Today would have been Ronald Reagan's 100th birthday. The event will be celebrated by the resurrection of Life magazine and at the Superbowl. Reagan would have been amused by either tribute. He would have laughed at the various academic symposia.
Both points are to the credit of our 40th President--the first successful campaign for which I volunteered; the only Administration in which I worked. His striving for individual liberties and economic freedom, his belief in Americans and America, and his contagious humor and optimism inspired many (myself included) and changed the lives of millions. Reagan made a difference in part because he believed that he could--my favorite quote comes via his first national security adviser, Richard Allen, four years before moving into the White House:
In January 1977, I visited Ronald Reagan in Los Angeles. During our four-hour conversation, he said many memorable things, but none more significant than this. "My idea of American policy toward the Soviet Union is simple, and some would say simplistic," he said. "It is this: We win and they lose. What do you think of that?" One had never heard such words from the lips of a major political figure; until then, we had thought only in terms of managing the relationship with the Soviet Union.This kind of stuff drove Democrats (and Frenchmen) mad--but proved correct. And anyone who denigrates Reagan as a mere actor should read the President's own writings.
Happy birthday and requiescat in pace, RWR--a great man, leader and American.
Via reader Doug J., Chicago law prof Richard Epstein explains "The Secret of Ronald Reagan's Success":
The secret to Reagan's success was that he cared about the big stuff without troubling himself with the little stuff. The determined simplicity of his vision made him the butt of many a joke by liberal pundits who had him beat cold on IQ points. But in so ridiculing him, his critics misunderstood the key virtues for a political leader.
I have spent my entire career in legal education. Whenever I write about technical subjects, I quickly find myself mired in multiple exceptions to a general rule. "But what about" is the phrase that guides academic inquiry. That approach works for lawyers, who spend inordinate time arguing about novel cases that fall at the margin of two competing principles.
But political leaders are, thankfully, not necessarily lawyers. Their job is to define the terms of the debate. They should leave the details to, well, people like me.
Any effort to go down into the weeds has two fatal consequences for the politician who wants to be a statesman. First, it narrows the scope of the principle so that the general public can no longer figure out where their political leader stands. Second, the public emphasis on minutiae presents the image of the postmodern man consumed by doubt and devoid of inner conviction.
Leadership cannot thrive on nuance or uncertainty. It depends on unshakable commitments to sound principles.
That is where Ronald Reagan excelled as a president.