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Reagan centennial: On life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

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By Michelle Malkin  •  February 6, 2011 12:00 AM

To mark the centennial celebration of Ronald Wilson Reagan’s birth, here he is in his own inimitable words on our unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness:

LIFE.

Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation,” Human Life Review, 1983, reprinted 2004:

We must all educate ourselves to the reality of the horrors taking place. Doctors today know that unborn children can feel a touch within the womb and that they respond to pain. But how many Americans are aware that abortion techniques are allowed today, in all 50 states, that burn the skin of a baby with a salt solution, in an agonizing death that can last for hours?

Another example: two years ago, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a Sunday special supplement on “The Dreaded Complication.” The “dreaded complication” referred to in the article-the complication feared by doctors who perform abortions-is the survival of the child despite all the painful attacks during the abortion procedure. Some unborn children do survive the late-term abortions the Supreme Court has made legal. Is there any question that these victims of abortion deserve our attention and protection? Is there any question that those who don’t survive were living human beings before they were killed?

Late-term abortions, especially when the baby survives, but is then killed by starvation, neglect, or suffocation, show once again the link between abortion and infanticide. The time to stop both is now. As my administration acts to stop infanticide, we will be fully aware of the real issue that underlies the death of babies before and soon after birth.

Our society has, fortunately, become sensitive to the rights and special needs of the handicapped, but I am shocked that physical or mental handicaps of newborns are still used to justify their extinction. This Administration has a Surgeon General, Dr. C. Everett Koop, who has done perhaps more than any other American for handicapped children, by pioneering surgical techniques to help them, by speaking out on the value of their lives, and by working with them in the context of loving families. You will not find his former patients advocating the so-called “quality-of-life” ethic.

I know that when the true issue of infanticide is placed before the American people, with all the facts openly aired, we will have no trouble deciding that a mentally or physically handicapped baby has the same intrinsic worth and right to life as the rest of us. As the New Jersey Supreme Court said two decades ago, in a decision upholding the sanctity of human life, “a child need not be perfect to have a worthwhile life.”

Whether we are talking about pain suffered by unborn children, or about late-term abortions, or about infanticide, we inevitably focus on the humanity of the unborn child. Each of these issues is a potential rallying point for the sanctity of life ethic. Once we as a nation rally around any one of these issues to affirm the sanctity of life, we will see the importance of affirming this principle across the board.

Malcolm Muggeridge, the English writer, goes right to the heart of the matter: “Either life is always and in all circumstances sacred, or intrinsically of no account; it is inconceivable that it should be in some cases the one, and in some the other.” The sanctity of innocent human life is a principle that Congress should proclaim at every opportunity.

LIBERTY.

A Time for Choosing,” October 27, 1964:

…I have spent most of my life as a Democrat. I recently have seen fit to follow another course. I believe that the issues confronting us cross party lines. Now, one side in this campaign has been telling us that the issues of this election are the maintenance of peace and prosperity. The line has been used, “We’ve never had it so good.”

But I have an uncomfortable feeling that this prosperity isn’t something on which we can base our hopes for the future. No nation in history has ever survived a tax burden that reached a third of its national income. Today, 37 cents out of every dollar earned in this country is the tax collector’s share, and yet our government continues to spend 17 million dollars a day more than the government takes in. We haven’t balanced our budget 28 out of the last 34 years. We’ve raised our debt limit three times in the last twelve months, and now our national debt is one and a half times bigger than all the combined debts of all the nations of the world. We have 15 billion dollars in gold in our treasury; we don’t own an ounce. Foreign dollar claims are 27.3 billion dollars. And we’ve just had announced that the dollar of 1939 will now purchase 45 cents in its total value.

As for the peace that we would preserve, I wonder who among us would like to approach the wife or mother whose husband or son has died in South Vietnam and ask them if they think this is a peace that should be maintained indefinitely. Do they mean peace, or do they mean we just want to be left in peace? There can be no real peace while one American is dying some place in the world for the rest of us. We’re at war with the most dangerous enemy that has ever faced mankind in his long climb from the swamp to the stars, and it’s been said if we lose that war, and in so doing lose this way of freedom of ours, history will record with the greatest astonishment that those who had the most to lose did the least to prevent its happening. Well I think it’s time we ask ourselves if we still know the freedoms that were intended for us by the Founding Fathers.

Not too long ago, two friends of mine were talking to a Cuban refugee, a businessman who had escaped from Castro, and in the midst of his story one of my friends turned to the other and said, “We don’t know how lucky we are.” And the Cuban stopped and said, “How lucky you are? I had someplace to escape to.” And in that sentence he told us the entire story. If we lose freedom here, there’s no place to escape to. This is the last stand on earth.

And this idea that government is beholden to the people, that it has no other source of power except the sovereign people, is still the newest and the most unique idea in all the long history of man’s relation to man.

This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS.

Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With the Students and Faculty at Moscow State University, 1988:

[P]rogress is not foreordained. The key is freedom — freedom of thought, freedom of information, freedom of communication. The renowned scientist, scholar, and founding father of this university, Mikhail Lomonosov, knew that. “It is common knowledge,” he said, “that the achievements of science are considerable and rapid, particularly once the yoke of slavery is cast off and replaced by the freedom of philosophy.” You know, one of the first contacts between your country and mine took place between Russian and American explorers. The Americans were members of Cook’s last voyage on an expedition searching for an Arctic passage; on the island of Unalaska, they came upon the Russians, who took them in, and together with the native inhabitants, held a prayer service on the ice.

The explorers of the modern era are the entrepreneurs, men with vision, with the courage to take risks and faith enough to brave the unknown. These entrepreneurs and their small enterprises are responsible for almost all the economic growth in the United States. They are the prime movers of the technological revolution. In fact, one of the largest personal computer firms in the United States was started by two college students, no older than you, in the garage behind their home. Some people, even in my own country, look at the riot of experiment that is the free market and see only waste. What of all the entrepreneurs that fail? Well, many do, particularly the successful ones; often several times. And if you ask them the secret of their success, they’ll tell you it’s all that they learned in their struggles along the way; yes, it’s what they learned from failing. Like an athlete in competition or a scholar in pursuit of the truth, experience is the greatest teacher.

And that’s why it’s so hard for government planners, no matter how sophisticated, to ever substitute for millions of individuals working night and day to make their dreams come true.

…We Americans make no secret of our belief in freedom. In fact, it’s something of a national pastime. Every 4 years the American people choose a new President, and 1988 is one of those years. At one point there were 13 major candidates running in the two major parties, not to mention all the others, including the Socialist and Libertarian candidates — all trying to get my job. About 1,000 local television stations, 8,500 radio stations, and 1,700 daily newspapers — each one an independent, private enterprise, fiercely independent of the Government — report on the candidates, grill them in interviews, and bring them together for debates. In the end, the people vote; they decide who will be the next President.But freedom doesn’t begin or end with elections.

Go to any American town, to take just an example, and you’ll see dozens of churches, representing many different beliefs — in many places, synagogues and mosques — and you’ll see families of every conceivable nationality worshiping together. Go into any schoolroom, and there you will see children being taught the Declaration of Independence, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights — among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — that no government can justly deny; the guarantees in their Constitution for freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion.

…But freedom is more even than this. Freedom is the right to question and change the established way of doing things. It is the continuing revolution of the marketplace. It is the understanding that allows us to recognize shortcomings and seek solutions. It is the right to put forth an idea, scoffed at by the experts, and watch it catch fire among the people. It is the right to dream — to follow your dream or stick to your conscience, even if you’re the only one in a sea of doubters. Freedom is the recognition that no single person, no single authority or government has a monopoly on the truth, but that every individual life is infinitely precious, that every one of us put on this world has been put there for a reason and has something to offer…

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More remembrances:

From Young America’s Foundation

On the 100th anniversary of President Reagan’s birth, celebrate a great leader and watch Young America’s Foundation’s inaugural film project, “Still Point in a Turning World: Ronald Reagan and his Ranch,” produced and directed by Stephen K. Bannon (“In the Face of Evil” and “Generation Zero”). As the current administration continues its assault on our freedoms, watch President Reagan’s ideas come to life at his beloved Western White House, Rancho del Cielo. Ronald Reagan’s ideas and lasting accomplishments launched decades of unprecedented prosperity and advanced freedom worldwide. Today, we need his ideas and his vision more than ever. Join Young America’s Foundation as we say “Happy Birthday” and “Thank you, Mr. President.”

*

The official Ronald Reagan Centennial Celebration page is here. A sampling of the events that have taken place over the past two years leading up to President Reagan’s 100th birthday — most of them privately funded:

Ronald Reagan admirers wanted to go all out to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the former president’s birth on Feb. 6 — a fighter jet flyover, a 21-gun salute and a Beach Boys performance are among the commemorations. But the Great Communicator’s centennial birthday conflicts with another great American mega-event: Super Bowl Sunday.

Yet Reaganites, true to the Gipper’s attitude, saw an opportunity.

Just before kickoff, a tribute to Reagan will be displayed on the massive Jumbotron at Cowboys Stadium in Texas, perhaps fitting for this larger-than-life persona.

It’s one of the scores of centennial events planned through the year for Reagan — from his birthplace in Tampico, Ill. to his final resting place in Simi Valley, Calif. — in a celebration that has taken on greater significance after Republican gains in Congress…

Congress created a bipartisan Reagan Centennial Commission to help plan events, but no federal funding was provided. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., didn’t believe such spending would be very Reagan-like. Instead, many celebrations are privately funded.

“The centennial celebration is about more than just one day and one man,” said John Heubusch, the Reagan foundation’s executive director. “It’s a yearlong historic occasion for people to remember an extraordinary man who restored pride in America and spread freedom throughout the world.”

Events range from film showings, essay contests and lectures about Reagan to dinners and musical tributes. Reagan’s boyhood home of Dixon, Ill., will premiere a 25-minute musical composition, “Reagan of Illinois.”

*

Here are the Christian Science Monitor’s “Top 10 defining Reagan moments.”

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And watch the Reagan/Obama debate on YouTube:

Morning in America can’t come again soon enough.

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