I had the privilege of attending the Ronald Reagan Centennial Gala in Washington earlier this week. Superbly organised by the Reagan Presidential Foundation, it was a truly magnificent event remembering the greatest American president of the last 100 years. Lech Walesa, the brave Polish freedom fighter who stood up to Communist tyranny, received the Reagan Centennial Freedom Award, and former First Lady Nancy Reagan delivered a moving message by video from her home in California.
Another highlight of the evening was the brilliant speech by British Defence Secretary Liam Fox, who paid tribute to the powerful partnership between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, an unbreakable alliance that defeated the Soviet Empire and won the Cold War. Dr. Fox, who has been the star performer of David Cameron’s cabinet and for decades a true friend of the United States, declared to much applause:
It is impossible to assess the contribution of Ronald Reagan to the history of the 20th century without considering another political giant of the era- Margaret Thatcher- his friend, ally and intellectual soul mate.
…. At a time when leadership was so needed they brought values, vision and valour. The Cold War did not end. It was won. It was not an accident. It came about because the leadership of the free world was committed politically, militarily, and morally to the defeat of totalitarian ideology and the triumph of liberty and freedom.
It was not an exercise in expediency but the application of conviction. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher understood that our strength lay in people not governments and that liberated from the dead hand of the state -of the self perpetuating bureaucracy- the innovation and drive of free people would triumph. They believed that competition is to be welcomed not feared- that it is the means by which we judge our talents, one against the other, without recourse to conflict.
They understood that there is a difference between tolerance and surrender and that the moral relativism that blurs the distinction between right and wrong needs to be confronted. They knew what they believed to be right and had the courage to say so- and they knew what they believed to be wrong and had the fortitude to confront it.
They knew that in a free society the market works – that the combined wisdom of millions of individuals, acting in their own interests, is always likely to trump the wisdom of the self selecting elites of government.
They were giants of history when history needed giants. We may never see their likes again in our lifetime. But living and nurturing their legacy is the greatest honour that any of us can do for their dreams, their endeavours and their hopes. Let us not let them down.
These are wise words that politicians on both sides of the Atlantic should heed, at a time of towering public debts, economic uncertainty, and mounting threats to the security of the free world. In her eulogy for President Reagan at his memorial service in Washington National Cathedral in June 2004, Lady Thatcher referred to her close friend as “the great liberator”, a leader who had freed hundreds of millions from tyranny in Europe, as well as offering renewed hope for the American people after a period of decline. In the words of the Iron Lady:
Ronald Reagan carried the American people with him in his great endeavours because there was perfect sympathy between them. He and they loved America and what it stands for: freedom and opportunity for ordinary people.
With the lever of American patriotism, he lifted up the world. And so today, the world – in Prague, in Budapest, in Warsaw and Sofia, in Bucharest, in Kiev, and in Moscow itself, the world mourns the passing of the great liberator and echoes his prayer: God bless America.