I have had the privilege of (mostly) observing several thoughtful discussions regarding political philosophy over the past several months/weeks. Believe it or not, many of these took place on Facebook. (Though, to be fair, I have also seen more than my fair share of garbage and nonsense from both “sides”). In the same period, I have been reading some thoughts from various writers on sites like National Review Online, The Imaginative Conservative, the Federalist, and even a few pieces from The American Conservative. And furthermore, a steady diet of strong sermons/teachings and some well-deserved conviction from (far too few) Quiet Times of my own have contributed to what I would call a “constructive ‘unsettledness’” in the realm of my own thoughts.
In essence, all that I have been absorbing has helped to convict me to bring my own political philosophy fully back under (and completely subordinate to) my walk with the Living God.
Needless to say these thoughts and this journey will take some time to reflect on and lots of prayer and further reading and meditation to refine. For, just as the process of sanctification lasts from the time we are Born Again until the time we shuffle off this mortal coil, so too will the process of learning how to practically live out a Redeemed Life and adopt a Heaven-centric focus and mindset in the midst of the time, place, and culture I find myself in.
Unfortunately, it is unclear whether this process will also help me to not write run-on sentences. But, one can hope. In the meantime, I fully apologize for any monstrosities above or below.
Related to my above failing, another issue apparent is that I cannot write a coherent paragraph to save my life. So, if you can wade through a series of run-on sentences and single thought paragraphs… dive in, adventurer!
While I am attempting to learn how to write clear and concise sentences and form proper and thoughtful paragraphs, I would also like to explore – with you, intrepid readers – what Freedom under Christ might look like in terms of political/philosophical worldview.
Oh…I can just hear your fevered anticipation and child-like giddiness pouring forth. Or…perhaps that is the rush of wind as you move quickly to click that glorious ‘X’ and thus spare yourself the tedium you are sure will follow.
Either way… if you choose to read on, let’s join together in the “Great Conversation” and contribute what we may. And if we don’t quite reach the status of the ongoing Great Conversation, let’s at least aim for the slightly less prestigious “Half-Way Decent Chat”
What will follow will be some (mostly organized) thoughts on various topics related to how we look at the world. Each entry will be my opening statement…and then I hope for folks to jump in with some thoughts of their own and a lively, yet remarkably civil and unusually respectful discussion will ensue. (Wishful thinking?)
I wanted to start with the political labels we either choose or rebel against (or choose to label someone else as, and then subsequently ridicule, shun, and otherwise judge them).
Many people would probably agree that the Left/Right descriptions we so often still use are useless. Equally meaningless are things like Liberal or Conservative or Moderate or Libertarian or Progressive or Paleoconservative or Classical Liberal, or “Old School Neo-Liberal” or “New School Ancient Conservatarian”, etc etc etc.
Nevertheless, while the utility of the term – since it has basically lost all universal meaning – is more than questionable, I still prefer to consider myself a conservative. I am conservative in personality, outlook, and basic philosophy. But since “Political Conservatism” seems to jump from one extreme to another and is (just like Political Liberalism or Progressivism, if you prefer) mainly reduced to tribalism and (yes) hatred of some perceived enemy, I find myself less and less a “Political Conservative”.
I wanted to try my hand at first examining what I consider to be the conservative worldview and I agonized about exactly where to start or how to frame the discussion (because, I truly do wish it to be a discussion!).
And so, for what felt like…minutes, I went back and forth and at last alighted upon the only possible way I could truly begin.
I suppose I don’t know much else… but I do know a little about me.
There seems to be a fine line between introspection and narcissism, and the desired “Examined Life” can too easily become the Self-Absorbed Life… but I will leave it to you – the diligent and thoughtful reader – to reign me in if I falter towards the later.
Very simply…what I wish to do with this first post is to try and trace my own journey in political philosophy so as to provide the context for where I am coming from. In the next post, I may go into more detail in trying to flesh out what a conservative worldview looks like (looks at?). And perhaps by the third “essay” I will bring it all back around into conforming and subduing that “conservative” worldview into a Christian one. And of course, we may launch into other tangents such as attempting to understand and describe other current worldviews. That all remains to be seen… I will try to just go wherever the discussion takes us.
