America’s Three Greatest Presidents
This column by ACRU General Counsel and Senior Fellow for the Carleson Center for Public Policy (CCPP) Peter Ferrara was published February 27, 2013 on The American Spectator website.
Turns out the shortest month on the calendar is actually the most significant for American history. For our three greatest Presidents were all born in February.
Born on February, 22, 1732, George Washington displayed a character that continues to define our nation. The General of the victorious army that defeated the most powerful nation on earth at the time, he could have led a march on the Congress and declared himself the King, or Emperor of the Americas. But almost unique in world history, he had the character to decline to do that, and stay the course with the principles of liberty for which he fought.
It was also the character of his judgment that won the Revolution. If you read the military history of the Revolution, he was the master of the strategic retreat, picking fights he knew he could win. He intimidated the British out of Boston in March 1776, with the difficult maneuver of laboriously hauling heavy cannon, seized by Yankee militia from Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York, to the commanding Dorchester Heights overlooking the city. But he spent the rest of 1776 retreating in the face of overwhelming British land and sea power from Long Island, to Manhattan, to New Jersey, then all the way across New Jersey to Pennsylvania, from Philadelphia, into the less settled climes of Pennsylvania.
Knowing that he needed a victory to keep the nation’s hopes alive, he engineered a Christmas Day counterattack at a weak point of the British occupation, at Trenton, New Jersey, capturing the entire thousand-man garrison. Washington then pressed his advantage, a week later attacking the main British army in the field, at Princeton. Bravely rallying his more scattered troops personally on the field of battle, he kept the fight up until the British regulars in the end ran.
The British settled into the cities of New York and Philadelphia for the winter of 1777. But Washington was left to hold together his dwindling force in the relative wilds at Valley Forge for the winter. By the spring of 1778, Americans grateful that Washington had kept the Revolution alive flocked in droves to Washington’s encampment.
The army had spent the winter becoming newly professionalized, drilled by veteran volunteers from European militaries sympathetic to Washington’s cause. Emerging with a disciplined force newly uniformed, Washington laid siege to the main British force in New York. When he learned that Cornwallis marching up from the south had encamped on the Yorktown peninsula in Virginia, with a French fleet heading there to cut off retreat by sea, Washington deceived the British by leaving a skeleton force at New York, and stealing away by forced march to Virginia. He surprised Cornwallis by arriving along with the French to trap the British army there into surrender. With the capture of this third British force of the war, the British gave up the fight.
Born February 12, 1809, Abraham Lincoln made a career out of devotion to the principles of America’s founding. Foreshadowing the civil rights struggle a century later, Lincoln emphasized the principled language of the Declaration of Independence as the foundation of his argument against slavery.
In the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Lincoln focused on the Declaration’s recognition that “All men are created equal, and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” He teased crowds with the suggestion that maybe we should rip these words out of the document, engendering cries of “No, No,” in response. He replied, “Well, let’s follow it then.”
In doing so, Lincoln put the lie to today’s anti-American “Progressives,” who deride the Founders as hypocritical slaveholders. The Founders did not have the power to abolish slavery when America was born. America would fight a brutal civil war 100 years later to do that. But what they did was lay the intellectual and moral foundation for abolition, and 100 years beyond that for civil rights.
Those American founding principles have reverberated across the globe ever since then, providing the foundation for liberation of enslaved people everywhere. And they continue to resonate to this day, inspiring the Resistance to the Progressive rejection of America’s founding, and their attempted transformation of America from the freest and most prosperous nation in world history.
Lincoln used the moral force of the founding to hold America together though the long suffering of the Civil War. Just as in the Revolutionary War, the forces of liberty got stronger and stronger with each passing year. And the liberation of America from slavery was consequently achieved.
It is a reflection of the perversity of American culture today that the Republican Party that was founded to liberate the slaves, and that went on to support civil rights 100 years later, over a Democrat party then still entrenched in the South that often opposed civil rights, now finds 95% of African Americans voting against it in every election. It is not that the Democrat party has delivered for black America. What it has delivered is poverty perpetuated by the slavery of welfare, rather than economic growth and prosperity lifting up from poverty.
So we see in Detroit, and Chicago, and Watts, and the Bronx, and everywhere where there is no competition against Democrat political monopoly, the welfare state destructively bringing everyone down, instead of a rising tide of capitalist prosperity that lifts all boats, as Kennedy envisioned. Detroit is actually disappearing under the feet of the Democratic socialists of America. But democracy is not functioning there, as the incumbents effectively carpet bombing the predominant black community in Detroit never face even the threat of being voted out.
Born on February 6, 2011, Reagan was a preservationist of the principles and vision of the Founders, opposed to the “Progressive” revolt against the founding principles of American freedom and prosperity that gained so much steam during the past century. Reagan restored those founding principles, and the freedom and prosperity they engendered, just when they were slipping away.
We have forgotten today what Reagan faced, what he overcame, and what he achieved. Reagan transformed double-digit inflation, double-digit unemployment, double-digit interest rates, with subpar growth about half the long-term U.S. average, declining real wages and incomes, and soaring poverty, to a 25-year boom restoring the long-term U.S. growth trend line, and ultimately full employment, while slaying an historic inflation that remains tamed to this day, with rising real wages and incomes, and persistently declining poverty.
The Reagan recovery grew into a 25-year economic boom, from 1982 to 2007, what Art Laffer and Steve Moore rightly called in their book, The End of Prosperity, “the greatest period of wealth creation in the history of the planet…. [M]ore wealth was created in America in the twenty-five year boom than in the previous two hundred years.” The economic growth during the first seven years of the boom alone was equivalent to adding the entire economy of West Germany, the third largest in the world at the time, to the U.S. economy. During the boom’s last seven years, the growth was the equivalent of adding the entire economy of China to the U.S. economy.
As George Washington University economist Henry R. Nau recently explained in the Wall Street Journal, by 2007 the entire 25 year economic boom had created 50 million new jobs, and restored the long term U.S. economic growth rate to 3.3%, twice the rate of the 1970s. As Nau elaborated:
[T]he U.S. grew by more than 3% per year [in real terms] from 1980 to 2007, and created more than 50 million new jobs, massively expanding a middle class of working women, African-Americans and legal as well as illegal immigrants. Per capita income increased by 65%, and household income went up substantially in all income categories. (emphasis added).
He added, “In the past three decades [1980 to 2007], the percentage of households making more than $105,000 in inflation adjusted dollars doubled to 24% from 11%.”
The magnitude of the turnaround and these results are what make it the greatest economic boom in world history, and a heroic achievement deserving of much greater recognition and award for the major policymakers who led its creation.
That should be enough for any one President. But Reagan also won the Cold War without firing a shot, in Margaret Thatcher’s famous phrase, with the Soviet Union actually breaking up and disintegrating.
By their fruits, ye shall know them, the Bible wisely tells us. Barack Obama, by contrast, following exactly the opposite of everything Reagan did, has forced America to suffer the worst recovery from a recession since the Great Depression. And doing the same in foreign policy and national defense, Obama seems on track to reopen the Cold War as well, this time with America losing, and a lot more than shots fired.