July 13, 2011
Last week, Frank Carlucci (who served as Secretary of Defense under Ronald Reagan from 1987-1989 and, before then, had played very prominent roles in every administration since Nixon's) sat down for an informal lunch with a few students from his alma mater, Princeton University. After providing many anecdotes and insights from his decades of service, he closed with an unexpected but deeply profound assessment of what ultimately differentiated Reagan from Nixon.
He felt that, while Nixon was considerably more intelligent and cunning than Reagan, the fundamental reason that Reagan will go down in history as one of America's greatest presidents, "whereas Nixon will always have somewhat of a question mark next to his name," was that Reagan was profoundly guided, in all of his actions, by his deep faith in God.
In Nixons case, faith was very much in the background, and his lack of faith caused him to develop a great cynicism towards other people. This caused him to lose respect for the truth, and led him to do what he found expedient, rather than what he knew to be morally right; in the end, this got him into serious trouble.
Reagan, by contrast, was driven profoundly by his Christian faith. It drove him to work tirelessly to share the gifts of freedom and respect, to which he knew all human beings were entitled by their nature, and to focus particularly on promoting religious freedom, which he knew was essential to the emancipation of the human race. His charisma came from the transcendent nature of his mission. So much of the world saw him not merely as a politician pursuing self-interested goals, but as a man deeply devoted to doing what he knew to be morally right. This enabled him to face Gorbachev and demand the destruction of the Berlin wall, not just as the President of the United States, but as the voice of every person everywhere who yearned for freedom, righteousness, and justice and who knew that the forces of good would always prevail, and that governments based on religious, social, and economic repression would always inevitably collapse.
Carlucci, a Roman Catholic, went on to say that in order to be an extraordinary president, one must be a man of extraordinary faith, either in God, or in some transcendent principle such as justice or democratic freedom, because it is these transcendent beliefs that give purpose to and shape one's life, keep one on a righteous course, and motivate others with the knowledge that one really is acting for the good of mankind.