Sunday, February 06, 2011

Happy Birthday Ronnie

Here's a column I wrote which appears in today's Calgary Herald.

Ronald Reagan's real achievement

Today marks the 100th anniversary of former American president Ronald Reagan's birth.

It's a time to remember Reagan and to celebrate his legacy.

And what a legacy.

Reagan helped turn a sour U.S. economy around, he helped win the Cold War, he assembled a winning political coalition, he restored American pride.

Many, in fact, consider him to be one of America's greatest all time presidents. (At least, conservatives view him that way.)

For me however, "The Gipper's" real success was not his economic policies or his foreign policy achievements.

For me it was how Reagan rebranded conservatism.

What do I mean?

Well before Reagan, conservatives were basically a dour lot.

And why not, everywhere they looked conservatism was losing ground.

Roosevelt's "New Deal" of the 1930s had ushered in the American welfare state, communism was on the march, taking over country after country, right-wing Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater got crushed in the 1964 election, the '60s Cultural Revolution was seemingly undermining America's morality and strength.

For conservatives, it was obvious -- the unstoppable trend toward "liberalism", was causing a slow, steady and inevitable American decline.

Hope was lost.

How could the U.S., with its "Age of Aquarius" generation ever hope to compete with the disciplined Soviets?

Pessimism reigned supreme.

Conservative thinkers were turning out books with uplifting titles like Suicide of the West.

Even those defying American liberalism did so defensively -- famed intellectual William F. Buckley, for instance, launched the conservative National Review saying the magazine would stand "athwart history, yelling stop."

Hardly a rallying cry.

By the 1970s things were only getting worse: the Watergate scandal, the military loss in Vietnam, Jimmy Carter spreading his own malaise in the White House.

Then at what seemed conservatism's darkest hour, came Reagan.

Reagan, the former Hollywood actor, the former Democrat, did things that were unusual for conservatives in those days.

He actually smiled! He used humour! He reached to Americans with a conservative message that was positive.

Rather than bemoaning America's "decline", Reagan made the case that America was still great.
America, he said, just had to remember that its greatness rested on freedom, including economic freedom.

If government was made smaller and less intrusive, he argued, it would free up the individual to create prosperity and growth. Government, in other words, wasn't part of the solution, it was part of the problem.

As Reagan himself put it, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"

Suddenly, thanks to Reagan, conservatism went from being a philosophy for Captain Killjoys to a force for optimism.

Reagan's brand of conservatism didn't look back, it looked forward; it promised better things and a brighter future.

Not surprisingly, it was an outlook that resonated with the American people.

Not only did it propel Reagan to the White House, but it changed the dynamics of the American political scene.

Reagan put liberalism on the defensive.

But more importantly, his message inspired not only his American countrymen, but conservatives around the globe.

That's a lesson today's conservative leaders should remember.

© Calgary Herald 2011


Anonymous said...

Maybe Harper needs to read this article by you Gerry? One of your better works. (real conservative)

Ted Betts said...


Mention of Reagan's desire for smaller governemnt, but no mention that he oversaw the largest expansion of government, plus the largest deficit growth in American history.

Idolized for cutting taxes, but never a mention that he also raised taxes 11 times, and collected more taxes than he cut.

No mention of the "uplifting" S&L scam either or the "reinvigoration" of conservativism by giving military weapons to Iran and cozying up to dictators like Saddam Hussein all over the world. Or the crash at the end of the 1980s (if you are going to give him credit for the 1980s economy, you get it all). Today's conservatives idolize a fantasy when they idolize Reagan.

However, Gerry has found the nugget of truth to his image in that column: he would be run out of town by the Tea Party crowd and called a RINO today by those that claim him as an ideal, but he did re-energize and re-brand conservativism and he did put liberalism on the defensive. It was a style thing, and a direction thing, more than a substance thing.