It has been 30 years since Ronald Reagan left the White House and nearly 15 since he died. As a second generation reaches adulthood since his time in Washington, it is important to remember what he meant to our country and how we still benefit.
It was not yet “morning in America” when Reagan took office. His predecessor, Jimmy Carter, talked of a national malaise. The Iranians held American hostages, and OPEC had us over a barrel. Our economy was sclerotic, and America’s foes doubted our national will – our determination to stand up for our interests and principles around the world.
Then came Reagan, a man of sunny disposition, can-do attitude and unshakeable belief in the goodness, ingenuity and determination of the American people.
His legacy is with us, even today. Communism is all but on the ash heap of history. Its last embers are dying in Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea.
Growth and prosperity have returned – thanks to the current administration’s Reaganesque tax cuts and deregulation.
Once again, America is pursuing – and achieving – “peace through strength,” rebuilding our worn out military and dealing with ISIS just as the Gipper would have done.
Reagan faced no shortage of detractors in his day. Many on the left sought to dismiss him as nothing more than “a B movie actor,” an intellectual lightweight.
But those who knew the man knew that was not the case at all.
Shortly before the 1988 election, Burton Yale Pines, then the senior vice president of The Heritage Foundation, wrote what he thought would be Reagan’s top legacies. His list proved prophetic. Reagan fulfilled all these predictions:
- He restored the federal system (though some of his efforts to devolve power to the states were overturned by later administrations).
- He launched “privatization” of government – a practice that’s still saving taxpayers billions of dollars annually.
- He appointed judges who respected the Constitution – just as President Trump is doing today.
- He strengthened a military that been allowed to atrophy and decay – again, an area where Trump has had to follow Reagan’s example.
- He knew how to deal with the Russians. He proclaimed the Reagan Doctrine – that American would come to the aid of freedom fighters to throw off Soviet tyranny – and ended the Brezhnev Doctrine, which claimed that all socialist countries would fight any effort to introduce capitalism to on their turf.
Just as notably, he started the Strategic Defense Initiative, which promised to make nuclear weapons obsolete. We still don’t have a comprehensive missile defense, but Reagan’s initiative wound up making the USSR obsolete. And our continuing advances in missile defense may yet convince the North Korean regime to abandon its nuclear missile program.
But Reagan’s legacy extended beyond policy matters. He challenged us to believe in ourselves, not government, to meet our challenges. He talked to Americans about the values we all hold dear – faith and family, work and community, peace and freedom. He urged them to aspire, to be creative and heroic and forward-thinking.
And he gave voice to a healthy skepticism about the notion that Washington can solve all the nation’s problems.
“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” Reagan said that in 1986, and it’s still being talked about.
A liberal Washington Post columnist recently complained that America’s “core problem is a dogmatic antigovernment attitude, reflected in Reagan’s quip. … This makes it impossible for us to have a constructive debate about what government is for, what tasks it should take on and what good it actually does.”
Actually, without Reagan, there might be no debate at all.
And without Reagan, the Soviet Union – in all its menacing malevolence – might yet exist. It was he who correctly assessed its economic and social vulnerabilities and saw a chance to end its reign of terror and tyranny.
Without Reagan, the notion that cutting taxes can lead to more growth, more prosperity and even more government revenue – the notion guiding our current economic resurgence – might never have been attempted.
Without Reagan, America’s place in the world – as the pre-eminent superpower no nation dares take on in a conventional war – might not be secure.
As Pines noted in his essay, the 1970s was not a good time for America. Many doubted we could recover.
Ronald Reagan changed all that with commonsense policies, his unshakable faith in American ideals and the American people, and with boundless optimism. His legacy still lives, and America and the world are the richer for it.