political elites at the time basically viewed local neighborhood and community institutions with scorn. Then in 1975 Reagan gave a little known speech to the Executive Club of Chicago called "Let the People Rule." The speech was mocked by both political parties at the time. Less than 4 years later, the Republican Party was beating their chests in pride in what they discovered. The Democratic Party was still searching for a real platform by linking every conceivable special interest group together. Bill Clinton borrowed from the Republicans and was as effective as any Republican. In fact, two politicians dominated the 1990's in America President Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich, but the script was pure Ronald Reagan.
Reagan clearly saw that liberalism's lack of a limiting principle would be its own undoing, and he argued that big government was destructive. Not only because it dampened individual initiative, but that it also weakened the local, voluntary institutions within which citizens had traditionally managed their own affairs, according to their own moral and spiritual principles. And so he called for:
An end to giantism, for a return to the human scale - the scale that human beings can understand and cope with; the scale of the local fraternal lodge, the church congregation, the block club, the farm bureau.... It is activity on a small, human scale that creates the fabric of community.... The human scale nurtures standards of right behavior, a prevailing ethic of what is right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable
Reagan would famously say during his political career that "I was a Democrat most of my adult life. I didn't leave my party and we're not suggesting you leave yours. I am telling you that what I felt was that the leadership of the Democratic Party had left me and millions of patriotic Democrats in this country who believed in freedom." If he was too easy on the Democratic Party, he was very clear that conservatism today has inherited the best of the liberal tradition, which is why he felt none of the sectarian's hesitation about quoting Thomas Paine (or admiring Franklin Roosevelt):
The classic liberal used to be the man who believed the individual was, and should be forever, the master of his destiny. That is now the conservative position. The liberal used to believe in freedom under law. He now takes the ancient feudal position that power is everything. He believes in a stronger and stronger central government, in the philosophy that control is better than freedom. The conservative now quotes Thomas Paine, a long-time refuge of the liberals: "Government is a necessary evil; let us have as little of it as possible."
President Bush has not limited government as many had hoped. But in a recent speech he said something eerily reminiscent of President Reagan. He said, "For all Americans, these years in our history will always stand apart,'' he said. ''You know, there are quiet times in the life of a nation when little is expected of its leaders. This isn't one of those times. This is a time that needs -- when we need firm resolve and clear vision and a deep faith in the values that make us a great nation."
Men can be beasts to one another, but human nature has also produced "better angels." We are fortunate to live with some of the very people who are making a difference in the lives of people within their neighborhoods and the nation. These are the people who understand the soul of the community and in the end will turn the very wheel of history. Whereas faith leads to deeper reflection, politicians need to understand their constituency and reflect the values of the community. You want to speak? Listen quietly at first.
--J. C. Bowman is a public policy analyst who resides in Tallahassee, Florida.
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