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A classic of oratory from the Gipper

Here’s Ronald Reagan’s great speech of 1964. Like many classical liberals, I realise that he fell short of what we would want – the size of government did not appreciably fall on his watch, although tax rates fell sharply and some important deregulations continued. But the Soviet Union did reach its demise when he was in power – and he was partly responsible for pushing it on its deathbed – the entrepreneurial boom seen in areas such as Silicon Valley did seriously get under way why he was POTUS, aided by a friendly tax regime. It is not hard to see – much to the frustrations of his snooty detractors – why this man was so much loved. Here is a balanced assessment by David Mayer.

24 comments to A classic of oratory from the Gipper

  • David Crawford

    It’s funny, I supported damn near everything Reagan tried to do when he was President. But, jeez, I just hated to listen to his speeches. Just something about his delivery put me off. (One exception, of course, was the “Mr. Gorbachov, tear down this wall” speech. I actually got choked up hearing that one.) With Reagan, it always seemed like, in a minute or two, he was going to try and sell me a GE washer or dryer.

    Actually, there are damn few American politicians anymore that deliver a decent speech. The smarm, and pandering, and the trying to say no without seeming like they’re saying no, they are just not very good.

    The one modern exception today, to that, is Governor Chris Christie from New Jersey. Damn, that is one man who knows what he’s talking about, and he gives it to you straight-up no chaser.

  • The one modern exception today, to that, is Governor Chris Christie from New Jersey.

    You took that one right off of my fingers David:-)

  • BTW, I haven’t heard Christie make speeches, only him talking to the media (pure bliss), but that is an area where Reagan also came across very well, much better than in his speeches – the latter by their very nature are to be taken entirely differently.

  • rothbardian

    The Reagan years were marked by Libertarian rhetoric and statist Policies.

    There was no “Reagan Revolution.” Any “revolution” for liberty would reduce the total level of government spending. And that means reduce in absolute terms, not as proportion of the gross national product, or corrected for inflation, or anything else.

    Not to mention that his administration was the most protectionist in American history, raising tariffs and imposing import quotas . Then there was the fanatical anti-drug fascism.

  • PaulH

    I was surprised to read a ‘balanced assessment’ that made no mention of Iran-Contra. I’m neither a fan nor a critic of Reagan, but that seems like a fairly significant episode in his presidency.

  • Bod

    Too young to remember Reagan directly, my initial views based primarily on what Spitting Image and The Morning Star told me to think.

    Chris Christie is a return to a tub-thumping, good old-boy “I’m gonna tell you how it is” politician, but I have to say, that makes him a dangerous man in the US political scene, if only because he’s pretty much a sui generis as far as US politicians go at the moment. He’s so well differentiated from all the other potential candidates at the moment, that if you like the cut of his jib, you’ll have nobody else to consider.

    Setting aside his (current) fiscal conservatism, he’s not really much of a transformational libertarian (in fact, his fiscal conservatism looks quite opportunistic) and he’s successful in traditionally statist NJ precisely because – well – he’s pretty much a statist.

    Cue the ‘perfect being the enemy of the good’ trope, but as challengers to Obama go, for 2012, enemies of big government will likely be very disappointed in Christie (in his current incarnation) runs.

    I’d be interested in seeing Laird, Midwesterner or Antoine’s take on Christie – they seem far more clued-in on the US than I am.

  • What a great speech, indeed Ronald Reagan is a great person.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    “Rothbardian” writes:

    There was no “Reagan Revolution.” Any “revolution” for liberty would reduce the total level of government spending. And that means reduce in absolute terms, not as proportion of the gross national product, or corrected for inflation, or anything else. Not to mention that his administration was the most protectionist in American history, raising tariffs and imposing import quotas . Then there was the fanatical anti-drug fascism.

    Well, as I said, when set against a perfectionist standard of cutting government in absolute size and reach, Reagan fell short. I guess when you have a Democrat-controlled Congress, there is only so much a President can do, remember. Reagan vetoed a vast number of spending bills – unlike George W. Bush who had the advantage of a GoP-controlled Congress.

