Squaring the Culture

"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

01/21/2009 (12:13 pm)

A Real Inaugural Address

One of my readers heard Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural address on the radio yesterday, courtesy of Mark Levin. In the discussion that ensued, another reader supplied a link to the video, which I’ve embedded below.

Ronald Reagan is dead, and I oppose laying our hopes on the reincarnation of past greatness. We need to be great ourselves, not hope for ancestors to be resurrected; it’s our turn. However, in the wake of yeasterday’s inaugural address that was underwhelming in its content and delivery, and which rested on insulting, partisan denunciations even while alleging a new, non-partisan spirit of hope, I thought it might be worthwhile to reacquaint ourselves with convictions that produced, at the very least, a 20-year respite in the decline of a great nation — not to mention that those same convictions produced the greatness of the nation itself. The video is 20 minutes long, if you can spare it.

Here are some inspirational nuggets for your consideration:

All of us need to remember that the federal government did not create the states; the states created the federal government.

If we look to the answer as to why for so many years we achieved so much, prospered as no other people on earth, it was because here in this land we unleashed the energy and individual genius of man to a greater extent than has ever been done before. Freedom and the dignity of the individual have been more available and assured here than in any other place on earth… It is no coincidence that our present troubles parallel and are proportionate to the intervention and intrusion in our lives that result from unnecessary and excessive growth of government.

If no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?

This last bears examination, because it’s the philosophical refutation of liberalism in a single sentence. In the heart of every liberal smolders the conviction that while the average man in the street has no idea how properly to manage his life in order to save himself, the nation, or the planet from disaster, they, the liberals, do possess that special knowledge, both for themselves and for everybody else. Reagan reminds us that if all men are created equal (this is the presupposition underlying this argument,) then no person can claim the unique ability to rule others. The self-evident truth that all men are created equal, drawn from the Declaration of Independence, is the cornerstone of our nation’s philosophical foundation. Modern liberalism thus embodies the rejection of America’s founding philosophy, and a return to the tyranny of elitism, a new, egalitarian-colored resurgence of the Divine Right of Kings. That Reagan could make this argument so succinctly demonstrates the genius of the man.

This was a very different speech from Obama’s address. Inaugural addresses tend toward rhetorical flourishes and deluges of swollen prose. Reagan’s was no exception, but it contained elements of genuine analysis and profound understanding that sadly were missing from yesterday’s oration. Reagan also paid homage to “giants on whose shoulders we stand,” recognizing the greatness of past Presidents, rather than arrogating their greatness to himself before he’d performed even a single act. Where Reagan criticized the direction of the past, it was with reference to specific statements of policy that he intended to change, not with vague and insupportable slurs to the character of his predecessor. This was the speech of a virtuous and brilliant man; yesterday’s oration was a blithe imitation from a shallow narcissist.

It should be noted that President Reagan failed to achieve several of the goals he articulated so well in this statement of intentions. Government did not shrink under his leadership, though several strangling regulations did vanish; it simply grew more slowly. Deficit spending did not vanish, and in fact increased, though that was more House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s doing than Reagan’s. However, these failures neither detract from the greatness of the man nor from the correctness of his thinking. The notion that such a foundational idea as limited government could be relevant in 1981 but not in 2009 is as sensible as the notion that an idea could be correct on Monday, but not on Thursday.

Ronald Reagan is dead. The principles he articulated are still true, and will remain true. Adjust your thinking accordingly.