- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Ronald Reagan left a void when he stepped down as president 22 years ago. The warmth, sincerity and class he brought to the Oval Office has not been equaled since. Nor has his ability to articulate and advance a compelling policy vision.

Reagan succeeded on the domestic front because, as a man of principle, he had clarity of purpose. Everyone knew where Reagan came from, and everyone knew where he was going. From his birthplace in Tampico, Ill. to his career on the silver screen, Reagan was driven by the traditions and values that made America great. A Democrat in his early Hollywood days, Reagan nonetheless believed he had a duty to stand up against the communist ideology he saw undermining his country.

Reagan switched political parties, but he held the same core beliefs that he applied to the challenge of governing California. In 1967, the Golden State had run up a $200 million budget deficit ($1.3 billion in today’s dollars). While he made a few mistakes on issues from abortion to taxes in this political debut, he learned important lessons. By 1975, California reported a budget surplus of $555 million. While politicians today would divide up such a windfall and blow it on new programs and initiatives, Reagan gave it back in the form of a rebate. His opponents called this an “unnecessary expenditure of public funds.” To Reagan, the money belonged to the people who earned it, not to politicians. Reagan calculated that his administration had given back $5.7 billion in the form of refunds, tax cuts and reductions in tolls.

This California experience guided Reagan as 40th president of the United States. Though he took office in a time of economic uncertainty, high unemployment and stagnation, he knew, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Instead of having Washington stimulate the economy, Reagan wanted Americans to lead their own recovery. Federal taxes and regulation had strangled innovation, so he wanted to slash marginal rates and eliminate bracket creep, allowing individuals to keep the reward for their hard work. The 1981 tax cut plan was widely ridiculed as dangerous and impractical, especially given the Democratic domination of the House of Representatives.

Reagan did not bow to the pressure; he turned to the airwaves. He appealed directly to the American people for support, and they responded by lighting up the Capitol switchboard. Reagan met with 467 lawmakers during his first 100 days in office. They didn’t always agree, but Reagan made sure that they parted on friendly terms. It worked; the tax-cut bill passed the House with 43 extra votes. Reagan never believed for a second that “government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people.” He knew drawing Americans into the battle was the key to success.

The tax cuts also worked an economic miracle, kicking off an economic expansion that lasted 93 straight months. The “morning in America” that was the keystone of Reagan’s 1984 campaign was a reality. Reagan won a landslide re-election because he had underpromised and overdelivered.

Reagan, of course, didn’t get everything he wanted. Most particularly, the House refused to go along with proposed spending cuts that would have reined in the deficit. But Reagan held firm to his veto pen, keeping tax hikes, for the most part, off the table. This allowed Reagan to end his public career with unemployment at a 14-year low. In his farewell address, Reagan said of the two greatest accomplishments during his time in office, he was most proud of the economic recovery where “the people of America” - not government - created 19 million jobs. “The other is the recovery of our morale,” he said. “America is respected again in the world and looked to for leadership.” Patriotism was once again in fashion with the country’s economic, military and moral strength restored.

As a man of deep Christian faith, Reagan never believed he was the source of his own success. He reflected upon his presidency with humility and grace. “I wasn’t a great communicator,” he explained. “But I communicated great things, and they didn’t spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation - from our experience, our wisdom and our belief in the principles that have guided us for two centuries.”

Ronald Reagan was truly one of a kind and is deeply missed to this day. The lesson on the centennial of his birth is simple: The road to recovery will not be found in politicians. The Founding Fathers have already laid out the path; we need only follow it. It’s up to the next generation of leaders to make the Gipper proud by restoring trust in the wisdom of free markets and limited government.

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