    As for the War on Drugs, it is delusional for any armchair strategist to imagine that a politician wishing to get elected is going to advocate decriminalising heroin, for example. There is only so much I could have expected from a conservative pol. such as RR. Practically speaking, cutting taxes, continuing some deregulation and helping push the Soviet Union over the edge count as pretty impressive achievements in my book. It was always unfeasable to expect that America would resemble a sort of Heinleinlian utopia by the end of his 8 years in office.

    And of course some libertarians will never forgive Reagan for talking a lot about God and Providence, but I hardly find that particularly odd. This is America, after all.

  • Bod, I had a similar thought when hearing Christie speak on education (come to think of that, it may have been an actual speech). I too am interested in others’ take on him. Still, if I had to make do with a statist, I’d go with a conservative one, and preferably with a straight-talking one like Christie.

  • ManikMonkee

    I’m always a bit befuddled by the whole Reagan was dumb thing

    if you read the reason interview from the 70’s, that seems pretty “intellectual” to me, even if you disagree with a view point you should be able to appreciate a well laid argument

  • Edward King

    Never mind Chris Christie, impressive though he is, all he’s done so far is talk. We’ll see how well he does when he tries to put it into action.

    Try Scott Walker, the new Republican governor of Wisconsin – he’s put forward legislation to derecognise public workers unions and, horror of horrors, asked state employees to actually contribute to their pension and health insurance. Result, teachers have abandoned their classrooms forcing schools to close to besiege the capitol in Madison, and Democratic state senators fled the state in a last-ditch attempt to stop him.

    Now that’s the kind of guy we need…

  • CaptDMO

    It is not hard to see – much to the frustrations of his snooty detractors – why this man was so much loved.

    And now that the silicon bubble came, “popular” investors
    have been crushed, and the pernicious have limited “organized” labor rosters, and buckets of cash on hand,
    guess who called for a “social provider” round table-either with hat in hand, or some delusion of telling em’ “This is how it’s gonna be-or else!”

  • Thanks for the tip Edward. I hope everyone is watching WI – coming soon to the theater near you.

  • Paul Marks

    Rothbardian – Warren Harding would be your man on government spending.

    I would settle for Calvin Coolidge – a reduction in the size of government as a proportion of the economy (“oh you MODERATE Paul” – I hang my head in shame), but if you want someone who actually spent less Dollars – over a PEACETIME spending total (1920) then Harding is your man. At least on government spending.

    Would Reagan really have got rid of the Departments of Education and Energy (and done…..) had the Democrats not controlled the House of Representatives?

    Reagan (neither as Governor or as President) never had control of the legislature – so we will never know.

    He managed to get the top rate of income tax down from 70% to 28%, deregulate radio (no Rush L. or Glenn Beck without Reagan), and get rid of a lot of political grants (although they came back after he went – hence ACORN and so on).

    There is also the “little” matter of defeating the Soviet Union in the Cold War – but then Murry Rothbard did not believe their was a Soviet threat to the world, so I had better not go into that.


    Ronald Reagan and General Electric parted ways at the start of the 1960s.

    He wanted to say what he wanted to say in his speeches – and they demanded that he just sell their products, so he lost the job.

    A middle aged man whose acting career was not doing well (had not done well since he went off for year to make training stuff for the United States Army Airforce – with Reagan’s terrible eyesight he could have avoided serving at all, but he requested to help) – and he breaks with General Electric, because they will not let him say what he wants to say.

    So much for “corporate mouthpiece”.

  • Laird

    Bod asked that some of the US commenters here, including me, give our take on NJ Governor Chris Christie. Personally, while I appreciate the request, I’m hesitant to offer an opinion because I really don’t know much more about him than the well-informed SI commentariat. I like what I’ve heard, but that’s probably mostly the same things the rest of you have heard on the national media. His fiscal conservativism seems clear, as is his willingness to take on the public employee unions and to offer unvarnished straight talk, all of which are precisely what New Jersey needs right now, but I’m just not sure about the rest of his political views. Is he a social conservative with their typical statist inclinations? (Probably not, in New Jersey.) A “law-and-order” type happy to enforce our insane drug laws? (Probably yes, as he’s a former prosecutor.) But I just don’t know. So while I give him a provisional “thumbs-up”, for now I’m withholding my unreserved support.

