Blogs > Liberty and Power > Reagan's Rendezvous with Destiny

Jun 6, 2004 11:35 am

Reagan's Rendezvous with Destiny

Like my L&P colleagues, Sheldon Richman and Steven Horwitz, I too have some thoughts about Ronald Reagan, who passed away yesterday (on what was also the 36th anniversary of Robert F. Kennedy's assassination). There really are no words to convey the pain that a family endures watching the slow deterioration of a loved one due to Alzheimer's disease. My heart goes out to his family for their loss.

I did not vote for Reagan in 1981. So convinced was I of the horrific alternative between a wishy-washy Jimmy Carter and a Moral Majority-beholden Ronald Reagan that I voted for Ed Clark, the Libertarian candidate for President.

But in 1984, I did cast my vote for Reagan because I believed that he had achieved an important ideological shift in the terms of the American political debate. While this shift was aided by other important world figures, as Jonathan Dresner explains, Reagan's convictions and principles, his humor and optimism, enabled him to score a rhetorical victory on behalf of free markets that was unparalleled in the post-New Deal era.

If only his actual legacy had matched his rhetoric ... Indeed, aspects of that legacy were profoundly mixed, and some of his policies have had unfortunate, long-term consequences.

But Ronald Reagan had made fashionable the use of words like"markets,""privatization," and"freedom." By the time, in 1987, when he stood before the Berlin Wall and told Soviet Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev to come to the Brandenburg Gate, to"open this gate" and"tear down this wall," it was clear that he had won a crucially important ideological victory on behalf of that"shining city upon a hill."

Whether it was his poignant tribute to the Challenger crew or his much earlier speech about a"rendezvous with destiny," Reagan's words were an inspiration. Indeed, that"Rendezvous with Destiny" speech, given on October 27, 1964 in support of Barry Goldwater's quest for the Presidency, inspires us even today. Why say anything about Reagan when he himself could say it better than almost anyone?

I think it's time we ask ourselves if we still know the freedoms that were intended for us by the Founding Fathers. ... If we lose freedom here, there is no place to escape to. This is the last stand on Earth. And this idea that government is beholden to the people, that it has no other source of power except to sovereign people, is still the newest and most unique idea in all the long history of man's relation to man. This is the issue of this election. Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.
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....
[T]he Founding Fathers ... knew that governments don't control things. A government can't control the economy without controlling people. And they knew 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. ... No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this Earth....
Somewhere a perversion has taken place. Our natural, inalienable rights are now considered to be a dispensation of government, and freedom has never been so fragile, so close to slipping from our grasp as it is at this moment. You and I have the courage to say to our enemies,"There is a price we will not pay." There is a point beyond which they must not advance. ... You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on Earth, or we will sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.

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