Ronald Reagan was an optimist, but not in the way that many people like to describe him. He did not think that all paths would inevitably lead to “Morning in America.” Specifically, he was not an optimist in the sense of believing that ceding ever-greater power and control to a centralized government would turn out well. To the contrary, in this regard he was a healthy pessimist, or a hardheaded realist.
In the famous 1964 address that essentially launched his political career, Reagan quoted a Democratic senator who had said that we must use “the full power of centralized government” to allow the president to do “what he knows ‘is best.’” Reagan energetically replied: “‘[T]he full power of centralized government’ — this was the very thing the Founding Fathers sought to minimize. They knew that governments don’t control things. A government can’t control the economy without controlling people. And they knew when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose.”
So Reagan was not an optimist in the above sense, but in the following one: He steadfastly believed that, whatever the odds, the good fight was well worth waging; that it could be won; and that there was no greater earthly cause than liberty.
Reagan shared the American Founders’ universal belief that limited government provides the best security for our inalienable rights. He also shared their keen awareness of the dangers posed by government that exceeds those limits; of the desires of ambitious leaders to increase their own power and, correspondingly, the people’s dependency, by offering to care and provide for them; and of the threats that consolidated and centralized power invariably pose to liberty. He knew, as the Founders knew, that it’s not a question of if such power will diminish liberty, but of how much it will diminish it.
Even President Obama has inadvertently admitted as much, having declared when pitching his health care overhaul in September that “our predecessors … understood that there are instances when the gains in security from government action are not worth the added constraints on our freedom.” This quote is telling, for it implicitly betrays the president’s awareness that the price of increased government action is, indeed, decreased freedom. He just thinks it’s worth it. Of course, that’s easy to say when one’s own freedom would not be reduced, while one’s own power and glory would be increased.
Throughout the health care debate, we, the American people, have weighed these considerations and have made it abundantly clear that we do not think the gains in security from the president’s health care overhaul are remotely worth the added constraints on our freedom — through higher costs, higher deficits, and, most of all, greater federal government control over us. Nor has this been an expression of far right paranoia. Rather, polls continue to show that Americans in the center of the political spectrum oppose this legislation even more so than Americans as a whole — a remarkable thing. Across the months, in every way we know how, we the people have made it clear: this is not at all what we want.
So you and I now face a choice. We can sit by while legislation that was passed in clear defiance of our will is now allowed to diminish our liberty. We can sit by while it puts “added constraints on our freedom” in a manner that we, and our fellow citizens, did not ask for and do not desire. Or we can repeal it.
As Bill Kristol has rightly argued, the road to repeal will be simple, but it won’t be easy. Furthermore, it will be long: three years. But it’s a road we must travel — and, though hard, it will be far easier than the path traveled by other patriots from Lexington to Independence Hall, from Pearl Harbor to V-J Day, from Fort Sumter to the signing of the Voting Rights Act. Let us join with those who have previously fought for liberty, and let us win this present battle against those who now seek to deprive our liberty from within, just as — only 19 months after Madison’s death — Lincoln warned us would happen.