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Written by

Our Mission Is to Reawaken the Genuine American Spirit . . .

Ronald Reagan's Faith and Optimism
Barry MacDonald - Editorial

11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative, by Paul Kengor. Beaufort Books, New York, NY, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., ISBN 978-0-8253-0699-0, pp. 157.

It is obvious in many who engage in or watch politics and governance: cynicism. My hero/commentator, Charles Krauthammer, is an admittedly proud cynic, expertly honed to see underlying motives. Charles sees motives, goals, and likely results: self-promotion predominates, solutions ignored, Americans without power suffer, and problems accumulate - the veterans who die waiting to receive medical care while VA managers hide waiting lists so that managers win bonuses is a poignant example. The Veterans' Administration is not being run for the benefit of veterans but for the benefit of VA managers, which epitomizes the nature of bureaucracies.

Witnessing commonplace wickedness unpunished year after year must have a depressing effect upon a conscientious person. Charles deploys quick-witted, cutting humor, and an air of detachment. I wonder whether the capacity for inspiration, the ability to see the possibility of God-directed goodness, and marvelous outcome have been ground out of him. A conscientious, intelligent person could adopt the role of martyr/warrior, fighting the long battle with fallen human nature to inevitable defeat.

Set within Washington D.C., where deception and selfishness thrive, and power is plentiful, it must be very difficult to find the strength of character to believe that God does have a plan for the prosperity of ordinary Americans throughout America. It must be hard to believe in the innate goodness of the American people - their resilience, problem-solving capacity, and decency - when America has been saturated with decades of leftist ideology carping on the sins of our past and the need for government overseers so that Americans don't foul up again.

In Washington D.C. it must be very hard to have a simple faith in God's power and a bright future. I believe that we, as Americans, have to see that the solutions to our problems will not originate in Washington D.C. Our solutions will have to be imposed upon Washington D.C. from the heartland.

Ronald Reagan is one of our heroes. Though he was president for eight years he was not corrupted by the atmosphere of Washington D.C. He genuinely took the best interests of the American people to heart - and a sophisticated cynic called him "an amiable dunce." Washingtonians are blinded by their dispositions, and cannot recognize sincerity.

Ronald Reagan's character was not formed or changed by Washington, D.C. Paul Kengor, in his recently published book, 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative, writes that Reagan's reverence for human life came between ages fifteen to twenty-two, in the 1920s, when he was a lifeguard patrolling the Rock River in Dixon, Illinois. Ronald Reagan saved the lives of seventy-seven people! Could there be better training for instilling a sense of the sanctity of human life? Ronald Reagan played the life-long role of rescuer: he abhorred abortion, the possibility of nuclear war (he wanted to abolish nuclear weapons), and empathized with millions whose lives were being crushed by Communism.

Ronald Reagan was also formed by his various careers communicating with Americans. He started in radio, acted in Hollywood, and went into TV broadcasting. He became the host of the popular TV show "GE Theater," sponsored by General Electric from 1954 to 1962. As part of his job he traveled the country visiting GE plants. He met management and assembly workers and gave lunchtime and dinner speeches. From his experience mingling with Americans Paul Kengor writes that he developed respect for his fellow Americans:

He had an uncommon faith in common Americans. He had an unshakable optimism in their inherent goodness, wisdom, work ethic, and common sense. They could do anything: they could achieve anything. He was convinced of American ability and ingenuity.

Paul Kengor writes that Ronald Reagan's faith came from his mother, Nelle. She believed, under the worst circumstances, "God has a plan for all of us," one that "always works out for the best." Reagan wrote in "My Faith," an article in a Hollywood magazine (June 1950), quoting Robert Browning: "God's in His Heaven/All's right with the world." As governor of California he wrote to a woman in New York about her handicapped son (he did not flinch from hard cases!):

I find myself believing very deeply that God has a plan for each one of us. Some with little faith and even less testing seem to miss in their mission, or else we perhaps fail to see their imprint on the lives of others. But bearing what we cannot change and going on with what God has given us, confident there is a destiny, somehow seems to bring a reward we wouldn't exchange for any other. It takes a lot of fire and heat to make a piece of steel.

He wrote another letter as governor to the widow of a slain policeman:

. . . the why of God's plan for us . . . Whatever God's plan is for each of us, we can only trust in His wisdom and mercy. . . . It isn't given to us to understand - we can only have faith. . . . [W]e must have faith in God's plan for all of us.

To a small group of pro-life leaders gathered at the White House in 1987 Reagan quoted Terrence Cardinal Cooke of New York:

The gift of life, God's special gift, is no less beautiful when it is accompanied by illness or weakness, hunger or poverty, mental or physical handicaps, loneliness or old age. Indeed, at these times, human life gains extra splendor as it requires our special care, concern, and reverence. It is in and through the weakest of human vessels that the Lord continues to reveal the power of His love.

