Reagan: The Principled & the History Makers

Yesterday, I wrote about my new book on Ronald Reagan and Whittaker Chambers. Both men are as relevant to our day as they were to theirs.

As we near the end of another year, and as we consider the challenges that loom, some select quotes from Reagan may help us focus on our responsibilities. There are some quotes from Reagan with which many people are familiar, but I’ve chosen to pull out some that are less well known, yet just as insightful.

Just two months into his presidency, right before the assassination attempt, he spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference dinner:

We’ve heard in our century far too much of the sounds of anguish from those who live under totalitarian rule. We’ve seen too many monuments made not out of marble or stone but out of barbed wire and terror.

But from these terrible places have come survivors, witnesses to the triumph of the human spirit over the mystique of state power, prisoners whose spiritual values made them the rulers of their guards. With their survival, they brought us “the secret of the camps,” a lesson for our time and for any age: Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid.

That last line is the key. As we think of the battles ahead, we need to believe that. At a commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the Heritage Foundation, he exhorted his audience that they had to face the reality of the world situation:

We must never be inhibited by those who say telling the truth about the Soviet empire is an act of belligerence on our part. To the contrary, we must continue to remind the world that self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts is folly, that whatever the imperfections of the democratic nations, the struggle now going on in the world is essentially the struggle between freedom and totalitarianism, between what is right and what is wrong.

This is not a simplistic or unsophisticated observation. Rather, it’s the beginning of wisdom about the world we live in, the perils we face, and the great opportunity we have in the years ahead to broaden the frontiers of freedom and to build a durable, meaningful peace.

When laying a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery, Reagan spoke of principles and common sense:

Peace fails when we forget what we stand for. It fails when we forget that our Republic is based on firm principles, principles that have real meaning, that with them, we are the last, best hope of man on Earth; without them, we’re little more than the crust of a continent. Peace also fails when we forget to bring to the bargaining table God’s first intellectual gift to man: common sense.

Common sense gives us a realistic knowledge of human beings and how they think, how they live in the world, what motivates them. Common sense tells us that man has magic in him, but also clay. Common sense can tell the difference between right and wrong. Common sense forgives error, but it always recognizes it to be error first.

I added the emphasis at the end.

I’ll conclude today with a pithy, yet valuable, Reagan perspective—one we would do well to remember:

History is no captive of some inevitable force. History is made by men and women of vision and courage.

Let’s go out and make some history.

Genesis of Chambers-Reagan

Book Cover 1What led me to write my new book The Witness and the President: Whittaker Chambers, Ronald Reagan, and the Future of Freedom? Here’s the background.

It was not until after my graduation from college in 1973 that I began to pay serious attention to politics. Of course, it was hard not to know what was going on that year—the Watergate controversy overshadowed all political discussion. Over the next year and a half, I watched as the Nixon presidency collapsed.

The 1976 presidential election forced me to consider the two candidates on a deeper level than I had previously. Although my personal political philosophy was not fully developed, I was socially conservative due to my evangelical Christian faith. When the Democratic candidate, Jimmy Carter, claimed to be a born-again Christian, I read his autobiography and tried to sort through what he really believed, both religiously and politically. The result of that research was a reasoned vote for Gerald Ford.

Ford, though, had not been my first choice for the Republican nomination. I had followed the Reagan challenge to Ford closely and was disappointed when Reagan fell short at the convention. By 1980, I was solidly in the Reagan camp, rejoicing over his stunning electoral victory over an incumbent president.

1984 Campaign ButtonI had returned to college by that time, having started a master’s degree in history, and can recall the reaction of one of my professors the morning after the election. He came into the classroom with the burden of the world seemingly on his shoulders. Clearly, he was disturbed. He removed all doubt as to the source of that disturbance when he announced to the class that he could scarcely bring himself to realize that “that cowboy has been elected president.” His perspective was not unique; it was dominant on that campus—and most others.

A few months into the Reagan presidency, I moved to the Washington, D.C., area to continue my education, pursuing a doctorate in history at The American University. I remained in the D.C. area throughout the entire Reagan administration, leaving for my first full-time college-level teaching position shortly after George H. W. Bush took over the Oval Office.