But enough preamble, let’s just start at the beginning.
I was born in an…
Well, let’s not go back that far. This isn’t “Tales of a Tom: A Haberkornian Memoir”. (At least not yet, mwahahaha…with a twirl of the moustache and all that.)
As a child in (and of?) the 80’s, I had the fortune of living while Ronald Reagan was President. He truly was the President of my childhood… as I was turning 10 in 1989 when George H.W. Bush was sworn in to succeed Reagan.
I vaguely recall some of the more vicious ridicule directed at President Reagan. But most of it seemed (to me, at least) to be good-natured ribbing…and even that was tempered with a great respect for the Gipper. It truly must have been very hard to complain in the face of the great successes of Reagan’s time in office. But even beyond that, it was definitely a different time. Reagan elevated the morale of the country and returned a respect for the Office of the Presidency in ways that neither Ford nor Carter could manage in the wake of our Nixonian national disaster.
Granted… all of this rosiness and cockeyed optimism was simply how things were being conceived through the eyes of a 10 year old (Reagan’s morale lifting results following Nixon are – of course – an analysis that came much later to me). But, it felt like Morning in America. I hadn’t experienced the infamous national malaise of Carter’s years…nor had I been around for Watergate or Vietnam or the messed-up, unfortunate insanity that we call the 60’s. Reagan’s America was all I knew…but I suppose I was somehow savvy enough to understand that it hadn’t always been like this.
Around the end of Reagan’s second term, I began – through learning about our process and our politics during the election of 1988 – to understand that different people had different ways of looking at things.
It was during the election of 1988 that I was forming my first political opinions. From almost the start, I had no interest in Dukakis. I suppose a combination of Willie Horton’s misadventures, looking patently ridiculous in a tank, and Lee Atwater’s (the original Roger Stone) dirty shenanigans to discredit Dukakis might have played some role in my apathy towards him. But – believe it or not – between the two, George H.W. Bush was the far more passionate, exciting, and vibrant candidate to my sensibilities. He made Dukakis look positively Al Gore-esque (circa ’92-2000).
In addition, as good as the Reagan years had turned out, it seemed Bush was promising something a little different. Reagan’s third term, it probably would not be (especially considering that Bush had never truly been a Reaganite). Rather, Bush seemed to promise to move us on from the delivered hope of American renewal to the continued moral growth of the country. I remember at the time really buying into the whole Thousand Points of Light and a Kinder, Gentler Nation slogans. Perhaps it is just my terrible bias… but Bush’s campaign of positive national growth seemed far less vacuous, hollow, and empty as Hope and Change turned out to be 20 years later.
What stirred in me was a strain of conservatism that I am not sure ever really took firm root….within me, or within the nation… but which I may (in my advanced years as I stare down 40 with a steely, yet slightly perplexed glare) actually be stumbling around back towards. And let me grant now that this strain of conservatism I am about to describe may very well be me assigning some of my current feelings back towards an imagined past. However, I don’t think it is an accident that both George W. (with his Compassionate Conservatism) and Jeb (with his more moderate strain of conservatism) displayed political philosophies that have been at odds with the more austere and cold “Matter of Fact” conservatism that ended up dominating the “movement” from 1992 to 2000, and then especially from 2008 through 2016.
Going back to George H.W… his campaign displayed a care about the environment (from a Good Steward viewpoint) as well as an honest and actionable concern for our fellow man (but properly focused through private and local means…almost a Protestant-flavored type of Subsidiarity). As I mentioned, it was a kinder, gentler type of conservatism than what followed both his and George W.’s tenure. But while his Thousand Points of Light-style worldview got Bush 41 labeled as a wimp, it was, at least, inspiring to this particular 10-yr old. And I was very thrilled when George H.W. won the 1988 election (and not simply because I had voted for him in our school’s mock election).
