Ronald Reagan said to conservatives, “You’re the troops. You’re out there on the frontier of freedom.”
A young soldier stands guard in the cold, looking out over no-man’s-land through to the other side of the demilitarized zone and into North Korea. President Reagan is visiting the troops there that day. During the visit the young soldier turns to the president, salutes and says, “Mr. President, when you get home, tell them we’re on the frontier of freedom.”
Reagan concludes his final speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference with this brief story. He compares the gathered conservative movers and shakers to the “troops” who — like the soldier in the story — are on the forefront of defeating “totalitarianism.”
He tells the story to them, “because,” he said, “you’re the troops.” He illustrates the comparison, telling them, “You’re out there on the frontier of freedom.” He then repeats what the soldier said to him (“Mr. President, we’re on the frontier of freedom.”) And immediately afterwards adds the pithy coda to the very end of the speech, “Well, so are you.”
And so we are. Or should be.
Broadly, there are at least types of freedom: inherent, inherited, and acquired. The Founders used all these in crafting the Constitutional freedoms America seeks to establish — and to maintain.
Inherently, we are free. Deep inside we are “Free to Choose.” No matter what some philosophers or theologians claim, we human beings yearn to exercise our innate freedom. Some even sacrifice their lives in pursuit of this lofty goal. Till we give it up, each of us has in our nature the ability and the desire and the drive to choose how we will act with respect to our surroundings. We may not be able to control certain external factors, but deep within, we are free to see, and free to be. We decide.
We inherit from our family and our nation, certain shared cultural patterns. How we see and live as free men and women is something which is transmitted by and between the generations. We can described these shared conceptions about ourselves, our fellow man, and society as a whole, as “an historically transmitted pattern of meaning embodied in symbols; a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic form, by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life.” (Clifford Geertz, The Anagogical Imagination.) Indeed, how — and what — “we communicate, perpetuate” about freedom is the task of an active and believing conservative.
Personally and nationally we acquire freedom as we embrace good and sound principles. The Founders were genius in their eclectic and creative re-imagination of all the best of prior societies. They sought out of the best books and from the best minds of their day and from history the “best practices” (if you will) in how to secure and maintain our freedoms, our rights.
Conservatives today honor the Founders, modern leaders such as Ronald Reagan, and our own true selves when we expand the frontiers of freedom – in our selves, in our current society, in our the world, and for future generations.
Our politicians, by their words and policies, either expand or contract the frontiers of freedom. We the people either monitor and encourage its progress, or witness and suffer its decline.
Uninformed and disengaged, America may succumb to bad ideas and leaders. In succumbing, we fail to fulfill our destiny. Well informed and actively engaged, America rises as far as the good ideas and leaders it proactively chooses. In so rising, we fulfill our destiny — and offer to the world vacuum its last best hope.
See immediately below for a few highlights of Reagan’s last speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, February 11, 1988.
As usual, Reagan started out with a couple of humorous anecdotes. He chided the Denver Broncos (who were just shellacked 42 to 10) joking that, “Gorbachev called a week and a half ago and asked me if our first group of on-site inspectors could be the Denver Broncos’ pass defense?”
He went on to congratulate the Broncos as “all terrific athletes and people,” but then extolled the Washington Redskins with, “It’s great to know there are some people in Washington who play to win.” (In the context of some of his opponents who would unilaterally give up in the face of Communism in Central and South America.
This is a comical illustration of his spoken goals and real world accomplishments in the realm of a strong defense. See below as he developed this idea yet again. As he joked near the end of this speech, liberals have quite a bit of nerve to even suggest that we can solely talk our way out of international troubles.
Cynics Say People Vote their Pocketbook
Reagan knew, like most politicians don’t, that the American people could be trusted, if they are given the facts, the rationale and the reasons for political policies. He rejected the crass liberal mantra that the people are selfish – that only “caring” liberal statist central planners know best.