In between periods when Abraham Lincoln received word of huge numbers of battlefield casualties (both sides were American casualties), Lincoln resorted to humor as a source of strength. In the same way Ronald Reagan was famous for his sense of humor, giving him charm and an enduring connection with Americans. Humor lightened and humanized both Lincoln's and Reagan's seriousness of purpose. In one of his speeches Reagan said:

I know it's often said of me that I'm an optimist. Over the years, I've been described as an inveterate optimist, an eternal optimist, a reflexive optimist, a born optimist, a canny optimist, a cagey optimist - even as defiantly optimistic. It just goes to show there's no word that cannot be turned into a pejorative if the pundits work hard enough at it.

Paul Kengor relates one of Reagan's "favorite parables":

It was a story about a father with two boys: a pessimist and an optimist. The father placed the pessimist in a room full of new toys. He placed the optimist in a barn with a pile of manure. When the father returned, the pessimist was crying and throwing a fit, complaining that he had no toys to play with. When he went to the barn, he found the optimist digging doggedly through the pile of manure. When the father asked the optimist what he was doing, the boy replied, "I know there's a pony in here somewhere!"
That optimist was Reagan. The kid in the manure was Ronald Reagan. This was a parable about himself.

Americans have faced many seeming shadows of doom; periodically we have borne weighty psychological pressures as a people. At the time of our Founding the British military was a fearsome, world-dominating power; it took faith in a just God to revolt. The confrontation over slavery tore the nation apart. The numbers of Civil War deaths and injuries were terrible. There was despondency during the 1930s depression, followed by the dread of the might of Hitler's Germany. In between periods of crisis our nation has never been free of controversy and afflictions.

During Ronald Reagan's term there was a failing economy and the Cold War, heavily weighted by the continuing discord of the Vietnam War. Reagan was the right person at the right time for the presidency. When sophisticated foreign policy experts cajoled him to accommodate the Soviet Union, because they believed the U.S. was losing the Cold War, Reagan told an adviser:

Dick, my idea of American policy toward the Soviet Union is simple, and some would say simplistic. It is this: We win and they lose. What do you think of that?

He believed that a buildup in U.S. military strength would decrease the likelihood of war and further the chance for peace - peace through strength - a view disparaged by the Washington commentariat. Reagan thought that he could bring the Soviet Union to the negotiating table to reduce nuclear arsenals, but first the U.S. would have build up its weaponry to negotiate from a position of strength. Reagan saw the necessity of countering the threat of Soviet SS-20 missiles bristling in Eastern Europe with the deployment of American Pershing II missiles; his bold actions inflamed the Nuclear Freeze Movement to international protests. In many nations Reagan countered Communist aggression through covert and overt means - he was called a warmonger.

While esteemed economists and prestigious think tanks (prized authorities for Washington insiders) testified to the overawing strength of the Soviet economy, Ronald Reagan singularly perceived Soviet weakness, and believed he could push the Soviet economy to the breaking point by leveraging American economic might focused on an arms build up. Reagan promoted the development of a space-based missile defense system, the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), derisively dubbed "Star Wars."

A new type of Soviet General Secretary ascended to the top of the Soviet Union. His predecessors were thuggish, dour, and threatening, but Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev was handsome, urbane, and open to negotiations with President Reagan. Gorbachev and Reagan held a series of diplomatic summits, and hopes were raised worldwide for a peaceful resolution of the Cold War. The diplomacy culminated at a meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, where Gorbachev proposed banning all ballistic missiles; in return Gorbachev expected Reagan to scrap SDI. President Reagan refused: he wanted to continue developing the science.

Disappointment was near universal; blame was heaped on Ronald Reagan: He was the warmonger insisting on the continuation of the Cold War - all the sophisticated people said so. Reagan perceived that "Star Wars" was a trump card, an effective tool for pressuring the Soviet economy and military. He had the gut feeling that he was right, and the strength of character to act in the face of scathing condemnation. He could act as he did because he had an innate sense of optimism coming from his trust in God. Ronald Reagan was proved correct when the Soviet Union did collapse during the following presidency of George H. W. Bush: a great evil passed away.

Ronald Reagan's efforts at reviving America's failing economy also required keen perception and strength of character. Reagan implemented his economic policies, consisting mostly of reductions in the rates of the federal income tax, but the recession lingered through 1982-1983 - the stimulative effect was slow in sparking the economy. A less self-assured president would have buckled and changed course before the numerous vicious critics, but an advisor said of Reagan:

He is absolutely convinced that there will be a big recovery. . . . He is an optimist, My God is he an optimist!

