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Lincoln Day Remarks 2011

By Clermont County Republican Party Cahirman, Tim Rudd

In 2009 we celebrated the 2ooth anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth and this year we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth. It seems that you could postulate a political theorem that approximately every 1oo years a great president is born.

Both of their lives had noteworthy similarities.

  • Both were born into modest families. Lincoln was born in Kentucky to a hardscrabble farmer. Reagan was the son of a shoe salesman who came of age during the Great Depression.
  • Both men had ties to Illinois where they were taught what we like to consider Mid-Western values of hard work and thrift. Lincoln’s family moved from Kentucky, after losing a farm to deed problems, first to Indiana and then to Illinois. It was in Illinois where Lincoln, the autodidact, would teach himself the law, and become a very successful attorney before going into politics. Reagan was born in Tampico, schooled in Dixon, and attended Eureka College, all in Illinois before striking out west.
  • Both learned the art of statecraft from being an elected official at the state level. Lincoln served four terms as a member of the Illinois state legislature. Reagan was Governor of California. Both learned the value of forming coalitions, the art of give and take, the value of timing, in short, the art of governance at the state level.
    Both lost major elections that were in the national spotlight prior to being elected President. Lincoln’s lost to Douglas was for the soul of the nation which would be rectified by a bloody civil war. Reagan’s lost was for the soul of our party which would be rectified by his own election in 1980.
  • Both Presidents inherited from their failed predecessors national nightmares. Buchanan handed Lincoln a nation already split in two and on the brink of civil war. Carter handed Reagan a nation he self diagnosed as in malaise along with stagflation, the infamous misery index ,the Iranian Revolution, gas lines, and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan with proxies in Central America.
  • Both men invited into their presidential cabinets men who thought that they were better qualified to be President. For Lincoln, it was Seward, Cameron and Chase. The names of Haig, Stockman, and Regan should ring a familiar bell for Reagan.
  • Both men were great communicators who could speak bluntly when necessary. “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong”. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
  • Both men believed that the United States was indeed exceptional. Lincoln spoke of “the last best hope of earth”. Reagan spoke of “a shining city on the hill”. Lincoln stated that he never had a political thought which did not emanate from the Declaration of independence. He cited that the most important sentence was the one that read, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…”
  • Both, oddly enough, are trying to be claimed by liberals. I guess that another possible political theorem might be that for liberals the only good conservative is a dead conservative.

Many lessons can be gleaned from their respective lives but I would like to highlight two.

First is leadership. Leadership is an art not a science, it cannot be taught but can be learned. Leadership, sometimes necessarily loud, is more often quiet but firm. Leadership is not proud and does not give way or heed the vanity or petty jealousies of others. Leadership can always see the destination, if just a glimpse, regardless if the road is as wide as a modern interstate, or narrow as a country gravel lane, or as crooked and hilly as State Route 133. Leadership is steady and keeps its head when everyone else around them is losing their own. Finally leadership recognizes and embraces the Christian charities of love, faith, and hope. The Apostle Paul teaches us that the greatest among these are love but from a leadership perspective faith with an almost equal measure of hope are indispensible.

The second is greatness. Greatness is not self-anointed nor bequeathed by the mass media or talking head elites. Greatness is not about looks, the ability to speak, the college one attended, or one of many criteria that liberalism wants to triumph. Greatness rests in the minds, hearts, and souls of the American people. Greatness for Presidents rests on two things. In order to be great, Presidents must pursue policies that increase the freedom of their citizenry and increase the security of the nation.

I don’t mean freedom in some ethereal sense but in the real terms of a limited government which pursues policies that allow Americans to pursue and realize their full potentials without increasing the burden on others. The best quote on limited government belongs to Lincoln: “The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot do so well for themselves, in their separate and individual capacities. “ Reagan, who in order to tame the federal beast cut both taxes and the federal budget leading to a new era of prosperity, understood that cutting defense was foolhardy because of its importance to our nation and the free world. Reagan stated, ‘The top priority of the federal government is the safety of the country” and ”we have no choice but to maintain ready defense forces that are second to none. Yes the cost is high, but the price of neglect would be infinitely higher”.

Finally both of these men believed that the best days of America lie not in its past but in our collective future. If we can look to them and meet their standard I have no doubt that they are right. The last word on that subject belongs to Reagan who said “why shouldn’t we believe that, we’re Americans.”