“You know that some cynics like to say that the people vote their pocketbook. But that’s not quite the point. Economic issues are important to the people not simply for reasons of self-interest. They know the whole body politic depends on economic stability; the great crises have come for democracies when taxes and inflation ran out of control and undermined social relations and basic institutions. The American people know what limited government, tax cuts, deregulation, and the move towards privatization have meant. It’s meant the largest peacetime expansion in our history, and I can guarantee you they won’t want to throw that away for a return to budgets beholden to the liberal special interests.”
The Tides of History are Shifting in Favor of the Cause of Freedom
Having already challenged Mr. Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” Reagan foresaw the dustbin of history would accept the ruins of a wreckage of a Communist run economy. And even more, that, “The tides of history are shifting in favor of the cause of freedom. . . . There is no room for illusion. Our guard is up, our watch is careful. We shall not be led by — or misled by — atmospherics. We came to Washington with a common-sense message that the world is a dangerous place where the only sure route to peace and the protection of freedom is through American strength.”
Difference Between Liberals and Conservatives
Knowing that each generation needs to be taught the principles of conservatism anew, Reagan also reminded voters in his own day of the differences between Liberals and Conservatives. “We have not only been undoing the damage of the past; we’ve put this nation on the upward road again. And, in the process, the differences between the liberals and conservatives have become clear to the American people. We want to keep taxes low, they want to raise them; we send in budgets with spending cuts and they want to ignore them; we want the balanced budget amendment and the line-item veto and they oppose them; we want tough judges and tough anti-crime legislation, they hold them both up in the Congress. We have a program and a plan for the American people — a program to protect American jobs by fighting the menace of protectionism, to move forward at flank speed with SDI, to call America to conscience on the issue of abortion on demand, to mention, as I did in my State of the Union Address, the overwhelming importance of family life and family values.”
Replenish Our Mandate
Then, near the end, Reagan made the case to his listeners that it is up to us to continue this progress. Not only in the 1988 election, but into the future. That is the “case to take to the American people. That’s a fighting agenda. . . . Tonight I ask each of you to join me in this important crusade. Let’s ask the American people to replenish our mandate. Let’s tell them if they want four more years of economic progress and the march of world freedom, they must help us this year.”
Again, he ended this speech with the call for us to be on the tip of the spear as we advance “the frontier of freedom.”
OF course freedom is worth advancing. And if not us, then who? If not now, then when? “Because,” as the President said to us and future generations, “You’re the troops. You’re out there on the frontier of freedom.” And so we are.
Those who believe in the freedom Reagan was famous for extolling, need to re-image and re-create the patterns and blessing of freedom for and in our own selves and our posterity.
Click here to see the full transcript of this speech.
Please see below for key excerpts.
THE STATE OF OUR MOVEMENT
A couple of weeks ago, I talked about the state of our Union, and tonight I’d like to talk about something that I think in many ways is synonymous: the state of our movement. During the past year, plenty of questions have been asked about the conservative movement by some people who were surprised to find out back in 1980 that there was such a thing.
AN UNABASHED APPEAL TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE FOR CONSERVATIVE IDEAS AND PRINCIPLES
I mean a powerful new political movement capable of running a victorious national campaign based on an unabashed appeal to the American people for conservative ideas and principles.
SKEPTICISM ABOUT THE PREVAILING WASHINGTON WISDOM
Well, we conservatives have been in Washington now for a while and we occasionally need to remind ourselves what brought us here in the first place: our unshakable, root-deep, all-encompassing skepticism about the capital city’s answer to the UFO, that bizarre, ever-tottering but ever-flickering saucer in the sky called “The Prevailing Washington Wisdom.”
CONSERVATIVES ARE NOT TIRED
And, right now, some of the Potomac seers are saying we conservatives are tired; or they’re saying we don’t have a candidate, some of those candidates in the other party saying how easy it’s going to be to win the presidency for their liberal agenda because they can run on, of all things, this administration’s economic record. Boy, have I got news for them. They’re seeing flying saucers again.
