February 6, 2011

In the fall of 1980, I was preaching for a little church in Maryland, just outside of Annapolis, working as the Morning announcer for a Baltimore Public Radio station, teaching part-time at a Bible College in Bel Air and working on my doctorate in Philadelphia, simultaneously! At the time, I had a wife and two children living at home, the economy was bad, many in my community were out of work. Inflation hit 14-percent, the prime interest rate hovered near 20-percent, mortgage rates were over 13.

I worked three jobs (two-part time) because I had to and lucky I was to have them. I don't know how I did it but I seemed to have had more time for my family then, than five years afterward when I had and only needed one job. But, I digress.

The fall of 1980 brought America a chance to change course and bring a new glimmer of hope, one that could - and did - lower inflation, unemployment, interest rates and taxes while building our defenses against an ever encroaching threat of Soviet aggression and our confidence in ourselves. The event of which I refer was the Presidential election. Ronald Wilson Reagan decidedly defeated a weak, inexperienced and totally ignorant man from Plains, Georgia who would go down as one of the five worst presidents in our nation's history.

I remember watching Reagan's inaugural address on TV that cold Tuesday afternoon on January 20, 1981. He noted that "government is not the solution to our problem," that "We are a nation that has a government—not the other way around. And this makes us special among the nations of the Earth. Our Government has no power except that granted it by the people." And most memorable:

Idle industries have cast workers into unemployment, causing human misery and personal indignity. Those who do work are denied a fair return for their labor by a tax system which penalizes successful achievement and keeps us from maintaining full productivity.   But great as our tax burden is, it has not kept pace with public spending. For decades, we have piled deficit upon deficit, mortgaging our future and our children's future for the temporary convenience of the present. To continue this long trend is to guarantee tremendous social, cultural, political, and economic upheavals.

I remember watching as he spoke, the images ABC and NBC cast upon the screen of the 52 American hostages being taken to the airport and the plane on which they rode taking off from Tehran airport in Iran - a symbol that Iran didn't want to deal with an American President who strongly hinted he was going to take drastic action against the entire nation if they weren't released.

I remember six days later, while my family and I stood near the Lincoln Memorial on the following Monday Evening, January 26th as we welcomed the hostages home and, amidst the regalia and fireworks, our new President promised any enemy of America that there would be "shift and retributive justice" should anything like this happen to its citizens abroad again.

I felt stronger, the nation felt stronger and we started to come together to rebuild our self-image.

Today is the 100th birthday of Ronald Reagan. Were he alive today he would say, "thank you for celebrating with me the 61st anniversary of my 39th birthday" (an illusion back to his 70th birthday he celebrated in the White House back in '81).

I hope that today millions will be celebrating his birth, his life, and the legacy he left our country and the conservative movement. To celebrate, take a few minutes to watch two of his speeches -- his 1964 speech in support of Barry Goldwater and his 1987 speech at the Brandenburg Gate -- and you will remember why Reagan was called the Great Communicator, and will notice how his message still resonates with us today.

Both of these Reagan speeches can be found on the Reagan Foundation's YouTube Channel and watched in less than an hour.

He closed his speech supporting Barry Goldwater for president with, "You and I have a rendezvous with destiny." Speaking as president 23 years later at the Brandenburg Gate, he challenged Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall!"

Reagan rose to national prominence on Oct. 27, 1964, by delivering "The Speech," as it became known, in support of the Republican Party's presidential candidate. It was a big risk for the Goldwater campaign to have a little-known spokesman deliver the paid-for half-hour political speech.

The speech, which started with Reagan noting that he had spent most of his life as a Democrat, cited core conservative values: less government, more involvement by the people, less regulation, more personal responsibility. The foundation for Reagan's address had formed while he was a spokesman for General Electric's initiative to promote citizenship among employees.

Reagan clearly delineated who should be included and what was at stake:

"I believe that the issues confronting us cross party lines," he said. "There is no such thing as a left or right. There's only an up or down-- (up) man's age-old dream, the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order, or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism."

Reagan was a uniter at heart. He believed that individuals rather than government should be in charge, he believed that conservatism was the way to solve our ills as a nation, noting, "A government can't control the economy without controlling people."

"This is the issue of this election," Reagan said. "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."

This very clear articulation of two very different political philosophies is just as applicable today.

Goldwater lost. Reagan went on to hold public office, serving as the governor of California from 1967 to 1975. In 1980, 16 years after delivering "The Speech," Reagan was elected president.

In 1983, in a speech to the annual convention of the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Fla., Reagan summarized the moral argument against the Soviet Union. "Freedom prospers when religion is vibrant and the rule of law under God is acknowledged," said Reagan, who added that the problem was not a military one. "The real crisis we face today is a spiritual one; at root, it is a test of moral will and faith."

Reagan also defined what we were against: "Let us be aware that, while they preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world."

In his Brandenburg Gate speech, Reagan noted there is "one great and inescapable conclusion: Freedom leads to prosperity. Freedom replaces the ancient hatreds among the nations with comity and peace. Freedom is the victor."

Freedom was indeed the victor on November 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall was torn down. Just two years later, on Christmas Day 1991, the Soviet Union ceased to exist.

These two Reagan speeches resonate with us today. They remind us that our country is the last, best hope on earth, that you and I do have a rendezvous with destiny, and finally, that words have incredible power.

We must not be afraid to engage in the great spiritual battle at hand and to use words to support freedom and liberty.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President! I wish you were here to celebrate with us. We miss you!

We believe that the Constitution of the United States speaks for itself. There is no need to rewrite, change or reinterpret it to suit the fancies of special interest groups or protected classes.