Those eight years in D.C. gave me a political education, even though I never took a job with the administration. Rather, I wrote and researched for a number of organizations, both inside the government and outside, as a freelancer. It was a valuable time for grappling with how my faith formed the basis for my political philosophy.

In the midst of this “grappling” I heard about a book many considered seminal to the entire conservative movement as represented in the Reagan presidency. When I discovered that Reagan himself had read the book and credited it with providing his understanding of the philosophy and workings of the communist mind, I decided it was time to evaluate it myself. The book was Witness. The author was Whittaker Chambers.

WitnessI did not expect what I found. I expected a treatise on communism and how wrong it was. What I received was far more. Chambers had not written a political tract; instead, he wrote painfully of the weaknesses in his own life while detailing the tragic consequences of a philosophy that he believed dethroned God.

It was not just a story. It was not simply an autobiography. It was a personal spiritual reflection and confession. One reading was not enough, even though it was 799 pages. I had to go through it again to see what I might have missed the first time. I believed the work to be so significant that later I developed an entire college course around the book and its author.

My new book adheres to all the goals of a scholarly work. My research is as meticulous as possible, and documentation for every quotation is provided. While I have salient points of agreement philosophically with both of my subjects, I also recognize their weaknesses and inconsistencies, and those will be noted.

The goal is a reasoned historical analysis. But one can be scholarly and not have to succumb either to cynicism in the analysis or to dryness in writing style. If the reader who finishes this book can be glad that he had the opportunity to read it, and that it furthered his understanding of these two individuals, I can be satisfied with that.

If you would like to delve into this further, just click on the ad on the right side of my blog and go straight to the Amazon page. I’m hoping you will find the foray into the worlds of Chambers and Reagan to be worthwhile.

“The Witness and the President” Makes Its Appearance

Witness & President DrawingTen years ago, I had the vision for a book on Whittaker Chambers and Ronald Reagan. I wanted to compare/contrast the pessimism of the former with the optimism of the latter. I also wanted to know just how much Chambers influenced Reagan.

I had read Chambers’s masterful autobiography, Witness, back in the mid-1980s. It affected me deeply. I also was very appreciative of the principles that guided Reagan in his life and administration, an appreciation that grew over time as the nation floundered under successors who weren’t as solidly grounded—and some of whom, like Bill Clinton, who never deserved the office in the first place and who destroyed the respect and esteem we should hold for the presidency.

I read everything else Chambers wrote—his journalistic essays and his posthumous work, Cold Friday. I researched diligently the papers of Reagan’s presidency at his library, combing through all his speeches, and read as many as I could of the myriad books about him that kept appearing.

It all came together, and now the result is The Witness and the President: Whittaker Chambers, Ronald Reagan, and the Future of Freedom. The book is now available through Amazon at this URL.

Am I relieved that this has now come to fruition? Absolutely. But this is more than merely the satisfaction of getting the book published; this is part of my effort to help our citizens understand basic Biblical principles upon which our society must be based.

Chambers left the Communist Underground and found the Christian faith. He gave witness to the need for Western civilization to return to the faith. Reagan, unlike Chambers, had a Christian upbringing. Whatever straying he may have done during his lifetime, he came back to that same solid foundation of faith that Chambers found.

These two men have a message for our generation. This book tells their stories and, I trust, will challenge you to think about the principles we must never lose.

I hope you will get a copy, read it carefully (it tells a good story, too), and ponder its message.

The Obligatory Obama Update

I so much prefer using this blog to showcase positive things, highlighting people like C. S. Lewis, Whittaker Chambers, and Ronald Reagan. But I feel I must continue to offer commentary on contemporary developments, both cultural and political.

I’m going to use the blog today to do a little catch-up. Lest we forget, we still have someone residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. doing his best to transform the country. I’ve avoided making him the focus of this blog for a while, but now it’s time to provide an overview of how his national transformation is working.

I’ll let political cartoons do most of my talking.

On the Obamacare front (yes, mainstream media, it’s still a relevant issue), more bad news for the occupant of the White House. State co-ops are folding because they are going broke, premiums are rising significantly (which anyone with any knowledge of economics predicted), and all those wonderful promises of state-controlled healthcare for everyone are wilting.

