by Michael Reagan

For Reagan's birthday, commit to redefeating socialism

My father was born over a century ago in a small, second floor apartment on the main thoroughfare of Tampico, Ill. The town’s population in 1911 was little more than 800, and my grandfather worked at the variety store across the street.

These were humble beginnings for a man who so profoundly altered the course of human history. What made such a rise possible were firm beliefs that he spent his life championing. The view that each human is an individual; a respect for law; the vigilant defense of traditions; an understanding that man’s rights are not a gift from government, but from God; and that the state serves the citizen, never the other way around.

Societies guided and governed by these ideals flourish. The men and women living in them can fulfill their destinies as they please and climb as high as their efforts allow. We call this philosophy conservatism. When my father first addressed Conservative Political Action Conference as president of the United States in the winter of 1981, it was the underpinning of a revolutionary political movement.

What was radical in 1964 and 1980 is, today, widely accepted. To be sure, the indifference and intolerance toward the proponents of limited government my father mentioned at CPAC endures. But today it is found in cultural outposts far from where the vast majority of Americans work, pray, and raise their families.

When my father addressed CPAC in 1981, it was as a newly minted president; the great experiment of whether conservatism was a viable governing philosophy was just beginning. In the decades since, conservatives have regularly held majorities in the federal and state legislatures, they have repeatedly sat in governors’ offices, and three of the five men who followed my father into the White House were conservatives. The two who were not conservatives still paid lip service to limited government, and one even feigned admiration for my father.

Over time, the lonely walk begun by Barry Goldwater, the editors of National Review, and most definitely the American Conservative Union, became a march of millions.

Conservatism’s victories were not limited to America’s elections. When he spoke to CPAC in 1981, my father took aim at international adversaries; those “who preach the supremacy of the state,” the evil empire propped up on the “Marxist vision of man without God.” That night, he predicted it would be viewed by history as a “false faith,” and history has proven him right. The Soviet Union is dead. Though far too many still suffer under it, communism has largely vanished from the earth.

Now, though, is not the time for a conservative valedictory.

Improbably, there are those in our country today who want to revive the very things that failed so spectacularly in the Eastern bloc and elsewhere. They are not our enemies, as the Soviets were, but rather countrymen who have forgotten or ignored what my father described at CPAC as “the secret of the camps” — the lessons passed on by those who escaped communism’s clutches.

In the early 21st-century, too many have once again been seduced by a Faustian bargain: if a people will only cede their power to a set of bright minds gathered in a far-off capital, life’s challenges and hardships will dissipate. Of course, my father would have reminded us that this is a lopsided bargain; one that greatly favors the governors at the expense of the governed.

And yet, a political party is wondering, bizarrely, why what didn’t work in Russia can’t work in America. And make no mistake, these voices are growing louder and their pathways to power are becoming clearer. The men and women who demand government do evermore have even taken to proudly calling themselves socialists once again.

Our charge in the coming years will be to counter this burgeoning program through debate and at the ballot box. To do this, we must again rally around the principles that were at the heart of my father’s labors that he laid out so eloquently during his first presidential address at CPAC: the dignity of the citizen, the danger of the state, and fidelity to laws higher than our own. The alternative, a population pitted against itself based on race and class, is a road to serfdom, despotism, destitution, and disaster.

This nation, as my father said that night, was “entrusted to us, to stand by, to protect, and yes, to lead her wisely.” This trust continues. And, so too, must our defense of the very things it was built upon.

My father was an optimist. Naturally, so too am I. If we heed his wisdom and remember the things that make our movement, America’s potential will remain limitless.

Originally posted in Washington Examiner.