Former staff members of the Reagan administration highlighted key themes of Ronald Reagan’s political philosophy to a packed room of Washington, D.C., interns, in commemoration of the former President’s 100th birthday on Wednesday. The four former employees spoke in glowing terms of his philosophy, governing style and personality, but the focus of the Young America’s Foundation-sponsored event was how young conservatives today can use Reagan’s principles to transform the United States.
Kenneth Crib, the assistant to the President for domestic affairs, outlined Reagan’s economic policy and explained the underlying philosophy. “His economic principles were based on human freedom,” he said. After inheriting a faltering economy, Reagan adopted a policy of taking the government out of the economy. Crib pointed out that Reagan was the only President in his time that actually stopped the growth of government. During his administration, no new agencies were created.
But Crib emphasized that conservatives shouldn’t take Reagan’s policies to mean that balancing the budget is the most important issue, saying that Reagan could have balanced the budget much more quickly if he had cut defense spending, but that “freeing half the world” took priority.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R.-Calif.) discussed Reagan’s central foreign policy doctrine in dealing with the spreading of communism: “The enemy of our enemy is our friend.” He noted that while Reagan ensured that the American military was strong, he didn’t utilize it to occupy other nations, but to equip fellow “freedom fighters.”
“If we help people struggling for freedom, we win.”
Rohrabacher didn’t toe the currently accepted conservative line on the United States involvement in foreign countries, saying that, “It’s sinful to send our troops into missions they can’t accomplish,” and arguing for Reagan’s practice of “making alliances with freedom fighters so we don’t have to fight.”
Reagan’s former communications director, Mari Maseng Will, added a clarification that Reagan did not hold with the “responsibility to protect” idea that strong nations have the responsibility to ensure democracy in weaker nations. Rather, she said, he believed American interests were best served when democracy flourished.
Maseng Will went on to describe Reagan in his personal and political actions as a man for aspiring conservatives to emulate. As one of his speech writers, she described how he would never allow his speeches to attack people, by name or party affiliations. “He was always trying to convince, not impress.”
She called him a “happy warrior,” and encouraged those in the room, as conservatives today, to be the same in order to win over the country.
In the question-and-answer session, the speakers provided Reaganesque strategies for how conservatives can reach out to young adults. Crib pointed out that it was Reagan who opened up the airways, paving the way for the dominance of conservative talk radio, and he also looked at the explosion of technology and spread of information as the best way to spread conservative ideas. “Fax machines brought down [communism in] eastern Europe,” he said. “How much more can we do with what we have now?”