The elder Bush had a rough time of it at the start… “Read My Lips”, intransigent Congressional Democrats and uncooperative Congressional Republicans, hurling on the Japanese Prime Minister,etc…
But the Persian Gulf War changed the country’s perception of him and he became one of the most popular Presidents we have ever had (his approval ratings topped 89% after the successful repelling of Saddam’s forces from Kuwait). He also saw the fruits of Reagan’s Cold War resolve as the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union collapsed. A new era of Freedom seemed to be washing across the world. Heady times (even if, now in hindsight, we can lament many missed opportunities. Still, I think it only fair to remember that the world leaders living during the late 80’s and early 90’s were truly facing uncharted territory. They got some things right…but they made some mistakes as well. Presumption would be to think we could have done any better).
A quirk of History saw him slip down to around 29% shortly before the election of 1992. He seemed to not have a friend in the world. (One wonders what kind of world we would have if Perot had not jumped in to that election as a spoiler. Especially considering that Bush’s approval rating had jumped back up to 56% as he prepared to leave office. If the American electorate is anything, it is fickle).
1992-2000 saw the Clinton Camp in charge. Perhaps the less said about those years, the better (considering the old “If you can’t say anything nice…etc” advice). In any case, this wasn’t really meant to be a survey of recent American Presidential politics… rather, a survey of how *I* was perceiving things. So…back to me. Hehe… You don’t mind, do you Slick Willie?
Didn’t think so.
The Clinton years saw a coarsening of “conservatism”. And I jumped right in. Much like Trump’s ascendance is in many ways simply a reaction to the Obama years when regular folks on the Right were smeared and treated like dirt by a ruling elite, perhaps so too was the Clinton era popular conservatism a reaction to how the right was treated by the left during Reagan’s tenure.
It seemed to be an “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” attitude. *They* used to trash Reagan and Bush…so, let’s trash their man, Clinton. Rush Limbaugh stepped up to the plate and was very successful in shining a light on the craziness and corruption of the Clinton machine.
Truth mixed with spot-on snark is both irresistible as well as dangerous.
I loved that stuff and ate it up, as did many others on the right. And it was during the Clinton years that I unwittingly took on the tribalism that has marked American politics for decades. My guys are good, your guys are bad.
That has been the basic sentiment…well, probably since the first “factions” developed around (and in spite of) George Washington. However, it *feels* as though things have gotten more and more divisive and the vitriol has increased exponentially over the past couple decades.
In any case, during the Clinton Years, I was a card-carrying member of the American Popular Conservatism club. And at some point I also became a card-carrying member of the Religious Right. There are volumes that could (and have been) written about the noxious (and perhaps inevitable) end result of the well-meaning marriage between Christianity and Americanism. In short… it doesn’t really work for either side. There are, perhaps, many who would disagree….but, that is the conclusion I have come to. (Or, more precisely, the conclusion that I had to come to—kicking, fighting, and screaming the whole way – because I did not want to believe it).
When the tides turned and Bush 43 was elected, it inspired an almost perverse schadenfreude (is there any other kind, truly?) to watch the Left explode in sweet derangement. (A level of schadenfreude that even the staunchest Never Trumper has a WHOLE lot of trouble not giving into as we watch the Left go bat-poop insane over The Donald….believe me! Hilarious…but Sad!)
Oh…and since it is definitely not a part of normal everyday conversation:
Defense of George W. Bush became a badge of honor in American Popular Conservatism. Partly because the Left was wrong about a lot, partly because the way the Left went about their criticisms was childish and hurtful to the country, and partly because we simply had the attitude that the Left sucks and the Right rules. Again…to bring it back to my political philosophical journey… I was a part of this thinking.
Tribalism intensified. And then both sides doubled (tripled, quadrupled) down during Obama’s years. I was more than critical of President Obama and his Far, Far, Far Left agenda. And on the opposite side of things, the Left went nuclear against anyone who dared speak against The One and his hyper-enlightened “Light Bringing” lightness.
I continued my mental battle against all things Progressive through Obama’s first term…but then, somewhere in the lead up to 2012, I began to find myself in a two-front war. You see, there was a fracturing on the right. The Establishment versus the True Conservatives. The True Conservative line of thinking continued on down the path of Popular Political Conservatism and had decided to 1) demand absolute doctrinal adherence to a particular strand of right-wing dogma and 2) begin to adopt the tactics of the Left…Alinsky-style.
