- - Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Last month, I read Craig Shirley’s new work “Reagan Rising: The Decisive Years, 1976-1980” (see Jennifer Harper’s review here in The Washington Times review).

There are endless numbers of anecdotes or quotes that I highlighted for future use. But if you asked me for one specific story from the book that struck me, it would be Mr. Shirley’s account of the 1978 “Firing Line” debates over the Panama Canal Treaty — between Ronald Reagan/Pat Buchanan (against the treaty) and William Buckley/George Will (for the treaty).

Reading about this event prompted me to go online to find the video, and I was delighted to find it at C-SPAN.

Here is the excerpt from Mr. Shirley’s book:

Buckley also wryly noted the predicament of debating his favorite politician. Reagan spoke and made it clear he did not trust the Panamanian government and that the negotiations of the treaties had begun in 1964, after riots in the streets of Panama. He argued that American should never have been cowed into the negotiations in the first place. Reagan smiled at Buckley and wondered why his old friend was not on his side; Buckley replied, “The force of my illumination would blind you.” The audience again laughed.

Reagan would make a thrust; Buckley would parry. Buckley would make a point; Reagan would make an effective counterpoint. It was a serious discussion without vitriol. It was a disagreement without being disagreeable. It was impressive because all the men involved were overachievers and successful in many endeavors, and thus it showcased the best of the conservative movement. These were high-minded men of serious purpose and scholarly thought, and it showed the movement in its best light to millions of viewers.

Take a look at the video and ask: What keeps us from having this level of discourse today?

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