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.
And if you ever find your resolve wavering, as many Republican leaders (sadly) already do, remember this: President Obama imposed this legislation through sheer perseverance, determination, and force of will. So ask yourself this question: Do you care about keeping your liberty as much as he cares about depriving you of it? If the answer is “no,” then you don’t deserve it; if “yes,” then fight on.
In early 2013, savoring the sweet taste of victory on our lips, we’ll joyfully raise our glasses in a toast to the repeals of Prohibition and ObamaCare — and to the continued triumph of the American experiment in liberty.
Here is the five-word agenda for which we should fight: repeal, and then real reform. And here’s how we’ll achieve it:
Step one: Win control of Congress. As much as they seek to delude themselves in claiming the contrary, Democratic supporters of ObamaCare will pay a heavy price this November. Seniors hate this legislation, and seniors vote. Independents hate this legislation, and independents decide swing districts. Far more Americans loathe this legislation than love it, and intensity of feeling fuels voter enthusiasm and voter turnout. Nothing can be taken for granted, and we will have to work for each and every seat, but this will likely be the easiest of the three steps — although it will presumably come in two phases (2010 and 2012), especially in the Senate.
Step two: Win the presidency. ObamaCare won’t really go into effect until 2014 — and, if President Obama isn’t reelected in 2012, it likely won’t ever really go into effect at all. But his reelection bid is 32 months from now, meaning that we’ll have to be very determined and will have to pace ourselves. Furthermore, and despite some wishful thinking to the contrary, he won’t be easy to beat.
He is already the president, which is a clear advantage. He likely won’t be able to do much harm in the two years preceding the election, as — thanks to his actions to date — he won’t be likely to have enough allies left in Congress to do so. Furthermore, this change might well be perceived by many Americans as evidence that he has become more reasonable, more bipartisan, or less ideologically driven to found a European-style Democratic Socialist state on this side of the Atlantic. Meanwhile, insurance premiums will rise in direct response to ObamaCare, but the president will spin this as evidence that he was right to push his overhaul. We, the majority of Americans who oppose ObamaCare, will have to overcome all of this.
The key, of course, will be having the right candidate. We need a candidate who — in roughly this order — has the personal appeal or likeability to more or less match the president’s, who can beat him in a debate, who has sound judgment, who espouses sensible policies and is prepared to offer real solutions, who has a respectable record of prior service, and who appears suitably statesmanlike (regardless of his or her sex). There is one person who seems to fit all of these criteria, and who has gotten the better of the president in public exchanges on more than one recent occasion, but he has not yet entered the fray. So we will have to see who emerges and choose wisely.
Step three: Repeal ObamaCare and pass real reform. Some have argued that, because of the filibuster, legislation could never get through the Senate, even if we were to get this far. But if the Democratic supporters of ObamaCare have lost two straight elections, if President Obama’s opponent has made “repeal, and then real reform” the centerpiece of his campaign, and if President Obama has been sent packing, leaving only ObamaCare behind, trust me: the remaining supporters of that legislation are not going to be eager to try the patience of voters and block repeal. As for real reform, a small bill that cuts costs, doesn’t raise deficits, and substantially decreases the number of uninsured, might well be the way to go.
This three-year, three-step plan is quite achievable. Whether or not it ultimately leads to victory will largely be a question of will. If we are determined to see the views of the American people prevail over those of a president who has defiantly turned a deaf ear to them, we will win a crucial victory — not only for ourselves, but for the nation “brought forth on this continent” and “conceived in liberty.”
In 1964, Reagan concluded, “You and I have a rendezvous with destiny.” So do we — only this time far more Americans recognize it, and they will bring greater strength in numbers to the fight.