What if Reagan Had Not Run and the Soviet Union Still Existed?
The Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of Two Speeches That Changed History
About This Event

In two powerful speeches that took place twenty-five years ago this March, President Ronald Reagan dealt what would ultimately prove to be lethal blows to the moral and material foundations of the Soviet Union. On March 8, 1983, Reagan described the Soviet Union as an “evil empire” and as “the focus of evil in the modern world,” and fifteen days later, on March 23, Reagan unveiled his vision for the research, development, and ultimate deployment of a missile defense shield that would one day end the vulnerability of America and her allies to Soviet nuclear attack. While both speeches were widely ridiculed at the time, they are today rightly hailed as having made decisive contributions to bringing about the eventual dissolution of the Soviet Union a little less than nine years later. Join AEI senior fellow Newt Gingrich as he reflects on the lessons these two speeches hold today for presidential leadership and U.S. national security and why it is that only one person, Ronald Reagan, could have possibly delivered these two speeches, which so powerfully contributed to ending the Cold War.

Agenda
4:45 p.m.
Registration
5:00
Introduction:
Christopher DeMuth, AEI
Speaker:
Newt Gingrich, AEI
6:00
Adjournment
Event Summary

Reagan's Choices Changed History, Gingrich Says

WASHINGTON, MARCH 25, 2008 -- Known as the "great communicator," Ronald Reagan continues to be an ideological and rhetorical influence on the Republican Party. In two powerful speeches that took place twenty-five years ago this month, Reagan dealt what would ultimately prove to be lethal blows to the moral and material foundations of the Soviet Union. On March 8, 1983, Reagan described the Soviet Union as an "evil empire" and as "the focus of evil in the modern world." Fifteen days later, on March 23, Reagan unveiled his vision for the research, development, and ultimate deployment of a missile defense shield.

While both speeches were widely ridiculed at the time, they are today hailed as having made decisive contributions to the eventual dissolution of the Soviet Union less than nine years later. On the eve of the twenty-fifth anniversary of these speeches, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich reflected on the lessons they hold for today's presidential leadership and U.S. national security.

  • Reagan did not retreat from the opportunity to run for president. "What if Ronald Reagan had decided in 1979 that he was too old to run in 1980?" Gingrich asked. "We would today have a Soviet empire. We would be in the Cold War. The entire set of assumptions people believe in would be fundamentally different, and your evening news would be radically different." The country elected Ronald Reagan to respond to the failures of the previous administration and make the country safer and more prosperous. "It is very easy to forget how bad the economy got under Carter. It is very easy to forget how bad the military got under Carter," Gingrich added. "It is very easy to forget that the Democrats controlled the House all through this period--and that many Democrats deeply despised Reagan at least as much as current Democrats despise Bush."
  • Reagan recognized that his speeches were invaluable political tools with which he could win the confidence of the American people. They were not rhetorical featherweights, but were instead undergirded by weighty, data-intensive arguments, which Reagan used to persuade his most steadfast opponents. "Reagan uses less Shakespeare and less of the Bible than Lincoln does, and so he's less of a poet," Gingrich said. "But they both use facts; they both use logic. They both strive to moral superiority, and I mean moral superiority in the best sense--that this argument is right."
  • Despite the powerful impact Reagan's speeches had on bringing down the Soviet empire, the liberal academic elite refuses to recognize the value of studying his grand strategy. Gingrich condemned the "ideological blinders" of the present-day academy and argued for a more accurate and inclusive approach to studying the collapse of the Soviet Union. "The intellectual left in America is absolutely trapped in a pre-Reagan mindset, which hasn't studied the Cold War," Gingrich commented. "I asked a group of general officers today from all the services if any of them had ever taken a class on the grand strategy of the 1980s, and not a single one had. Because after all, if the end of the Soviet Union was a function of Reagan's strategies, if it was purpose-willed event, then Reagan would have been right."

Gingrich concluded with a look forward to the 2008 election, in which the candidates in the Republican primary have claimed Reagan's mantle. As Americans go to the polls, Senator John McCain will be the latest in a long line of Republican candidates who have been evaluated and compared to Ronald Reagan and his legacy.

--EMILY RENWICK

For video, audio, a transcript, and more information about this event, visit www.aei.org/event1684/. Gingrich will give a speech about pursuing happiness and creating prosperity in America, in response to a recent speech by Senator Barack Obama, on March 27. For information, visit www.aei.org/event1701. For more information about Gingrich's research activities and speeches, contact Emily Renwick at emily.renwick@aei.org or 202.822.6025

For media inquiries, contact Véronique Rodman at vrodman@aei.org or 202.862.4870.

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AEI Participants

 

Christopher
DeMuth
  • Christopher DeMuth was president of AEI from December 1986 through December 2008. Previously, he was administrator for information and regulatory affairs in the Office of Management and Budget and executive director of the Presidential Task Force on Regulatory Relief in the Reagan administration; taught economics, law, and regulatory policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University; practiced regulatory, antitrust, and general corporate law; and worked on urban and environmental policy in the Nixon White House.

     

  • Phone: 2028625895
    Email: cdemuth@aei.org
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Keriann Hopkins
    Phone: 2028625897
    Email: keriann.hopkins@aei.org
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