So I was flanked by the united effort of Left and Far Left on one side…and Popular Political Conservatism on the other side. I never considered myself a true moderate (and I still don’t really)…but I definitely found my thoughts drifting more Center-Right (whatever that actually means).
During the GOP Primary of 2012, the True Conservative camp had decided that they were sick and tired of being sick and tired of career politicians in the GOP who acted as a ruling elite, far removed from the whims and demands of the common folk. And so, at one point in the process, they turned to grassroots champion and completely non-Establishment Man-of-The-People: Newt Gingrich (?!?) These were strange times indeed. And the “Sick and Tired Conservatives” (STCs) were still trying to figure out what exactly they wanted.
One thing was clear. They had decided to excise Reagan’s 11th Commandment. Now, anyone (left or right) who did not 100% support what the STC mob (or Talk Radio or ostensibly right-wing new media) decided was “Conservative” at any given time was labeled as “The Enemy” – and then treated as an unlawful combatant and not subject to the strictures of the Geneva Convention. (I predicted this would lead to bad things back in 2013).
And the factions that made up the Big Tent GOP coalition have continued fighting to this very day. Maybe it began long before (and certainly there were major Party battles before 2012) but to my mind, the infighting during the lead up to Obama’s re-election planted the toxic seed that allowed Donald Trump to engage in a hostile takeover of the Republican Party. (Because that toxic seed soon became a deadly tree watered by the tears of Athena as reason and sanity died…or something. Sorry for the unfinished metaphor there).
The strange part is that the most vocal “True Conservatives” in the lead up to 2012 ended up completely abandoning any semblance of conservatism and embracing Donald Trump in 2016. It was strange…but not entirely unpredictable. After all, the STCs were always primarily about being outraged and angry at the Republican Establishment (even moreso than they were upset with the Progressive Left). And I suppose the Left could have sat back and watched the Republican experiment implode as the various factions kept fighting each other. But… they kept on poking the bear.
As mentioned earlier the vicious treatment of anyone who was not Far Left gave rise to Trumpsim. (Not to mention running a horrible candidate…not that Bernie would have fared any better…the Left just didn’t and still does not have a very effective political Bench after Obama). So here are now. Making America Great Again, one obnoxious Tweet at a time.
I was a very vocal Never Trumper during both the Primary and General Election. And, of course, Never Trumpism ended with the election. I am now Trump Skeptic… praying for the best and celebrating the good things that come from this Administration…but very wary of Trump and his inner circle and unafraid of pointing out the bad things they do
I’m not exactly sure where the Republican Party goes from here. It is only mildly outlandish to suggest that Trump may end up leaving the Party and running by himself in 2020. He really has no more need for the party machinery anymore. And his base seems to be loyal to him, rather than loyal to any ideal or set of principles. They just want someone to make fun of and ridicule the Left (and the traditional GOP folks).
Senator Jeff Flake recently gave a talk about the need to get back to actual Conservatism. But, I am not sure that is a pathway to electoral success. Trump’s victory in the primary proved that current Republican voters don’t care about conservatism. His general election victory proved that… Hillary was a uniquely horrendous candidate…but also that Republican (and a few thousand former Democratic) voters wanted to give Trumpism a chance. I am not convinced that the Republican Party can get back to conservatism after being taken over by a nationalist populist mindset.
I have written A LOT about my thoughts on conservatism (for a sampling, feel free to see here, here, here, here, here…. well, heck… most of my hundred-some odd posts here have something to do with conservatism. Maybe one day I will put them all together and publish them in a book that only I will read. 😉
But, to conclude this (overly) long look at my political journey, I thought it best to come full circle and leave you with Ronald Reagan’s Farewell Address. I distinctly remember watching this when it happened (though my memory may just be making that up)…but I know that somehow, this had a profound effect on me.
Watch and/or read (I will put the text below the video) to see what conservatism once was and may never be again. Regardless of how conservatism changes, maybe Reagan’s version (immigrant-friendly, morally sure of America’s unique role in world events, patriotic without being nationalistic, proud but humble, promoting American unity rather than tribalism/identity politics, etc) can be a good starting point for what Conservatives *should* stand for.
