June 7, 2004

June 7, 2004 | Commentary on

REAGAN AND HERITAGE: A Unique Partnership

Ronald Reagan and The Heritage Foundation. It's hard to tell the story of one without much of the other's. Heritage was President Reagan's favorite think tank, and Reagan was the embodiment of the ideas and principles Heritage holds dear.

Together, we blazed a new path for America.

The partnership began in 1980, when Heritage provided the president-elect's transition team with detailed policy prescriptions on everything from taxes and regulation to trade and national defense. The published version of these recommendations, the 1,100-page "Mandate for Leadership," was described by United Press International back then as "a blueprint for grabbing the government by its frayed New Deal lapels and shaking out 48 years of liberal policy." The new president used "Mandate" to help realize his vision of a world free of communism, an economy that didn't crush people's dreams with high taxes and regulations, and an America the world could admire once again. He gave copies to every member of his Cabinet. The result: Nearly two-thirds of "Mandate's" 2,000 recommendations were adopted or attempted by the Reagan administration.

As conservative commentator William F. Buckley, Jr., put it: "The foundation had a great hour when Ronald Reagan was elected president and found waiting for him three volumes of Heritage material designed to help him chart the nation's course in the right direction. Sixty percent of the suggestions enjoined on the new president were acted upon (which is why Mr. Reagan's tenure was 60 percent successful.)"

In his second term, Reagan turned again to Heritage for ideas-and adopted many of them. He recited 22 specific proposals from "Mandate for Leadership II" in his second inaugural address in 1985, prompting The New York Times to say, "While the wording of the president's speech and the foundation's document were different, many of the proposals were strikingly similar."

Ronald Reagan wasn't shy about letting people know what he thought of Heritage. At a dinner in December 1989, almost a year after he left office, Reagan said Heritage was a "vital force" in Washington during his administration and that "Mandate for Leadership" was a "warning shot telling the liberal establishment that … they could not expect to carry on business as usual."

Heritage wasn't shy about letting people know what it thought of President Reagan, either. In 1990, it created the Ronald Reagan Fellow in Public Policy and named Reagan's long-time adviser and former Attorney General Edwin Meese, III, as its first fellow. In 1998, Heritage awarded the former president the Clare Boothe Luce Award, its highest honor, for his achievements in advancing conservatism.

Even after his death, Ronald Reagan's presence is felt at Heritage's headquarters on Capitol Hill. Pictures and portraits of Reagan hang in the hallways-and in the offices of staffers. Reagan's policies are still studied-and admired. His speeches are still read for historical analysis-and inspiration.

Ronald Reagan was one of the best friends The Heritage Foundation ever had. We will miss him.

Reagan and Heritage

While Heritage does not take full credit for Reagan's achievements during his presidency, it's clear that Reagan took Heritage proposals seriously. Some examples of the Reagan-Heritage partnership:

Heritage Study: Reagan Policy:
1980: Heritage's "Mandate for Leadership" suggests revitalizing the economy with an across-the-board tax cut. "Top priority in refocused tax policy should be given to substantial across-the-board marginal rate reductions." 1981: Reagan reduces taxes by 23 percent for all income groups. Economists believe the Reagan tax cut launched the prosperity the United States enjoys today.
1982: Heritage publishes High Frontier, a landmark study that proposed a "layered" missile defense shield. "…defensive systems hold the only promise to break out of the Mutual Assured Destruction doctrine." 1983: Reagan announces the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). "Our only purpose-one all people share-is to search for ways to reduce the danger of nuclear war," Reagan says.
1985: In a briefing book, Heritage urges Reagan in his first summit with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev to stand firm on SDI, and to let the Soviet leader know the U.S. will no longer tolerate Soviet expansionism. 1986: Reagan sticks so closely to the Heritage suggestions that Gorbachev complains to Reagan about Heritage's influence in the first few minutes of the summit.
1979: Heritage Policy Analyst Stuart Butler proposes "enterprise zones," which encourage development in blighted neighborhoods by offering entrepreneurs and investors tax and regulatory relief if they start businesses in the area. 1987: Congress passes legislation creating "enterprise zones." The measure is sponsored by Rep. Jack Kemp, R-N.Y., and Rep. Robert Garcia, D-N.Y. Reagan had actively supported the proposal an eagerly signs it into law.







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