It was an
honor to know and work for Ronald Reagan, whose birthday we celebrate this
week. I “cut my political teeth” working for him in West Texas in 1976 and
1980, running for the U.S. House at his suggestion in 1978, and later in his
administration from 1981-85 in several executive positions.
I was very fortunate to meet with him numerous times both in private and public meetings, and
there are two – of many – specific lessons that I learned from him that are enormously important today in 2012. They’re timeless actually.
First, know what you believe; and believe what you know. And be ready, willing and able to
tell that story. I learned from Ronald Reagan that in politics the narrative is everything. The reason he could so compellingly explain to his fellow citizens the reality of economic
consequences, the nature of evil, the noblest call of human liberty and dignity, and the Divine hand of the Creator in both our national and personal life, is simply because it was in his very soul.
He spent decades studying and conceptualizing his beliefs. So when he went before the public
arguing that a bloated, government-run welfare state stripped human dignity out
of individuals, and left them to the least that is in them, not the best that
liberty could afford them, American’s responded to the conviction and the truth
of his narrative.
When he said that our problems are not caused by too little spending, but by a predictable
desire of a self perpetuating bureaucracy to take from the individual and consume for themselves, the truth struck like a bell.
When he described the “Evil Empire” and its political offspring that sought to corrupt
God’s sovereign gift and enslave a world to a dark idolatry of the state, free
men and women knew instinctively that his narrative was beyond human truth.
And when he spoke of the gift of human life, it was not a piece of DNA, but a life hand
crafted by God.
Today, we suffer the “sound-bite conservative” in the political world. Too many of our
politicians are men and woman of the moment. They throw around catch-phrases
like “free markets” and “free trade” and “pro-life” like party favors. But you
know in your heart they are just spouting words they think you want to hear,
not the truth you need to hear. They simply don’t have a whole narrative in
their souls; and whatever they believe today, can change by a poll tomorrow.
If the modern conservative movement wants to be freshly relevant – if we want to
rescue our faith, our culture, our economy and our liberty – then we will
become studied expositors of the narrative. We will tell the American people
why we believe what we believe. Not reluctantly, no apologetically, and not
with one eye to the political calculus.
Ronald Reagan’s narrative spoke to the American spirit like a song-bird sings to the
world; he told both the Truth – and the truth.
The second thing I learned from Ronald Reagan was to speak to the future, not the past. He
was a very practical man. He certainly used historical and factual stories from the past as guideposts, markers and warnings. But he led his countrymen by an optimistic vision of what God promised us we could be. Always in his narrative was the causal lightness that we
took ourselves to seriously, and that there was a streak of common sense and ingenuity that ran in the American character – because liberty revealed it in us. God’s grace invited it. Our natural humor welcomed it.
Men look better after the years pass. We forget the turmoil and angst of Washington’s
trek across the frontier of Revolution. We forget Lincoln’s foibles, mistakes
and dark moods. So too, perhaps we shall paint a portrait of Ronald Reagan
without some of the blemishes of his life because we want to only remember the
best of him. But blemishes are not what make great men and women. Ronald Reagan
was without serious question one of the giants of the twentieth century. We do him, nor ourselves, any wrong to pass by his blemishes, and celebrate his greatness.
As I go to sleep at night, my prayer is that our beloved America shall soon see another great
leader for the young twenty-first century.
lives in Northern Virginia and has been widely published on politics, public
policy, and foreign affairs. He served in both the Reagan and Bush (41)