Dear Concerned Citizen,
Dinesh D’Souza bas been on CNN a dozen or so times in the past few days answering questions about President Reagan. At the age of 26 Dinesh was appointed senior domestic policy analyst in President Reagan’s White House. His book on the Reagan presidency has 200,000 copies in print. tothesource asked Dinesh to give us some insight into Reagan’s unique style of leadership.
tts: About 50,000 pastors and Christian leaders will read this email. Even those who disagree with Reagan’s policies can hopefully learn something about leadership from a man widely considered to be the most influential leader of the last half-century. How about answering a couple of questions for our loyal readers regarding Reagan the leader?
tts: You have often said that Reagan’s presidency is a lesson in principled leadership. Our readers know how tough it is to make a decision based on principle and then have others try to move you off that decision. On occasion Reagan was at odds with his cabinet, with other world leaders, and with the United States Congress. Yet on key issues he stuck to his beliefs. How did he do it in the face of so much criticism?
Dinesh: Reagan was a man of deep faith, not only in his religious beliefs, but in his principles. Because of this confidence, Reagan pursued his convictions and refused to yield his presidency to the two most powerful forces in politics: the American people, and the elites.
Today’s politicians of both parties are obsessed with what the American people think. They instruct their pollsters, “Go and find out the views of the American people so that we can choreograph our positions to bring them into line with public sentiment.” They believe that this is a marvelous demonstration of democracy in action.
But this was not the American founders’ view of democracy, and neither was it Reagan’s. Reagan knew that we live in a representative democracy where the American people choose leaders, and it is the leader’s job to lead. In many cases this means taking action without consulting the people. Many times during the 1980s Reagan came on television and said something like, “My fellow Americans, I have just signed an executive order removing gasoline price controls.”
Reagan would often act and then ask us for our support. So Reagan did seek the approval of the American people, but not necessarily prior to pursuing a course of action. Reagan was willing to endure short-term public opposition in order to vindicate a longer-term objective.
It reminds me of a funny story that Richard Wirthlin, Reagan’s pollster, told me. The hard economic medicine of tight monetary policy to fight the 1970’s runaway inflation had plunged the country into recession. Interest rates soared, poverty went up, and unemployment reached intolerable levels. It was the worst economic crisis since the Depression. Wirthlin told the president that his approval rating had plummeted to 35 percent. “Well Dick,” Reagan said, “I think it’s time for you to arrange for me to be shot again.”
Although Reagan was willing to brave widespread public discontent, he was not willing to brave it indefinitely. “Stay the course,” he told the American people during the recession. But Reagan was determined that his policies be vindicated, not just 20 years hence, but by 1984. In a democracy it is imperative that the leader’s central objectives be met by the next election.
In short, Reagan knew that the American people would be patient only so long. He needed results.
tts: You mention Reagan’s confidence. He seemed confident in his vision of America’s future.
Dinesh: Reagan thought it was obvious that a vital American economy would allow us to spend the Soviet Union out of existence. He believed this at a time when many in America believed that the period of American prosperity had passed. We had fallen into a permanent malaise. Communism was considered the emerging political force in the world. Nearly half of the world’s population lived under communistic regimes. Yet two years into his first term, with America in a recession, Reagan shocked the world by proclaiming that Soviet Communism would end up on “the ash heap of history”. Everyone dismissed it as rhetoric, but Reagan believed it. That is how he saw the world.
The same is true for his famous Brandenburg Gate speech at the end of his presidency. He challenged General Secretary Gorbachev to, “Come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Almost everyone thought he was kidding.
Two years later the wall came down. These were not just results that Reagan predicted. He intended the outcome. He worked for this outcome.
tts: And Reagan had great faith and confidence in the American people.
Dinesh: After all, they had elected him to be their president in two landslides (laughs). Reagan believed that, generally speaking, the American people where more capable of managing the details of their lives then someone else doing it for them. I am part of a generation of young people who became interested in politics because of the Reagan revolution. We saw Reagan as a cheerful, forward-looking guy. We loved his self-deprecating humor. Yet we also saw that beneath that jocular exterior, Reagan was a determined leader with massively ambitious goals. This was very infectious. I think all leaders, regardless of their policies, can learn from this.
Reagan led the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Berlin Wall came crashing down, and the Soviet empire began to crumble. Today communism and socialism are discredited. The American economy, in the doldrums throughout the 1970s, went into high gear in the 1980s, pulling the world economy up with it. During his presidency the Dow Jones average tripled and the silicon revolution began its transformation of the way we live and work after Reagan eliminated most federal technology quotas. Now computers and mobile phones are everywhere.
All of these accomplishments required a leader that empowers people to live their lives.
In the end, Reagan gave the American people the credit.
I think all of us can learn from Reagan’s confident leadership. His unshakeable faith in closely held principles, his vision of a better tomorrow, and his belief in the worth of every human being should inspire all of us.
“My friends, we did it. We weren’t just marking time, we made a difference… All in all, not bad. Not bad at all.” Ronald Reagan