Today, Feb. 6, is Ronald Reagan’s birthday. Because of that, and because February is also the month of Lincoln’s birthday and Presidents’ Day, many Republicans nationwide hold annual “Reagan Day” events. The GOP has long marked “Lincoln Day” events. The fact that many Republicans have now started doing Reagan Day celebrations is a testimony to the iconic status of Reagan in their party. Ronald Reagan has become the gold standard for Republicans.
Reagan’s impact is also salient in the current Republican primary. Republican presidential candidates claim the mantle of Reagan. As they jockey for the presidential nomination, they invoke Ronald Reagan: “I believe as Ronald Reagan believed….”
Well, what did Ronald Reagan believe?
Three times this month and still more in the months ahead, I’m giving a lecture titled, “What is a Reagan conservative?” Among the venues where I’m addressing that question is the CPAC conference, the annual political Mecca of the conservative movement. Modern Republicans—especially younger ones who were children during the Reagan years or not even born yet—are hungry for that answer, for that ideological clarification. In my lecture, I lay out what I consider the seven core fundamentals of “Reagan conservatism.”
I will not address all seven of those fundamentals here, but there are two that strike me as being of special interest to the current scandal known as the “Obama mandate;” that is, President Obama’s shocking executive decree mandating that all Americans—Catholics and Catholic organizations included—forcibly pay for contraception, sterilization, and birth-control drugs that cause abortions. Two of the seven Reagan fundamentals stand out: 1) Reagan’s belief in the sanctity and dignity of human life; and 2) Reagan’s belief in American exceptionalism.
On the first, Reagan insisted that without the right to life, there can be no other rights. The right to life is the first and most fundamental of all human freedoms, without which other human freedoms literally cannot exist. Notably, this is a very Catholic sentiment. Reagan used words identical, almost verbatim, to those used by Pope John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae (the Gospel of Life), among other Church documents.
In 1983, President Reagan stated: “My administration is dedicated to the preservation of America as a free land. And there is no cause more important for preserving that freedom than affirming the transcendent right to life of all human beings, the right without which no other rights have any meaning.”
For Reagan, that right to life began in the womb. Deeper still, it began at conception. As president, Reagan supported a Human Life Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which would have inserted into the Constitution these words: “the paramount right to life is vested in each human being from the moment of fertilization without regard to age, health or condition of dependency.” He favored providing every human being—at all stages of development—protection as “persons” with the “right to life” under the 14th Amendment. (On this, click here for a terrific op-ed piece in the New York Times by Bill Clark, Reagan’s closest aide and a lifetime Roman Catholic.)
The leading proponent of a Constitutional amendment was the late, great Congressman Henry Hyde (R-IL.), a Roman Catholic and stalwart fighter for the right to life.
At the time, even some conservatives were critical of an amendment. It never passed.
Yet, it strikes me in this current debate that such an amendment would have killed Obama’s mandate. Here we Reagan’s wisdom.
In addition, Reagan preached American exceptionalism, believing that America—while hardly perfect—was a blessed land. It was a country founded on timeless, even eternal values: on universal, God-given inalienable rights. Here, too, given the Obama mandate, I’m struck by a statement that Reagan gave way back in June 1952 at tiny William Woods College in Missouri.
There, Reagan said that America is “less of a place than an idea,” a place that resided deep in our souls. “It is simply the idea,” said Reagan, “the basis of this country and of our religion, the idea of the dignity of man, the idea that deep within the heart of each one of us is something so God-like and precious that no individual or group has a right to impose his or its will upon the people so well as they can decide for themselves.”
Well, the Obama mandate imposes President Obama’s will upon all of the American people, and especially Catholics. It violates something God-like and deep within the heart of each of us. As Catholics and as Americans, we profess the dignity of unborn man, and our faith implores us not to violate that dignity. President Obama, via his fiat, has instructed us not only to go against our Church’s teachings but to subsidize the transgression.
When people say, “We need another Ronald Reagan,” they have no idea how true that is.