Recently, Americans rated Ronald Reagan as the nation’s greatest president. Reagan merits such praise, because his ideas were successful: they ended the domestic economic recession and the international threat of communism. But Reagan’s ideas were successful, because they were anchored in certain timeless principles. And now these principles are being evoked by a new generation of leaders, including Marco Rubio. In his speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library last week, Rubio invoked many of the Gipper’s principles:
Limited Government: “Defining the proper role of government is as important as it has ever been.” Our current domestic and international problems do not require us to reject limited, constitutional government in favor of an ever-expanding bureaucratic one. Since Reagan left office, both Republicans and Democrats have strengthened the government instead of strengthening America. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have delegated legislative powers to administrative agencies, allowing unelected, unaccountable “experts” to make the rules by which we live.
Inalienable Rights: “Government’s job is to protect rights, not grant them.” The Declaration of Independence proclaimed the self evident truth that we are endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The government does not have the power to guarantee happiness. And we ought not to forget that the government that gives us rights can also take them away.
A Compassionate America: “Poverty does not create social problems. Our social problems create our poverty.” Americans want a free, prosperous, and also compassionate America. Yet, replacing families, neighborhoods, and communities with government programs is not compassion. Welfare has a legitimate purpose: to provide temporary assistance to those in dire need so they can get back on their feet. But welfare programs today are not acting as safety nets—they are becoming hammocks.
Free Enterprise: “The free enterprise system creates prosperity.” The goal of economic policy in a free enterprise system is not redistribution or “sharing responsibility”—it’s growth. Government’s job is to create a system of fair taxes and regulations that enables and encourages Americans to be productive. The role of government is to create a fair playing ground, not arbitrarily pick winners and losers. As the son of a poor immigrant, Rubio understands that poverty occurs when people do not have the opportunity to access free enterprise system.
Opportunity: “We have a golden opportunity.” Reagan said that conservative principles would bring a “new morning in America,” and Rubio sees the same opportunity today. We are at the beginning of a new era. Yes, a recession is not an ideal place to begin. But as Reagan proved years ago, a recession is not insurmountable.
When Marco Rubio was in grade school, the American economy was suffering a severe recession and the Soviet Union seemed to be the future global power. By the time he went to college, the economy was strong and the Soviet Union had been consigned to the ash heap of history. The principles that guided the Reagan revolution are sound. We don’t need leaders to reinvent our principles; we need leaders to apply them.