Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Great Communicator

Preparing for tomorrow's discussion section in the class I TA I had occasion to read over some of Ronald Reagan's speeches online.

We're talking about analogy and innuendo and how politicians use them (YAAAWWWWNNN), so I went to to scout around a bit for source material. I ended up settling on using Rumsfeld's Old Europe statment and Nixon's Great Silent Majority speech for innuendo and Michael Crichton's speech on Environmentalism as Religion for analogy. We'll see how it goes. Tristan had the better idea of having the students bring their own material to discuss for his sections. I would have done that, but I was too lazy to send out the email. Which just goes to show that laziness and diligence are really the same thing with different polarity... (Tristan has what Larry Wall would call the Virtue of Laziness - whereas I suffer from "false laziness.")

In any case, while digging around for all this I happened to read President Reagan's First Inaugural Address, and it reminded my why I think of him as the greatest 20th century American president.

Politics, we're taught, is slimy and duplicitous. You're not to trust what politicians say because they are manipulative and self-serving. And I have seen little in my lifetime to dispute this view. Indeed, one of the main reasons I am a classical liberal (Libertarian) is because I think we could all do with a lot less government going on. What I've never understood is why the very people who claim to be the most cynical about the American system of government are so eager to give that same government ever more control over their lives.

The interesting thing about political theater, I think, is that people do take it seriously, despite all the warnings they constantly give themselves. What politicians say matters, and I can't help but think that a lot of people were listening when Ronald Reagan said, on 20 January 1981 (as the 5-year-old me watched on TV!):

In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. But if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?

Straight to the point, and beautifully stated. The Great Communicator indeed.

After the same class today, the professor told me that things have changed a lot since he was a student. He said that when he was in school (in the UK), you "had to be a Socialist or else you weren't cool." Things have indeed changed. Classical Liberalism is back on the table - in discourse at least, if not in actual policy. I can't help but think that Reagan has a lot to do with that.

The present administration likes to think of itself as his heir, but it is nothing of the kind. We haven't seen this level of gratuitous spending since the Great Society. There is absolutely no point to voting Republican anymore, and the Libertarians, my first-choice party, have yet to make a real effort. What can I do but be a bit nostalgic?

In the 80s the clouds parted a bit - at least rhetorically. And there was a time in the early 90s when it looked like Congress was going to continue the tradition. I'm can't say I'm surprised they slipped back into their old habits - but I will say this: at least we have a precedent in living memory. It's good the old man was around.