Monday, October 06, 2008

Reagan: Still the Great Communicator

Last week I happened to read some excerpts from a speech Ronald Reagan gave in 1964. It's a classic, called "A Time for Choosing" or sometimes "A Rendezvous with Destiny." He made the speech while on the campaign trail for Barry Goldwater (he actually gave it a more than once, in slightly different versions). I was amazed at how many of the things he said still ring true in this election. Here's a few choice quotes:
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.

Small-government conservative vs. big-government liberal, right there. Personally I think the sad part is how few conservatives are still for small government.
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.

Seems to me those thoughts still apply to any number of liberal programs, from health care to welfare to the mortgage issues at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Never forget that those who want to expand the reach of the government are ultimately expanding their control over your life. Reagan says in the speech that the government doesn't have to actually take your property to be socialist; it just has to be able to control your property.

He has some thoughts on foreign policy too. Remember, this was at the very beginning of the Vietnam War and the height of the Cold War.

Those who would trade our freedom for the soup kitchen of the welfare state have told us that they have a utopian solution of peace without victory. They call their policy "accommodation." And they say if we only avoid any direct confrontation with the enemy, he will forget his evil ways and learn to love us. All who oppose them are indicted as warmongers. They say we offer simple answers to complex problems. Well, perhaps there is a simple answer--not an easy answer--but simple.

If you and I have the courage to tell our elected officials that we want our national policy based upon what we know in our hearts is morally right. We cannot buy our security, our freedom from the threat of the bomb by committing an immorality so great as saying to a billion now in slavery behind the Iron Curtain, "Give up your dreams of freedom because to save our own skin, we are willing to make a deal with your slave masters." Alexander Hamilton said, "A nation which can prefer disgrace to danger is prepared for a master, and deserves one." Let's set the record straight. There is no argument over the choice between peace and war, but there is only one guaranteed way you can have peace--and you can have it in the next second--surrender.

Admittedly there is a risk in any course we follow other than this, but every lesson in history tells us that the greater risk lies in appeasement, and this is the specter our well-meaning liberal friends refuse to face--that their policy of accommodation is appeasement, and it gives no choice between peace and war, only between fight and surrender. If we continue to accommodate, continue to back and retreat, eventually we have to face the final demand--the ultimatum.

Substitute Islamic fundamentalism for the Iron Curtain and communism, and you could apply this almost word-for-word today. Did you catch this line: "And they say if we only avoid any direct confrontation with the enemy, he will forget his evil ways and learn to love us. All who oppose them are indicted as warmongers." Isn't that essentially what a lot of Democrats say about Islam? It's all our fault and if we get our soldiers out of the Middle East they won't be mad at us any more? And that Alexander Hamilton quote is money; it's why we can't leave Iraq without a stable government and military.

In my opinion, these are the important principles that are hopefully still the foundation of the conservative movement today. These are things you should think about in this election, in our own "time for choosing." It's important to think about why we believe in small government, strong defense, and all those other good conservative causes. If you want to read the whole speech you can find it here. (And hats off to Townhall Magazine, which is where I read it in the first place and which regularly reprints "Conservative Classics.")

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