I emphasized the same things at each conference. Conservatives are right to be proud of America’s heritage. They are right to emphasize the importance of freedom to American identity, and they are right to promote private action as a moral and often more effective way to address challenges. They are right to contend that the family is the crucial building block of society and that a free society requires more than a smattering of personal virtue and self-restraint. A country where everyone wants to be Gordon Gekko cannot be free.
But the right falls short when it fails to recognize that some governmental action is essential to our national enterprise. The left is correct in acknowledging that too many Americans were left behind through legal and social discrimination. Conservatives lose support and credibility among people who otherwise share their principles whenever they oppose those cries. They cannot protect American values if their neighbors do not believe they share those values.
America’s best and most important conservative leaders have always understood this. Abraham Lincoln wrote in 1858, “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy.” Ronald Reagan’s epitaph says nothing about freedom or liberty but reminds us that “man is good” and that “there’s purpose and worth to each and every life.” Their understanding that liberty is meant to serve humanity, not the other way around, is why Lincoln was able to save the nation and Reagan was able to save the world.