Principles & Character

Last night, I spoke to a group of Christian educators from all over the state of Florida, meeting in Orlando. The subject was the role of principles and character in American political history.

My goal was to show when Christian character and Biblical principles came to the forefront of public policy and when they were ignored. Blessings flowed from the first; consequences from the latter.

It was a survey from the time of Woodrow Wilson, who championed the false idea of the “living Constitution,” to the present day. Along the way, we looked at the negative—Wilson, Hoover, FDR, LBJ, Nixon, Carter, and Clinton—the mixed bags—primarily the two Bushes—and a few genuine heroes of character and principles.

In my view, the two most prominent examples in the twentieth century of how a president should govern are Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan. Coolidge understood the importance of the rule of law, and he declined to run again for the presidency primarily because he feared what would happen to his character if he stayed in that position too long. While liberal historians love to ridicule Coolidge, I believe he deserves our respect.

Reagan, as readers of this blog presumably already know, is a personal favorite of mine. He came to the office with a settled philosophy: the rule of law is essential to keep the government under control; people need economic freedom; civil government isn’t the answer to all our problems, but religious faith, family, and voluntarism are the keys to a healthy society; and national security has to be strong to protect against those who wish us harm.

I ended the talk with a quote from Reagan in a speech that he delivered in that same city, Orlando, back in 1983. The media refers to it as the “Evil Empire” speech, in which he gave that title to the Soviet Union. Reagan closed that speech with these words:

While America’s military strength is important . . . I’ve always maintained that the struggle now going on for the world will never be decided by bombs or rockets, by armies or military might. The real crisis we face today is a spiritual one; at root, it is a test of moral will and faith.

He may have said that 27 years ago, but it’s still just as true today. May we take those words seriously.