’s optimism about
America. Although he would become angry about problems
caused by government policies, he would make a succinct diagnosis of the
problem and suggest a common-sense solution based upon limited government and
with cheerful confidence that America’s
best days remained ahead. He considered
those who agreed with him at least 80% a fellow conservative and welcomed them
into the movement. It is worth
remembering especially at this time the famous “Eleventh Commandment” he most
famously promoted: “Thou shall not speak ill of a fellow Republican.”
Reagan understood the necessity of compromising with one’s political opponents to achieve as much as possible in advancing conservative policies. Using his skills as a union negotiator, as well as his ability to communicate directly with the people, he often achieved as President more than expected, yet he stood on principle, when necessary, such as by vetoing a budget to cause a partial-shutdown or vetoing or threatening to veto some other budget-busting legislation or famously refusing to give into the Soviet demands to abandon missile defense. Spending and tax cuts and the restoration of the military were among the most significant domestic fruit of Reagan’s negotiations with Congress, despite the control of the House of Representatives by the Democrats. These policies helped lead to the then-longest peacetime expansion in American history. In addition to these, his policies during the height of the Cold War toward the Soviets and International Communism allowed him to negotiate with the Soviets from a position of strength that resulted in the elimination of an entire class of U.S. and Soviet missiles and would lead soon after he left office to the Fall of Communism and the breakup of the Soviet Union. Reagan accomplished numerous other conservative goals as President, but these most significant ones that were the consequence of negotiation compromises were the most relevant to today.
Reagan is rightly regarded as the greatest American President of at least the second half of the Twentieth Century and since, as the most politically successful Republican President and as the best leader of all time of the conservative movement. He unified his party and movement as no one else. While conservatives and Republicans seem ever-searching for the “next Reagan,” Republican presidential candidates and other elected GOP officials often try to claim the Reagan mantle. It is always worthwhile to study how Reagan was able to achieve greatness in advancing conservatism and to try to emulate him.