LIBERALS IN WASHINGTON NEED TO DISCOVER THE LESSON THEY REFUSE TO LEARN
Letting the liberals in Washington discover once again the lesson they refuse to learn. Letting them know just how big our election year will be because of booming economic growth and individual opportunity; and how big an election year ball and chain they’ve given themselves with a seven-year record of opposition to the real record.
THE REAL FRIENDS OF THE CONSERVATIVE MOVEMENT
But, most of all, letting them know that the real friends of the conservative movement aren’t those entrenched in the capital city for 50 years; the real friends of the conservative movement are an entity that gets heard from in a big way every four years and who, I promise you, are going to be heard from this year. I’m talking about those who, if the case is aggressively put before them, will vote for limited government, family values, and a tough, strong foreign policy every single time. I’m talking about those believers in common sense and sound values, your friends and mine, the American people.
REAGAN ECONOMIC GROWTH COMPARED TO CARTER RECORD
You see, those who underestimate the conservative movement are the same people who always underestimate the American people. . . .
WHAT THIS MEANS
So, think for a moment on what these statistics mean and the kind of political nerve and desperation it takes to try to sell the American people on the idea that in the 1980s they never had it so bad. The truth is, we’re in the 63rd month of this non-stop expansion. Real Gross National Product growth for 1987 was 3.8 percent, defying the pessimists and even exceeding our own forecast — which was criticized as being too rosy at the time — by more than one half percent. Inflation is down from 13.5 per cent in 1980 to only around 4 percent or less this year. And there’s over 15 million new jobs.
A JOKE ABOUT A LIBERAL ECONOMIST
So, believe me, I welcome this approach by the opposition. And I promise you, every time they use it, I’ll just tell the story of a friend of mine who was asked to a costume ball a short time ago — he slapped some egg on his face and went as a liberal economist. [Laughter] Now the reason I spell out these statistics and stress this economic issue should be very clear.
PEOPLE DON’T JUST VOTE THEIR POCKETBOOK
You know that some cynics like to say that the people vote their pocketbook. But that’s not quite the point. Economic issues are important to the people not simply for reasons of self-interest. They know the whole body politic depends on economic stability; the great crises have come for democracies when taxes and inflation ran out of control and undermined social relations and basic institutions. The American people know what limited government, tax cuts, deregulation, and the move towards privatization have meant. It’s meant the largest peacetime expansion in our history, and I can guarantee you they won’t want to throw that away for a return to budgets beholden to the liberal special interests.
No, I think the economic record of conservatives in power is going to speak for itself. But now let’s turn to another area. For two decades we’ve been talking about getting justices on the Supreme Court who cared less about criminals and more about the victims of crime, justices who knew that the words “original intent” referred to something more than New Year’s resolutions and fad diets. And then, seven months ago a seat opened on the Supreme Court. And even before our first nominee was announced, a campaign was planned unlike any that has ever been waged for or against a judicial nominee in the history of our country. And let me acknowledge once again my admiration for one of the courageous defenders, not only in our time but in all time, of the principles of our Constitution, yes, of its original intent — Judge Robert Bork. . . .
THIS IS THE VISION; THIS IS THE RECORD; THIS IS THE AGENDA FOR VICTORY
And so I say to you tonight that the vision and record that we will take aggressively to the American people this November is a vision that all Americans, except a few on the left, share. A vision of a nation that believes in the heroism of ordinary people living ordinary lives; of tough courts and safe streets, of a drug-free America where schools teach honesty, respect, love of learning and, yes, love of country; a vision of a land where families can grow in love and safety and where dreams are made with opportunity. This is the vision; this is the record; this is the agenda for victory this year. Well, that’s the record then on the economy and the social issues.
FOREIGN POLICY: FREEDOM FIGHTERS
Now, let’s turn to foreign policy. . . . So, let me make this pledge to you tonight: we’re not giving up on those who are fighting for their freedom — and they aren’t giving up either. I’ll have more to say on this in a few weeks. For now, I’ll leave it at this: get ready — the curtain hasn’t fallen, the drama continues. . . .