Reagan was right: his policies brought the longest peacetime expansion in the nation's history: ninety-two consecutive months. Chronic unemployment, double-digit inflation and interest rates were vanquished. Poverty rates fell and standards of living rose for everyone.

Ronald Reagan led Americans out of period stagnation and malaise. He loved America and Americans. He had a sunny personality that attracted ordinary Americans, because he believed in goodness, and the nobility of America. He believed in freedom, he trusted God, and so he was optimistic. When he wanted to speak to the American people directly he gave speeches, bypassing a hostile media. The sincerity with which he spoke was obvious to all, except the Washington cynics. The following is a quotation from Ronald Reagan's "Farewell Address to the Nation" (January 11, 1989) given from the Oval Office:

An informed patriotism is what we want. And are we doing a good enough job teaching our children what America is and what she represents in the long history of the world? Those of us who are over 35 or so years of age grew up in a different America. We were taught, very directly, what it means to be an American. And we absorbed, almost in the air, a love of country and an appreciation of its institutions. If you didn't get these things from your family you got them from the neighborhood, from the father down the street who fought in Korea, or the family who lost someone at Anzio. Or you could get a sense of patriotism from school. And if all else failed you could get a sense of patriotism from popular culture. The movies celebrated democratic values and implicitly reinforced the idea that America was special. TV was like that, too, through the mid-sixties.
But now, we're got to teach history based not on what's in fashion but what's important - why the Pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was and what those 30 seconds over Tokyo meant. . . . If we forget what we did, we won't know who we are. I'm warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit. Let's start with some basics: more attention to American history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual.
And let me offer lesson number one about America. All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So, tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins. And children, if your parents haven't been teaching you what it means to be an American, let'em know and nail'em on it. That would be a very American thing to do.
And that's about all I have to say tonight, except for one thing. The past few days when I've been at that window upstairs, I've thought a bit of the "shining city upon a hill." The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we'd call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free.
I've spoken of the Shining City all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still.

I could have chosen any number of equally good quotes from Paul Kengor's excellent book. Kengor's book is slender but it does capture the essence of Ronald Reagan. The 11 principles of Reagan Conservatism are: Freedom, Faith, Family, the Sanctity and Dignity of Human Life, American Exceptionalism, the Founders' Wisdom and Vision, Lower Taxes, Limited Government, Peace Through Strength, Anti-communism, and Belief in the Individual.

By way of contrast, to capture the spirit of our present ruling elite, I want to offer a quotation of Barack Obama, given on the verge of a modest reduction in federal spending. Standing before a group of police officers and firemen President Obama said:

Now, if Congress allows this meat-cleaver approach to take place, it will jeopardize our military readiness; it will eviscerate job-creating investments in education and energy and medical research. . . . Emergency responders like the ones who are here today - their ability to help communities respond to and recover from disasters will be degraded. Border Patrol agents will see their hours reduced. FBI agents will be furloughed. Federal prosecutors will have to close cases and let criminals go. Air traffic controllers and airport security will see cutbacks, which means more delays at airports across the country. Thousands of teachers and educators will be laid off. Tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find childcare for their kids. Hundreds of thousands of Americans will lose access to primary care and preventive care like flu vaccinations and cancer screenings. . . . So these cuts are not smart. . . . They will add hundreds of thousands of Americans to the unemployment rolls. . . .

One year after this speech the Government Accountability Office issued a report (May 2014) stating that one layoff resulted from the modest sequester cuts that were implemented. Note well the deceitful attempt to threaten, scare, and punish the American people. These words reveal a man consumed with a lust for power, and a willingness to stop at nothing to grasp it. Today President Obama's claims stand exposed as ridiculous, outrageous, and disgraceful.

As Americans we should not be trapped in forebodings about the future of our nation. Look at the effects one good man, Ronald Reagan, had on American history.

Americans need to be shown the difference in character between Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama: Reagan sought to nourish, uplift, and rescue; and Obama to deceive and dominate.

Currently Americans are afflicted by out-of-control federal bureaucracies - the VA, IRS, EPA, HS, HHS, NSA, etc. - their arrogance and grasp of power is insufferable. The presidency of Barack Obama is all about extending the power of the federal government, and making Americans subservient to the ruling class. But more and more Americans are becoming disillusioned. The time is ripe for revival.

Are the federal bureaucracies more imposing than the British Navy, Hitler's Germany, or the Soviet Union? All it would take to vanquish the bureaucracies is one inspired president who could explain clearly to the American people why these huge government agencies are un-American, and that the American people can be trusted to manage their own affairs better than an unaccountable ruling class. President Obama's administration is proving an excellent example of government failure. The pain he is creating drives the point home.

In a nation of over 300 million people, swaddled as we are (though people need reminding) in our traditions of freedom and achievement, we can trust that better leaders will emerge. *

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