“My fellow Americans:
This is the 34th time I’ll speak to you from the Oval Office and the last. We’ve been together 8 years now, and soon it’ll be time for me to go. But before I do, I wanted to share some thoughts, some of which I’ve been saving for a long time.
It’s been the honor of my life to be your President. So many of you have written the past few weeks to say thanks, but I could say as much to you. Nancy and I are grateful for the opportunity you gave us to serve.
One of the things about the Presidency is that you’re always somewhat apart. You spend a lot of time going by too fast in a car someone else is driving, and seeing the people through tinted glass—the parents holding up a child, and the wave you saw too late and couldn’t return. And so many times I wanted to stop and reach out from behind the glass, and connect. Well, maybe I can do a little of that tonight.
People ask how I feel about leaving. And the fact is, “parting is such sweet sorrow.” The sweet part is California and the ranch and freedom. The sorrow—the goodbyes, of course, and leaving this beautiful place.
You know, down the hall and up the stairs from this office is the part of the White House where the President and his family live. There are a few favorite windows I have up there that I like to stand and look out of early in the morning. The view is over the grounds here to the Washington Monument, and then the Mali and the Jefferson Memorial. But on mornings when the humidity is low, you can see past the Jefferson to the river, the Potomac, and the Virginia shore. Someone said that’s the view Lincoln had when he saw the smoke rising from the Battle of Bull Run. I see more prosaic things: the grass on the banks, the morning traffic as people make their way to work, now and then a sailboat on the river.
I’ve been thinking a bit at that window. I’ve been reflecting on what the past 8 years have meant and mean. And the image that comes to mind like a refrain is a nautical one—a small story about a big ship, and a refugee, and a sailor. It was back in the early eighties, at the height of the boat people. And the sailor was hard at work on the carrier Midway, which was patrolling the South China Sea. The sailor, like most American servicemen, was young, smart, and fiercely observant. The crew spied on the horizon a leaky little boat. And crammed inside were refugees from Indochina hoping to get to America. The Midway sent a small launch to bring them to the ship and safety. As the refugees made their way through the choppy seas, one spied the sailor on deck, and stood up, and called out to him. He yelled, “Hello, American sailor. Hello, freedom man.”
A small moment with a big meaning, a moment the sailor, who wrote it in a letter, couldn’t get out of his mind. And, when I saw it, neither could I. Because that’s what it was to be an American in the 1980’s. We stood, again, for freedom. I know we always have, but in the past few years the world again—and in a way, we ourselves—rediscovered it.
It’s been quite a journey this decade, and we held together through some stormy seas. And at the end, together, we are reaching our destination.
The fact is, from Grenada to the Washington and Moscow summits, from the recession of ’81 to ’82, to the expansion that began in late ’82 and continues to this day, we’ve made a difference. The way I see it, there were two great triumphs, two things that I’m proudest of. One is the economic recovery, in which the people of America created—and filled—19 million new jobs. The other is the recovery of our morale. America is respected again in the world and looked to for leadership.
Something that happened to me a few years ago reflects some of this. It was back in 1981, and I was attending my first big economic summit, which was held that year in Canada. The meeting place rotates among the member countries. The opening meeting was a formal dinner for the heads of government of the seven industrialized nations. Now, I sat there like the new kid in school and listened, and it was all Francois this and Helmut that. They dropped titles and spoke to one another on a first-name basis. Well, at one point I sort of leaned in and said, “My name’s Ron.” Well, in that same year, we began the actions we felt would ignite an economic comeback—cut taxes and regulation, started to cut spending. And soon the recovery began.
Two years later, another economic summit with pretty much the same cast. At the big opening meeting we all got together, and all of a sudden, just for a moment, I saw that everyone was just sitting there looking at me. And then one of them broke the silence. “Tell us about the American miracle,” he said.
Well, back in 1980, when I was running for President, it was all so different. Some pundits said our programs would result in catastrophe. Our views on foreign affairs would cause war. Our plans for the economy would cause inflation to soar and bring about economic collapse. I even remember one highly respected economist saying, back in 1982, that “The engines of economic growth have shut down here, and they’re likely to stay that way for years to come.” Well, he and the other opinion leaders were wrong. The fact is, what they called “radical” was really “right.” What they called “dangerous” was just “desperately needed.”