Co-Ops

Coverage

Tweaks

Then there’s Obama’s about-face on putting “boots on the ground” in the Middle East, specifically Syria. Now, I’m not an advocate of sending massive numbers of US troops into that quagmire, but if you’re going to do it at all, shouldn’t you send more than fifty Special Ops soldiers? Fifty? Yes, you heard correctly. Does anyone really believe that’s going to turn the tide there? And just what tide are we trying to turn anyway? Supporting the so-called “moderates” against ISIS sounds good, but how many of those moderates are there, and can they really be trusted?

One is tempted to view this action as just for show—no substance at all.

Limited Action

Flip-Flops

Squiggle

Then there’s his executive action to release a large number of drug offenders from prison. Now, I certainly can agree that some of them may have received sentences that didn’t comport with the offense, yet there’s significant testimony that many of those being released were not simply casual users but dealers. And now they are to be sent out into the general population again.

My cynical side will show here: how many of those released prisoners will now be allowed to vote in the next presidential election? Do you think they will vote for Republicans? Right.

Employers are also not supposed to be able to investigate the criminal past of applicants as readily as before. Well, that definitely helps one person in particular:

Criminal History

You are now updated. I’ve done my duty. Tomorrow, back to C. S. Lewis.

The Chambers-Reagan Journey

Ten years ago, I had an idea for a book and began the research. I sought to compare the nearly unbounded optimism of Ronald Reagan with the more pessimistic outlook of Whittaker Chambers, the ex-communist who became front-page news when he outed Alger Hiss as an underground spy.

Chambers then wrote his autobiography, Witness, which went beyond a simple telling of a tale; it became a treatise on the downfall of Western civilization unless it would turn once again to Christian faith.

I completed writing the first draft in 2010, then searched for a publisher. I found one, but the publication stumbled over something out of the control of both the publisher and myself—we mutually agreed to terminate the contract in 2012.

The search continued, and lasted until this year when I finally found a publisher with the conviction that what I had written needed to be in print. It will be a reality now in a matter of days.

I recently received the front cover, and I was impressed with it.

Book Cover 1

It has just the right “feel” for what I wanted the cover to portray. The look is as professional as I had always hoped it would be. Then I was sent the back cover, which included excerpts from some quite eminent historians’ endorsements for the book:

Witness & the President Back Cover

Paul Kengor is a well-established Reagan scholar; George Nash is considered the dean of historians with respect to analyzing modern American conservatism; Richard Reinsch has written an excellent account of Chambers’s worldview; and Luke Nichter is co-author/editor of the bestselling book on the Nixon tapes. Luke also just happens to be one of my former students from when I taught at Regent University’s School of Government in a master’s program.

Needless to say, I am thrilled with the prospects of this publication. I’m hoping many of you will be interested enough to purchase a copy—and then a few more for your friends.

When it does become available, which will be very soon, I will let you know. May God be praised for opening this door.

2016’s Worst-Case Scenario

Joe Biden says he is out of the 2016 race, then proceeds to give a 25-minute campaign speech. Why? Commentator Charles Krauthammer thinks he is positioning himself should lightning strike Hillary Clinton in the form of a federal indictment.

Any indictment that may come will be the result of an FBI investigation into her e-mail scandal, but there are other reasons to fervently oppose a Hillary nomination, with Benghazi being a key one.

Today the House special committee investigating Benghazi will have her testify. Four Americans died in that terrorist attack that she tried to blame on a hardly seen video. When she appears before the committee, perhaps they should also have empty chairs next to her as a remembrance for the four who died.

There’s actually a fifth victim here as well:

Empty Chairs

Another cartoonist picked up on that theme rather pointedly also:

Waste of Time

For me, it doesn’t matter which of the possible candidates Democrats will offer to the public; I could never vote for any of them. Why don’t they just get it over and change the name of the party officially to the Socialist Party? Or how about the Kill Innocent Children and Sell Their Body Parts Party? The Let’s Destroy Marriage Party? You get the drift. There’s no way I can ever support what Democrats now stand for. How any Christian can give support for them is beyond my comprehension.

Then there’s the Republican side where Donald Trump continues to lead in the polls. Some, like this cartoonist, view him this way:

Trumpet

His candidacy certainly has been long on bravado, a cult of personality, and the ability to hit hot-button issues that appeal to angry voters. But he’s far from lacking substance; what bothers me the most is the substance I see.

