This past week I’ve been making the rounds to talk about something which was very important to my father, and which is very important to me: the strength and power of a grassroots movement of ordinary citizens.
In the past year, we have seen — again and again — the power of the people to upset the political establishment and steer our country back on course. From town hall meetings to elections, from marches on Washington to shifts among independent voters, the American people have demonstrated their power in our democracy.
I have no doubt that, were my father still alive, he would deeply support this grassroots up-swell. Foremost among Ronald Reagan’s principles were his core belief in individual freedom and his opposition to government intrusion into the lives of private citizens. The Tea Party movement and others echo these sentiments powerfully.
When my father decided to run a second time for the presidency in 1980, I remember how he brought our family together to talk about his decision. He talked about the bellmen and the chambermaids of the hotels he would visit who wanted him to try it again. For my father, it was never about the noticeably powerful. Instead, his presidency was about embracing and encouraging the empowerment of every citizen of this great country.
Campaigning with my father in 1976 and 1980, I worked firsthand with the voters and activists who are the linchpins of our political system. One of the greatest things about our system is that no one person can speak for everyone. In every movement, there are people who disagree, people who want to plow another path. And in every election, we are faced with imperfect candidates who will never manage to represent us quite the way we would represent ourselves.
Too many have blindly condemned the Tea Party movement because they heard one speech, or read one article, with which they took issue. Those people have chosen to dismiss the truth and integrity of the ideals of freedom, responsibility and constitutional limits simply because they didn’t like the look or sound of those who practiced them. My father would never have done this.
Inside the Tea Party, too many have quickly dismissed elected officials and potential candidates because they failed to meet up to every possible expectation. If we are to accomplish our goals, we must remember that while our elected officials are imperfect, they must also be our allies. Moreover, if Republicans wish to have more influence in Congress, we must support the nominated candidate even when he or she was not our first choice.
After all, even my father would have failed many of today’s litmus tests. As governor of California, Ronald Reagan raised taxes. Though he was pro-life, he signed an abortion bill. I often tell people that had my father had to run for the Republican nomination in 2008, he might not have been elected.
As 2012 approaches, and in the critical mid-term elections coming this very year, we need to make sure that we’re not looking so hard for the next idealized “Ronald Reagan” that we miss the real person who has the potential to lead this country in the direction of strength and prosperity.
It is time to turn the vital power and promise of the conservative grassroots movement to bear on putting people into office who will be our allies for the future, and strengthening the allies we already have. As my own contribution to the effort, I have organized Reagan PAC, which will seek out and support those candidates who share the principles of my father and are willing to work for their realization. I ask you to join me as we strive for a better tomorrow.
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