February 6, 2013
Whenever I hold high the standard of that great champion of freedom, I like to call it reaganing. This week, I took part in the Ronald Reagan Memorial Lecture Series at Grove City College in Western Pennsylvania. What a pleasure it was! Grove City College is a 137-year old Christian institution of higher education. Dr. Richard Jewel leads this brave and independent voice and takes an active role in the programs of GCC’s highly regarded Center for Vision & Values. This small think tank has a deservedly high reputation within the conservative movement in the U.S.
Dr. Paul Kengor, a history professor at Grove City College, is also the executive director of the Center. My friend Paul is a prolific author, giving us such fine works as God and Ronald Reagan, The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism, and, most recently, The Communist. This last book may be the most serious scholarly work ever undertaken to document the powerful influence of Frank Marshall Davis, lifelong Communist, on the impressionable young Barack Obama.
President Reagan’s pastor, Rev. John Boyles, led off with extensive documents showing how the Washington Post had gone out of its way to delete the entire opening segment of an important Christmas Address to the nation by President Reagan. It was his first national address at Christmas in a year that had seen an assassination attempts against Reagan and against Pope John Paul II, the firing of the air traffic controllers who violated federal law by striking, and the passage of the largest tax cut in U.S. history. Perhaps most ominous that Christmas was the effort by the Soviet Union to crush Poland’s Solidarity union, the first free trade union in the Soviet bloc.
The president began with tender words about the first Christmas. He related the story of the infant Jesus born in a stable in Bethlehem and called that perhaps His first miracle. “The world will never lack for wonders,” he said, quoting G.K. Chesterton, “but for wonder.”
Every word of this was cut by the editors of The Post. Even as Mr. Reagan spoke, behind the Iron Curtain, Solidarity leaders, including the heroic Lech Walesa, were languishing in prison.
Dr. Kengor then turned to me, asking what I was doing just before Reagan took office. I told his audience how I was almost boarding Soviet fishing trawlers in the Bering Sea as a Russian language interpreter in the U.S. Coast Guard.
Before Reagan, American leaders met regularly with Soviet dictators. President Jimmy Carter and Sec. of State Cyrus Vance met with Communist Party boss Leonid Brezhnev in Vienna. At that summit meeting, Vance said Brezhnev “shared our deepest values.”
Which values would those be, Mr. Vance? Freedom of religion? Freedom of the press? Freedom of assembly? The right to keep and bear arms? The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects from unreasonable searches and seizures? Cyrus Vance and his president clearly had no real knowledge of life in the Soviet Union. I did. And it was deeply troubling to know that my civilian leadership was so woefully blind to reality.
All that changed when Ronald Reagan swept Jimmy Carter out of the White House in 1980. I no sooner left active duty than I was volunteering for the Reagan for President campaign in Washington State. At his first press conference after being inaugurated, White House reporters challenged President Reagan. Did he really mean it when he said the Soviet leaders believe in no morality except that which advances international Communism? Reagan replied mildly, with a pleasant smile: Yes. And then he proceeded to quote Vladimir Lenin, the father of Soviet Communism. “My God,” one seasoned reporter was quoted, “he’s going to govern as Ronald Reagan!”
President Reagan soon sent Rev. John Boyles on a pastoral mission to Moscow. He wanted to send a message of support to the Siberian Seven, a family of humble Pentecostal Christians who had come all the way to the Russian capital and rushed past
Soviet guards into the U.S. Embassy. They had taken refuge there—for years. Ronald Reagan wanted them to know they were not forgotten. I noted that those dear simple Christians may have read the sign on the American Embassy in Moscow. It says Spaso House. In Russian, that means “salvation house.”
Rev. Boyles bravely got past Soviet border guards wearing a special belt buckle. It was a wooden device which when disassembled could be fashioned into a cross.
This was Ronald Reagan’s message of hope to these people suffering under a brutal tyranny. He would later speak to the world at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. He told the story of the Communists in East Berlin and their radio tower. Built to overshadow all the church steeples in free Berlin and captive Berlin, the globe atop the tower had a defect, President Reagan said. The Communist authorities tried to efface that defect with acid, by sandblasting it, even by painting it over. “But when the sun strikes that globe, it reflects the Sign of the Cross,” Reagan said.
That part of his famous “Tear Down This Wall” speech, June 12, 1987, was also censored by our liberal press. I did not discover this phrase in the speech until I was researching my own small book, Reagan’s Victory: How He Built His Winning Coalition, in 2009.
It thrilled me to see that man in whose administration I had proudly served invoke the Sign of the Cross. As a history researcher, I was sure that no other president had ever publicly invoked the Sign of the Cross.
Meeting with some of Grove City College’s best and brightest students is always exciting. What did Reagan think about marriage, they wanted to know? I told them how President Reagan had tasked my then boss, Gary Bauer, to write the first comprehensive federal report on this topic. Gary wrote: The Family: America’s Future. And that report led President Reagan to issue an Executive Order requiring every federal agency to do a family impact study before issuing regulations that might harm the family.
Jimmy Carter’s “White House Conferences on Families” had nearly broken up over wrangles about the definition and nature of the family. His attempts to paper over these differences and to push an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution helped defeat him in 1980. Constitutional lawyer and grassroots activist Phyllis Schlafly knew the E.R.A. would lead to drafting women for combat, federal funding for abortion-on-demand, and giving same-sex couples rights to marriage and adoption. Do these issues have a familiar ring today?
Ronald Reagan was elected as a pro-life, pro-family candidate. He carried forty-four states in 1980 and forty-nine in 1984, never wavering on his strong stands.
“Cut government, fight Communism, the Pieties (traditional family values)” was the way one writer for the conservative flagship publication, National Review, summed up the Reagan program. “Invertebrate,” was my one-word summary of Jimmy Carter’s administration.
At Grove City College—which famously takes no federal funds—you can still honor God, honor America, and give thanks for the faith, the life, and the great achievements of President Ronald Reagan. Now I fully understand what the great Daniel Webster meant when he defended his own Dartmouth College before the Supreme Court of the United States:
“It is as I have said a little college, sir. But there are those who love it.” For little Grove City College, there is a great mission. Count me among those who love it.