Trump, in my view, has only latched onto a type of conservatism because it’s what will get him the nomination. He, by his own admission, has always aligned himself more with Democrats than Republicans, and now mouths conservative platitudes that I don’t really think he believes.

Ronald Reagan underwent a serious rethinking of his New Deal liberalism over a number of years, coming out of the period of rethinking as a confirmed conservative in principle. Trump is, I fear, nothing more than an opportunist jumping on a bandwagon of reaction against the Obama years.

That’s not enough. It’s also dangerous to put one’s trust in an opportunist. It will come back to bite.

His latest foray into the Loony Left’s talking points is the insinuation that 9/11 was somehow George Bush’s fault. Whatever critique we, and I, may have of Bush’s actions, anyone who even hints at his complicity in letting 9/11 happen is wandering into the fever swamps.

There were so many daily threats Bush was given that there was no way to single out ahead of time what actually happened on 9/11.

Further, Trump then asserted that if he had been president, 9/11 wouldn’t have happened, indicating that his immigration approach would have prevented it. Does he not know that 15 of the 19 terrorists that day came into the country legally? And does he really want us to believe that he would have rounded them up and deported them in the short 8-month span he would have been in office prior to 9/11?

Hitching a ride on the Trump Train will spell disaster for the GOP.

911

Can you imagine a worse scenario than what we may be facing as an election choice in 2016?

Miss Those Days

As noted above, I’ll never vote for Hillary or any other Democrat. But please, Republicans, don’t force me to vote for a third party.

Russia & the Decline of American Influence

Syria? Who cares about Syria? Iraq? Old story. Never should have gone there in the first place. Leave it alone. Let everyone in that whole region just fight it out amongst themselves since there’s no one to support anyway.

That last paragraph summarizes what a lot of people think. That’s pretty much what Donald Trump said as well. Some of the sentiment I can understand. Trying to build nations is a complicated mess when there is no practice of self-government and when there is no Biblical basis for governing.

So, yes, I understand how some people feel.

But that doesn’t erase the threat emanating from radical Islam in the region, a threat that won’t be contained there but will show up more consistently within our borders, especially if we cut and run.

Unfortunately, cutting and running seems to be the Obama administration’s policy—to the point that we have now allowed Russia to take the lead, particularly in Syria.

ISIS Strategy

Vladimir Putin’s bold move into leadership in that civil war came directly after meeting with Obama. Apparently, there was no warning he was going to intervene; he simply did so and informed us afterward. Most insulting was the directive that American planes should keep out of the way. Of course, those planes weren’t doing much anyway, given the strategy (?) for victory (?) Obama has put into operation, but the demand itself shows that Russia is now in the driver’s seat and America is an afterthought.

No matter what you think of American involvement in the region, the insertion of Russian authority should be a warning about the loss of influence America now has in the situation. Why, it’s as if no one really believes Obama’s warnings. I wonder why that might be?

Red Line

Ah, yes, that infamous “red line” he supposedly drew in the Syrian sands, which he then conveniently forgot about when Assad crossed it and used chemical weapons anyway. The term has now taken on a whole new meaning:

Russian Landing Strip

Perhaps you recall a comment Obama made during his first term when he thought his microphone was off while speaking with a Russian leader—you know, the comment that if he were to win a second term, he could then be more “flexible” in his foreign policy. Well, that certainly has come to fruition:

More Flexible

Obama’s leadership has become little more than a joke around the world, particularly with nations we should be the most concerned about:

Love That One

America doesn’t always have to put boots on the ground and be the world’s policeman, but we ought to be a major player in dealing with global problems that will come home to roost. Under our current leadership, the United States has become pretty much a laughingstock.

And you wonder why so many of us look longingly back to the days of a real president, one who was able to exert American influence without major loss of life and while overseeing a robust economy? Yes, I’m talking about Ronald Reagan.

There is no Reagan on the horizon, but we can definitely do better than the leadership we’re stuck with now.

We can blame Obama, but who put him in the position he now occupies? It’s never been more true that a nation’s leaders are the reflection of the nation’s people—and that’s a sad development. It says something about Americans in general that should shake us to the core.