And in all of that time I won a nickname, “The Great Communicator.” But I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: it was the content. I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn’t spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation—from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in the principles that have guided us for two centuries. They called it the Reagan revolution. Well, I’ll accept that, but for me it always seemed more like the great rediscovery, a rediscovery of our values and our common sense.
Common sense told us that when you put a big tax on something, the people will produce less of it. So, we cut the people’s tax rates, and the people produced more than ever before. The economy bloomed like a plant that had been cut back and could now grow quicker and stronger. Our economic program brought about the longest peacetime expansion in our history: real family income up, the poverty rate down, entrepreneurship booming, and an explosion in research and new technology. We’re exporting more than ever because American industry became more competitive and at the same time, we summoned the national will to knock down protectionist walls abroad instead of erecting them at home.
Common sense also told us that to preserve the peace, we’d have to become strong again after years of weakness and confusion. So, we rebuilt our defenses, and this New Year we toasted the new peacefulness around the globe. Not only have the superpowers actually begun to reduce their stockpiles of nuclear weapons—and hope for even more progress is bright—but the regional conflicts that rack the globe are also beginning to cease. The Persian Gulf is no longer a war zone. The Soviets are leaving Afghanistan. The Vietnamese are preparing to pull out of Cambodia, and an American-mediated accord will soon send 50,000 Cuban troops home from Angola.
The lesson of all this was, of course, that because we’re a great nation, our challenges seem complex. It will always be this way. But as long as we remember our first principles and believe in ourselves, the future will always be ours. And something else we learned: Once you begin a great movement, there’s no telling where it will end. We meant to change a nation, and instead, we changed a world.
Countries across the globe are turning to free markets and free speech and turning away from the ideologies of the past. For them, the great rediscovery of the 1980’s has been that, lo and behold, the moral way of government is the practical way of government: Democracy, the profoundly good, is also the profoundly productive.
When you’ve got to the point when you can celebrate the anniversaries of your 39th birthday you can sit back sometimes, review your life, and see it flowing before you. For me there was a fork in the river, and it was right in the middle of my life. I never meant to go into politics. It wasn’t my intention when I was young. But I was raised to believe you had to pay your way for the blessings bestowed on you. I was happy with my career in the entertainment world, but I ultimately went into politics because I wanted to protect something precious.
Ours was the first revolution in the history of mankind that truly reversed the course of government, and with three little words: “We the People.” “We the People” tell the government what to do; it doesn’t tell us. “We the People” are the driver; the government is the car. And we decide where it should go, and by what route, and how fast. Almost all the world’s constitutions are documents in which governments tell the people what their privileges are. Our Constitution is a document in which “We the People” tell the government what it is allowed to do. “We the People” are free. This belief has been the underlying basis for everything I’ve tried to do these past 8 years.
But back in the 1960’s, when I began, it seemed to me that we’d begun reversing the order of things—that through more and more rules and regulations and confiscatory taxes, the government was taking more of our money, more of our options, and more of our freedom. I went into politics in part to put up my hand and say, “Stop.” I was a citizen politician, and it seemed the right thing for a citizen to do.
I think we have stopped a lot of what needed stopping. And I hope we have once again reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: As government expands, liberty contracts.
Nothing is less free than pure communism-and yet we have, the past few years, forged a satisfying new closeness with the Soviet Union. I’ve been asked if this isn’t a gamble, and my answer is no because we’re basing our actions not on words but deeds. The detente of the 1970’s was based not on actions but promises. They’d promise to treat their own people and the people of the world better. But the gulag was still the gulag, and the state was still expansionist, and they still waged proxy wars in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Well, this time, so far, it’s different. President Gorbachev has brought about some internal democratic reforms and begun the withdrawal from Afghanistan. He has also freed prisoners whose names I’ve given him every time we’ve met.
