A Great Gamble on the Courage and Character of the American People

As I mentioned in my last newsletter, last year the Ronald Reagan Institute commissioned me to write an extended essay reflecting on Reagan’s first inaugural. I’m sending that essay as a French Press for two reasons. First, to demonstrate that our nation has been capable of remarkable turnarounds even in the recent past.

Second, as the right begins its “civil war” to decide the future of the Republican Party, it’s important to remember that terms like “zombie Reaganism” so popular on the reactionary/populist right reduce Reagan’s leadership to an often-caricatured set of outdated policy positions. In reality, it represented a call not merely for “less government” but also for “better government” and was fundamentally a gamble on the character and courage of the American people. 

Reagan’s policies represented a response to the specific challenges of his time. No one should be copying the platforms of the past. The current question is whether Reagan’s fundamental assessment of our underlying national virtues still holds true. If it does, then a new Reaganism can indeed win the day.


Hinge moments in history are often obvious only in hindsight. And so it was on an unseasonably warm day in January, 1981. Ronald Reagan took the oath of office and delivered his first inaugural address. It wasn’t his most memorable speech. Ask a Reagan Republican to list Reagan’s most meaningful public addresses, and he’ll likely respond immediately with quotes.

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