Today would be the ninety-sixth birthday of President Ronald Reagan. The man who applied the philosophical principles of Burke, Kirk, Friedman and Buckley to the needs of Jack and Jill. The ideology that developed individual freedom, private enterprise, limited government, traditional values, strong national defense, individual responsibility, and free markets into cornerstones of policy.
"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free."
On the domestic front, he understood proper role of government, but also he understood how to pick his battles. He was a neo-socialistic democrat who vigorously defended The New Deal in the forties, but by the sixties he had made an ideological shift. He began to find a "new moral grasp" on issues like role of government, abortion, and defense posture. Ideas that would define his presidency. He worked with a democratic congress to get things done. Sadly, the Democrats failed to cut spending as drastically he wished for them to, and failed to eliminate useless waste as he advocated, but his tax cuts weathered strong. His stand for life, choice, and opportunity was eloquent and passionate. His optimism characteristic.
On the foreign affairs front, where he is remembered best, he defined his own strategy. He added imploding to containment. He's best remembered for missile defense (which we likely wouldn't have today if it wasn't for Reagan) and walking away from the negotiations with Gorbachev when the Soviet leader demanded Reagan give up Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Gorbachev offered to roll back nukes if the US would alleviate buildups, and made several more concessions to which Reagan agreed. Finally, Mikhail said Reagan would have to give up missile defense, and Reagan turned him down, likely turning down a Nobel Prize. He defined his negotiations with the pretext, "The Soviets make promises, they don't keep them." A historically (viewing Truman, Nixon, Ford, and Carter dealings) correct assertion. He's also remembered for massive buildups in US arms, choking the Soviets who couldn't keep up.
Reagan always believed the Soviet economy to not be much larger than the state of California's. He waged economic warfare on all fronts, urging the Saudis to jack up oil supply, driving down prices thus crippling the Soviet oil market. A wide array of actions infuriated investors and likely led to the mid-'80s mild recession. The economy recovered with a boom, however, and the damage to Russia was done.
The USSR obviously crumbled, but its shadow covered a number of small issues and nuances. Few remember how courageously and brilliantly Reagan handled Grenada. Few remember the endearing stories from nurses in the hospital after his assassination attempt. Few remember his work in the fields of education reform. But almost all remember his wit, honesty, and charisma.
Of course, he made his fair share of mistakes. Most notably Iran Contra (in which he relived too heavily on some advisers, and didn't pull back fast enough), the '83 tax hikes, the vigilance with which he prioritized the war on drugs, and the space station.
But in the grand scheme of things, it's dwarfed
Reagan had some incredible staffers and advisers, and most of their writings are excellent. Some people to look into (roughly in order of importance):
Edwin Meese III
Richard V. Allen
Judge William P. Clark
William J. Casey
Any conservative today likely remembers Peggy Noonan (author of When Character was King among many greats), and her happy birthday column ran Friday.
"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... And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure and happier than it was eight years ago. But more than that; after two hundred years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she's still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home. We've done our part. And as I walk into the city streets, a final word to the men and women of the Reagan revolution, the men and women across America who for eight years did the work that brought America back. My friends: We did it. We weren't just marking time, we made a difference. We made the city stronger, we made the city freer, and we left her in good hands. All in all, not bad. Not bad at all. And so, good-bye. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America." —Ronald Reagan