    If I were a betting man I’d wager that Paul Marks knows far more about Christie than I do. I’m waiting for his take.

    But I’m really enjoying the spectacle in Wisconsin! It certainly seems that Scott Walker has been taking Chris Christie lessons, and even trying to outdo him!

  • Paul Marks

    Chris Christie is not perfect (no human being is) – but he wants to save New Jersey from bankruptcy at the hands of the union thugs, and he has courage.

    He is also a friend and neighbour of Neil Cavuto (who stood up against TARP – even against his own boss, Rupert M, the owner of News International).

    Cancer, MS, and daily death threats for being a “corporate shill” (I remind you that Neil Cavuto OPPOSED TARP) and he carries on.

    Any friend of his is a friend of mine.


  • Bod

    When I think of the current events in Wisconsin, it brings tears to my eyes. My tiny, shrivelled stone heart beats just a little faster, a little stronger at the hope of some serious Union Busting in the offing.

    It looks as though the ‘movement’ is going to spread to Ohio and Illinois. Thousands of those wonderful, beloved teachers and public workers will have themselves YouTubed and Facebooked with incorrectly spelled, grammattically botched protest posters as they stand out there calling their Governors and the electorate who work in the private sector ‘Hitler’ while they try and gain some sympathy for being expected to pay a fraction of their healthcare and pension benefits, and share a little pain with the people who pay their salaries who have been hurting for months.

    If I were Walker, I’d draft an email and broadcast it to every public worker on the state payroll that every one of them who calls in sick on Tuesday and is positively identified as a protester based on photographic evidence on that day, will be terminated with loss of all pension benefits, with no appeal.

    Moreover, any teachers who take their students along as ‘human shields’ without explicit parental permission will not only be terminated, but prosecuted for child abduction and blackballed for moral turpitude.

    Me? I’m lovin’ this. Bring it on. Please, let this spread to Connecticut. I’ll book some vacation days and be out there personally taking photographs in Hartford. The Governor won’t act, being a democrat, but I figure it’d still be worth collecting the evidence for the next meeting of my town education committee.

    To the mobilized thugs in public service unions:

    “Gentlemen, start your whaaa!mbulances.”

  • Roy Lofquist

    I sense that the commenters here don’t really understand the US Constitution. This is not a criticism. Most folks here in the USA don’t understand it either.

    You have to read and understand The Federalist Papers to garner its intent. The founders granted The Executive two powers and one responsibility. The two powers are the conduct of foreign affairs and command of the armed forces. The responsibility is to faithfully enforce the laws as enacted by the Legislature.

    The President was never intended to have a role in the disbursement and collection of revenues. Federalist 73 discusses the veto power. It was granted to be used only when the President though that a law violated The Constitution. It was to be used sparingly and not to thwart to will of Congress.

    The proper “rating” of presidents ought consider his Constitutional mandate. I think this metric should raise the esteem of Eisenhower and both Bush 41 and 43.

    Of course, some will attribute my brown eyes to the content of my head rather than my character.

  • Laird

    Roy, I’m not quite sure what your post has to do with this thread, but in any event it’s not completely accurate.

    First of all, the President’s responsibilities are broader than you state. They’re laid out in Article II (primarily Section 2), but overarching them all is the very first sentence (“The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America”) coupled with one of the last (“he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed”). That executive power means he runs the entire federal government, which is a substantially broader function than you imply. It most certainly includes managing its taxing functions (“collection”) and all the executive agencies (“disbursement”). He doesn’t (unilaterally) make the laws but he does implement them.

    Also, while the Federalist Papers are a valuable and judicially-cognizable source of information concerning the construction of the Constitution, they are by no means the only such source and, more importantly, cannot override the express language of that document. Article I says that any bill which has passed both Houses shall be presented to the President, and “if he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections . . . .” There is no suggestion that the only legitimate basis for a veto is unconstitutionality; to the contrary, the President has the express authority to do so merely because he “disapproves” of the bill. I certainly agree that the President should veto any bill he believes to be unconstitutional*, but he also serves as a check on the routine but constitutional excesses of the legislative branch. Such vetoes are entirely proper.

