June 15, 2004
By William J. Bennett
Our current economic prosperity is rooted in the principles
President Reagan championed. Historic tax reform was made possible
because he changed the terms of the political debate. With his
faith that government tax policy was the problem, not the solution,
and a firm grasp of the fundamental principle of economics -- free
enterprise works -- he released our creative energies and
entrepreneurial spirits. He simplified the tax code and cut top
marginal rates nearly in half. Interest rates and inflation fell.
Millions of new jobs were created, and American families had more
money. His policies encouraged and fostered free enterprise --
especially in the high-technology industries, the fuel of our
In foreign policy, President Reagan brought about the fall of
the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. If he had done
nothing else, his emphasis on a strong, assertive American military
would secure his place in our nation's history. But more than just
strengthening our military, Reagan made us aware of our
responsibilities as a superpower. Once again we acknowledged the
necessity of acting energetically to defend our interests and our
values in a dangerous world.
But despite his stunning contributions to American economic and
military strength, President Reagan helped us to see that, in his
words, "a nation's greatness is not measured just by its gross
national product or military power, but by the strength of its
devotion to the principles and values that bind its people and
define their character." On this front -- on this moral and
cultural front -- President Reagan did great work. In his evocation
of our national memory and symbols of pride, in his summoning us to
our national purpose, he performed the crucial task of political
leadership. Moreover, he did this precisely when many people were
wondering whether such leadership was still possible. If, as
President Reagan said, "in recent years America's values almost
seemed in exile," no public act was more significant than his
welcoming them home.
The meaning of the Reagan Revolution extends beyond tax reform
and beyond national defense. It includes a recovery of our national
purpose, a strengthening of our social bonds, a reaffirmation of
our common cultural beliefs. This is a task that goes beyond
politics, let alone the politics of one administration. And that is
why what President Reagan did after his presidency remains so
definitive of his presidency.
In his own hand, President Reagan wrote to let us know that he
was falling victim to Alzheimer's disease. He spoke of other
families suffering with the disease. He worried about his wife.
Then he chose these words to comfort the nation:
I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my
life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn
At that time, I thought to myself, "There you go again, showing
us the way." And that is precisely what President Ronald Reagan was
about: He showed us -- conservatives, liberals, Americans -- the
way. The Reagan Revolution is not complete, and it remains our task
to go forth toward that national greatness -- to sustain and
enhance and extend what Ronald Reagan did. That is how we can best
honor him and his memory.
William J. Bennett was Secretary of Education under
President Reagan. He is a Distinguished Fellow of Cultural Policy
Studies at The
Heritage Foundation, the Washington Fellow of the Claremont Institute, a Co-Director of Empower America
and the Host of Bill Bennett's Morning in America, a nationally
syndicated radio show.
It would be difficult to overestimate the contribution of Ronald Reagan to the United States, and especially to the American conservative moment.
William J. Bennett
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