(Thomas Mitchell/4th St) – Quoting Ronald Reagan to a roomful of conservatives is like throwing red meat in the tiger cage. They eat it up.
Fund, who writes the weekly “On the Trail” column for OpinionJournal.com, told the audience Reagan believed that in extraordinary times ordinary people would rise up and do extraordinary things, adding that’s what Reagan would say of the Tea Party movement if he were alive today.
“I would like to tell you a Reagan story you probably haven’t heard,” Fund began. “It was the spring of 1977. And believe me the conservative movement was in even worse shape than after Barack Obama’s election. The Democrats, riding the wave of the Nixon scandal, had swept the White House with Jimmy Carter, won overwhelming majorities in both the Senate and the House, they had 38 of the nation’s 50 governors.
“Ronald Reagan addressed a meeting of his former aides and campaign staffers from his 1976 presidential campaign against Gerald Ford, in the spring of ’77 in Los Angeles, he stood up and he said, ‘Now I know that many of you are blue and I know what we’ve all been through and the great defeat we just have suffered.’
“He said, ‘This happens when two things happen at the same time. We lose this badly when these things happen together. One, we have elected someone who violates our principles, who goes against the true path of conservatism of the Founding Fathers, and basically betrays the trust of the American people and we just saw that with Richard Nixon. And the second thing that happens at the same time must be that our adversaries, the liberals, nominate someone for president who is clever enough to campaign as a moderate and temporarily fool people that they will govern from the center.
“He said, ‘Now I realized that things have just happened and as result — quoting the Scottish poet Dryden — “We are beaten but we are not slain. We shall lay down and bleed awhile, then we shall rise and fight again.”’ And Reagan said now I’m going to tell you how to rise and fight again.”
Fund said Reagan predicted Carter would not be able to govern from the center because those to whom he owed his election would not let him, and liberalism would fail because it always does. People would notice and become upset, might even protest in the streets.
Fund noted Reagan said this a scant few months before the “Prop 13 prairie fire” spread across the country, as voters demanded lower property taxes.
Reagan did not promise victory in the future, according to Fund’s recounting, but he did guarantee conservatives the chance to have a conversation with voters and say there is a different path.
Within two years, the nation had 21 percent interest rates, 12 percent inflation, 9 percent unemployment, Soviet Union on the march, Americans hostage in Iran for 444 days, gasoline lines and soaring fuel prices. “Does that sound similar to what’s happening today?” Fund asked, getting vocal agreement from the audience. “Well, here we go again.”
Fund then quoted Reagan’s famous campaign speech clincher, “A recession is when your neighbor losses his or her job. A depression is when you lose your job. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his job.” That got a huge laugh from the sated tigers.
On the day Reagan was sworn in to replace Carter in 1981, the Iranian hostages came home, giving newspaper editors across the country the dilemma of which to lede with.
Fund said Reagan reminded fellow Republicans of that speech 16 years later in 1993, when George H.W. “Read my Lips” Bush was defeated by Bill Clinton, who campaigned as a moderate.
Now we are 16 years plus two later.
Fund ended, not by quoting Reagan, but Winston Churchill who said: “Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing … after they have exhausted all other possibilities.”