Lessons from the
HIGH GROUND By William M. Esposo
Inq7.net 2004-06-21
There is saying that "The world steps aside to let a man pass if he knows where he is going". I think the late US president Ronald Wilson Reagan was a living proof of that.

By all reckoning, Ronald Reagan was no intellectual heavyweight. He neither had impressive academic undertakings nor did he foster awesome ideological breakthroughs of a Marx and a Mao. But he possessed three fundamental strengths that had sufficed to earn him a place in history.

1. He believed in something and he stuck to it.
2. He had the gift to communicate and he used that gift to the hilt.
3. He was genuinely likable.

Many tend to associate Ronald Reagan as an Irish-American president. Although he was of Irish descent on his paternal side, he was in many ways more Scottish-American than anything else. This is why: Aside from the fact that he takes Scottish roots from his mother, a Wilson, he had also given loyal obeisance to the Scottish Presbyterian faith. Dating back to 1560, the Scots adopted the Presbyterian form of church governance, not subject to state control as was the case for the Church of England. This goes back to the Scottish experience of reformation initiated in 1560 by John Knox. The Scottish Reformation in essence took place at a grassroots level, and the Scots chose Presbyterianism as their method of church government.

Reagan's biography acknowledges the strong influence of his mother, obviously a woman so strong, so persuasive and determined that she had inculcated on his son the same reverence for the Presbyterian way of worship which in many ways defines the true Scottish spirit. The Scottish race prides itself for its sense of humor and Stick-to-itiveness, or tenacity, rendered in picturesque language. And sense of humor and stick-to-itiveness definitely are well-known Reagan traits.

Unlike many other leaders whose agenda have too many facets and complicated ramifications, Reagan simply pursued the six canons of the Conservative Mind as laid down by fellow-Scot Russell Kirk, who was described by Newsweek and Time as one of America's greatest thinkers. That formed Reagan's core political philosophy from which also emerged his strong anti-Communist stance.

Two of the six canons of Conservative Thought set by Kirk state:

1. "Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence, as opposed to narrowing uniformity…"
2. "Persuasion that freedom and property are closely linked: separate property from private possession and the 'Leviathan' becomes master of all."

Of course, the terms "Narrowing uniformity" and the reference to the "Leviathan" are images associated with the authoritarian Communist classless state.

One must understand that before Reagan, Conservative Thought was roundly rejected by American voters who had drubbed Barry Goldwater in his bid for the presidency in 1964. Americans reject the Conservative mantra on the impression that it fired up the path towards the "Armageddon" of a nuclear confrontation. When Reagan entered the scene in 1980, he came at a time when Conservative Thought was ripe for the picking. What proved fatal for Goldwater in 1964, Reagan repackaged and successfully sold in 1980 with his campaign sub-theme "Let's make America strong enough for peace."

In 1980, the United States was at its worst state of demoralization, mainly the result of:

1. The effects of the revolutionary 1960's when America confronted itself and its values - a clash that found itself in the issues surrounding the Vietnam War.
2. The experience of Watergate.
3. The ultimate national trauma caused by the loss of the Vietnam War.

The world saw an America that deeply questioned and doubted itself. America needed a father figure and Ronald Reagan was perfect for that role.

I do believe that Reagan's single biggest accomplishment was in uplifting a demoralized nation and rallying it around the symbolism of the "shining city on the hill". Before Reagan, Americans felt like losers. Reversing that was the key strategic move without which all other accomplishments of his era may not have been possible. America believed Reagan because he believed in what he professed. America trusted Reagan because they perceived him to be sincere and carried in his heart those values that to them were dear. He won not only their vote but their empathy.

I differ with many who tend to credit Reagan and Reagan alone for the collapse of the Soviet Union and Communism. I think Mikhail Gorbachev's visionary political breakthroughs of Glasnost and Perestroika had created the conditions to make transformation inevitable. Even before Reagan, Russia's staying the course in the battle for military supremacy against the US was already in serious question. The Russian economy could no longer sustain the high cost of superpower status. Gorbachev knew that the world was fast evolving into a global village and Russia can only either get on the train fast or end up under it.

Reagan was not without his low points. His lukewarm response to supporting the fight to end apartheid in South Africa, his support for dictatorial regimes - one of which was the corrupt, repressive regime of our very own Ferdinand Marcos - the Iran-Contra affair which almost became Reagan's Watergate, his supply side economics and budget deficit will be on the debit side of his ledger when history at last starts to audit him. But I'm sure his landmark achievements in the areas which mattered most in his time will give him history's broad strokes of approval.

Reagan's dedication to his credo, Conservative Thought, and natural aversion to its anti-thesis, which is Communism, was so consistent in his actions. The personal bond between Reagan and Marcos ran deep and up to the week before Marcos was toppled, Reagan still supported Marcos. Thus, I am convinced that what really made Reagan switch to Cory Aquino was the US State Department assessment that if Marcos remained in power in the Philippines, the Communists will gain enormous popular support in less than three years and eventually takeover. This assessment was bolstered by the likely scenario that if Marcos remained in power, the moderates that Aquino led would become irrelevant. The subsequent polarization of forces between the Right and the Left will naturally swell the ranks of the radical, anti-American Left. It was also this anti-Communist sentiment that prodded Reagan to support the Contras in Nicaragua.

Reagan was hailed as "The Great Communicator" yet few are aware that his image managers had craftily employed the "Cocoon Strategy", limiting his media appearances, particularly in thorny policy matters where Reagan was not all that savvy. Up to that time (George W. Bush is threatening to top Reagan's aversion for press conferences) Reagan, The Great Communicator, had the fewest press conferences in a presidency in the media age. It proved the point that - just as in movies it is not the length of one's appearance - it is the quality of impact and net impression that make for effective communication.

Reagan was The Great Communicator not just for the way he said things but for his choice of message. Delivery, after all, cannot make up for a faulty message. During the 1980 debate with then President Jimmy Carter, Carter sought to impress voters that he had better qualifications for the job and displayed a mastery of stats and cases to bolster his points. Reagan, who could not match Carter in this game, instead brought his point direct to the heart of his voters by bringing policy to its impact on the family in Idaho, the little girl in Michigan, the farmer in Kansas. Reagan won the debate and the 1980 election.

Reagan was also called the Teflon president not because he was crafty in getting out of tight scrapes and situations but because people trusted him and were willing to give him allowances they would not have extended perhaps to another president. There are many Americans who do not subscribe to Reagan's Conservative Political Philosophy but because they respected him for deeply believing in his cause, they accepted actions that he took for that cause.

Sense of humor and wit are all part of Reagan's political arsenal and at the same time his ultimate survival kit. His wit and humor could dismiss a serious campaign issue like his age. During the 1984 presidential debate with Democratic Party candidate Chip Mondale, Reagan set the tone and effectively dismissed the age issue when he said: "I refuse to make age an issue in this campaign. I will not use against my opponent his youth and lack of experience."

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