THE TIDES OF HISTORY ARE SHIFTING IN FAVOR OF THE CAUSE OF FREEDOM
The tides of history are shifting in favor of the cause of freedom. . . . There is no room for illusion. Our guard is up, our watch is careful. We shall not be led by — or misled by — atmospherics. We came to Washington with a common-sense message that the world is a dangerous place where the only sure route to peace and the protection of freedom is through American strength. In no place has this thesis of peace through strength been tested more than on the matter of intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF). . . .
What I would like to see is for some of those who’ve been praising our INF treaty to show they’ve learned its true lesson and vote to maintain an adequate defense budget, our work on a strategic defense against ballistic missiles, and, yes, aid to the freedom fighters in Nicaragua.
DEFINITION OF HAPPINESS IS TO SERVE A NOBLE CAUSE
And while we’re on the subject of our nation’s defense — you know, there’s a man I want to talk about tonight who said once that “the definition of happiness was service to a noble cause.” . . .
NO MORAL EQUIVALENCY BETWEEN THE CAUSE OF FREEDOM AND THE RULE OF TOTALITARIANISM
We should engage the Soviets in negotiations to deter war and keep the peace. But at the same time, we must make clear our own position, as I have throughout these negotiations. In sitting down to these negotiations, we accept no moral equivalency between the cause of freedom and the rule of totalitarianism.
And we understand that the most important change of all is this: that containment is no longer enough, that we no longer can be satisfied with an endless stalemate between liberty and repression. That arms reduction negotiations, development and testing of SDI, and our help for freedom fighters around the globe must express the clear goal of American foreign policy. To deter war, yes. To further world peace, yes. But, most of all, to advance and protect the cause of world freedom so that someday every man, woman, and child on this Earth has as a birthright the full blessings of liberty.
TAX RATES DROP FROM 70% to 28%
We’ve seen dramatic change in these seven years. Who would have guessed seven years ago that we would see tax rates drop from 70 percent to 28 percent, the longest peacetime economic boom in our history, or a massive shift in world opinion toward the ideas of free enterprise and political freedom? . . .
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN LIBERALS AND CONSERVATIVES
We have not only been undoing the damage of the past; we’ve put this nation on the upward road again. And, in the process, the differences between the liberals and conservatives have become clear to the American people. We want to keep taxes low, they want to raise them; we send in budgets with spending cuts and they want to ignore them; we want the balanced budget amendment and the line-item veto and they oppose them; we want tough judges and tough anti-crime legislation, they hold them both up in the Congress. . . .
We have a program and a plan for the American people — a program to protect American jobs by fighting the menace of protectionism, to move forward at flank speed with SDI, to call America to conscience on the issue of abortion on demand, to mention, as I did in my State of the Union Address, the overwhelming importance of family life and family values.
REPLENISH OUR MANDATE
That’s a case to take to the American people. That’s a fighting agenda. I intend to campaign vigorously for whoever our nominee is, and tonight I ask each of you to join me in this important crusade. Let’s ask the American people to replenish our mandate. Let’s tell them if they want four more years of economic progress and the march of world freedom, they must help us this year. . . .
QUIP ON THE NERVE OF LIBERALS TO EVEN TRY TO CAMPAIGN AGAINST THE REAGAN REVOLUTION
I just have to add here, when you look at the figures overall — that they have the nerve even to still be out there and campaigning. (Laughter) . . .
YOU’RE ON THE FRONTIER OF FREEDOM
Well, I’ve gone on too long for all of you here, but I just wanted to — I couldn’t resist, because you’re the troops. You’re out there on the frontier of freedom. One young soldier over there in Korea — one of our men — saluted me when I visited there, and very proudly said, “Mr. President, we’re on the frontier of freedom.” Well, so are you.
Thank you. God bless you all.
# # #