But life has a way of reminding you of big things through small incidents. Once, during the heady days of the Moscow summit, Nancy and I decided to break off from the entourage one afternoon to visit the shops on Arbat Street—that’s a little street just off Moscow’s main shopping area. Even though our visit was a surprise, every Russian there immediately recognized us and called out our names and reached for our hands. We were just about swept away by the warmth. You could almost feel the possibilities in all that joy. But within seconds, a KGB detail pushed their way toward us and began pushing and shoving the people in the crowd. It was an interesting moment. It reminded me that while the man on the street in the Soviet Union yearns for peace, the government is Communist. And those who run it are Communists, and that means we and they view such issues as freedom and human rights very differently.
We must keep up our guard, but we must also continue to work together to lessen and eliminate tension and mistrust. My view is that President Gorbachev is different from previous Soviet leaders. I think he knows some of the things wrong with his society and is trying to fix them. We wish him well. And we’ll continue to work to make sure that the Soviet Union that eventually emerges from this process is a less threatening one. What it all boils down to is this: I want the new closeness to continue. And it will, as long as we make it clear that we will continue to act in a certain way as long as they continue to act in a helpful manner. If and when they don’t, at first pull your punches. If they persist, pull the plug. It’s still trust but verify. It’s still play, but cut the cards. It’s still watch closely. And don’t be afraid to see what you see.
I’ve been asked if I have any regrets. Well, I do. The deficit is one. I’ve been talking a great deal about that lately, but tonight isn’t for arguments, and I’m going to hold my tongue. But an observation: I’ve had my share of victories in the Congress, but what few people noticed is that I never won anything you didn’t win for me. They never saw my troops, they never saw Reagan’s regiments, the American people. You won every battle with every call you made and letter you wrote demanding action. Well, action is still needed. If we’re to finish the job, Reagan’s regiments will have to become the Bush brigades. Soon he’ll be the chief, and he’ll need you every bit as much as I did.
Finally, there is a great tradition of warnings in Presidential farewells, and I’ve got one that’s been on my mind for some time. But oddly enough it starts with one of the things I’m proudest of in the past 8 years: the resurgence of national pride that I called the new patriotism. This national feeling is good, but it won’t count for much, and it won’t last unless it’s grounded in thoughtfulness and knowledge.
An informed patriotism is what we want. And are we doing a good enough job teaching our children what America is and what she represents in the long history of the world? Those of us who are over 35 or so years of age grew up in a different America. We were taught, very directly, what it means to be an American. And we absorbed, almost in the air, a love of country and an appreciation of its institutions. If you didn’t get these things from your family you got them from the neighborhood, from the father down the street who fought in Korea or the family who lost someone at Anzio. Or you could get a sense of patriotism from school. And if all else failed you could get a sense of patriotism from the popular culture. The movies celebrated democratic values and implicitly reinforced the idea that America was special. TV was like that, too, through the mid-sixties.
But now, we’re about to enter the nineties, and some things have changed. Younger parents aren’t sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children. And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style. Our spirit is back, but we haven’t reinstitutionalized it. We’ve got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom-freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare. It’s fragile; it needs production [protection].
So, we’ve got to teach history based not on what’s in fashion but what’s important-why the Pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those 30 seconds over Tokyo meant. You know, 4 years ago on the 40th anniversary of D-day, I read a letter from a young woman writing to her late father, who’d fought on Omaha Beach. Her name was Lisa Zanatta Henn, and she said, “we will always remember, we will never forget what the boys of Normandy did.” Well, let’s help her keep her word. If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are. I’m warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit. Let’s start with some basics: more attention to American history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual.
And let me offer lesson number one about America: All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So, tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins. And children, if your parents haven’t been teaching you what it means to be an American, let ’em know and nail ’em on it. That would be a very American thing to do.
And that’s about all I have to say tonight, except for one thing. The past few days when I’ve been at that window upstairs, I’ve thought a bit of the “shining city upon a hill.” The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we’d call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free.
I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.
And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was 8 years ago. But more than that: After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she’s still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.
We’ve done our part. And as I walk off into the city streets, a final word to the men and women of the Reagan revolution, the men and women across America who for 8 years did the work that brought America back. My friends: We did it. We weren’t just marking time. We made a difference. We made the city stronger, we made the city freer, and we left her in good hands. All in all, not bad, not bad at all.
And so, goodbye, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.”