    I don’t know how presidents are “rated” (and frankly don’t much care; it seems a silly and usually politically-motivated exercise), but if you’re factoring in the failure to veto laws which have no Constitutional basis I’d give every president from Franklin D. Roosevelt to the present day a failing grade.

    * Indeed, one of GW Bush’s monumental failures was when he declined to veto the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform law because he thought the Supreme Court would invalidate it, a clear derelection of his duty.

  • K

    Reagan was more than a little responsible for the fall of the Soviet Union. I was at the Rand corporation just as he came into office and the big buz was how the Soviet Union was spending an amazing 13 percent of it’s GNP on defense. There were a lot of discussions between researchers there on Soviet paranoia and if it could be used against them.

    Reagan’s defense build up, IMO was likely influenced to some extent by these discussions and after the fall of the USSR, Soviet economists testified to Congress that at the end they were spending over a quarter of the GNP just trying to keep up with Reagan’s build up. Not only did this hasten their demise and but also hustled them into not being able to make significant structural changes to keep the dictatorship alive as the Chinese have done.

  • I wonder if Paul Marks saw the recent BBC docu on Reagan.

    There was some rot in it but also some interesting stuff.

    I never knew he was that short-sighted but oddly enough the moment they said that and I thought of his movie career certain scenes made sense.

    The medical assessment of his peepers was, “We’re not sure he could tell a Japanese soldier from an American one from 12 feet away so he’s not joining the army”. Which is frankly fair enough.

  • Roy Lofquist


    First, the relevancy: the post referred to a book that rates the presidents.

    As to the powers: There is an ongoing, sometimes rancorous, debate about the Unitary Executive.


    This doctrine was introduced during the Reagan presidency. The uproar over presidential signing statements is a recent manifestation.

    As to the Federalist Papers: The Constitution had to be ratified by 9 of the 13 states. The Papers were the ‘ explanation and justification for ratification. That was the deal. It’s part of the contract. I’m not aware that tthis argument has been made judicially but there is more than ample precedent in both common and black letter law.

    Thanks for your comment.


  • Laird

    Roy, as to the Federalist Papers, they were indeed part of the national debate on the ratification of the Constitution, which was highly contentious and by no means a “slam dunk”. A number of states attached conditions to their ratification resolutions, the most significant of which resulted in the subsequent adoption of the Bill of Rights (the first ten Amendments). And while the Federalist Papers are informative, and have been relied upon by courts* and legal scholars since that time, it is not the ultimate arbiter and cannot be used to overrule the express and unambiguous language in the document (such as the veto power). That’s an elementary principle of statutory construction. The Federalist Papers were not “part of the deal” any more than were any of the other debates in the state legislatures.

    I don’t have any desire here to get into a debate over the precise extent of the President’s executive powers or the Unitary Executive theory. (We might not even disagree there; I don’t know.) My only point was that, however broadly or narrowly you define the President’s powers, they are clearly broader than the extremely narrow reading you gave in your initial post.

    * “The opinion of the Federalist has always been considered as of great authority. It is a complete commentary on our constitution; and is appealed to by all parties in the questions to which that instrument has given birth. Its intrinsic merit entitles it to this high rank.” Cohens v. Virginia, 19 U.S. (6 Wheat) 264, 418, 5 L. Ed. 257 (1821) (Marshall, C.J.).

  • Paul Marks

    Paul Marks did try and watch the BBC programme on Ronald Reagan – but being the ill tempered person he (Paul Marks) is, he turned it off.

    The rot in the programme was too much for me. For example they never even mentioned (as far as I know) Reagan reading “Road to Serfdom” and what an effect that had on his thinking back in the late 1940’s.

    Also I do not like the style of this sort of show – a few seconds of one person saying something, and then a few seconds of someone else saying something else.

    I like to listen to someone really explaining their position – and justifying it. Not a few words and then, someone else (because then I think “was that in context” and what evidence did he have to justfy what he said, and …..).

    Of course that means it has to be someone I respect ….. but there you go.