Eureka College is a liberal arts college in Eureka, Illinois related by covenant to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and founded in 1855. It has a strong focus on history, political science, and the fine and performing arts. Enrollment is about 765 students.
The college was founded by a group of abolitionists who had left Kentucky because of their opposition to slavery. When the school opened its doors it became the first school in Illinois (and only the third in the United States) to educate women on an equal basis with men.
The school’s main library, Melick Library, was named in honor of Wesley M. Melick and Clinton F. Melick. The building was dedicated on September 28, 1967, by California Governor and Eureka College alumnus Ronald Reagan ’32, who was later elected President of the United States.
The year 1911 was an important year for several reasons. The first, as propriety would demand, given the subject of this article, was the year of the birth of a future President of the United States, Ronald Wilson Reagan, a commoner by the aristocratic British yard stick of social class, who will be remembered, for as long as human memory remains recorded, for ending totalitarianism. Tomorrow is the 100th anniversary of Reagan’s birth. He was born on February 6, 1911 in Tampico, Illinois.
A simple man with a simple undergraduate education in economics and sociology at a small 4-year Christian college in Eureka, Illinois, he was, after the Republican and Bull Moose Progressive Teddy Roosevelt and his Democrat, polio-stricken cousin Franklin Delano, the most successful president of the United States in the 20th century (but for Nixon’s Watergate debacle). Reagan had also supported FDR initially and later became a Barry Goldwater “Conscience of a Conservative” Republican and the greatest communicator of Goldwater’s blueprint for American Republicanism, ultimately to be elected to the White House in 1980, on his second try, at the age of 69, to begin a fourth, 8 year, career in Washington that had changed the face of geopolitics, hopefully, forever.
Reagan had begun his work life as an actor in Hollywood. That his politics was rooted in principle cannot be anymore clear than his testimony about communism in Hollywood to the United States Congress. He firmly believed in the freedom to choose one’s politics or one’s way of life because he was certain in his faith in the wisdom of the ages that what was right would always win and that wrong choices would lose. And this integrity had guided his life and his politics.
On January 20th, 1981, the day President Jimmy Carter had received a call that the American hostages in Iran were freed, Ronald Wilson Reagan was sworn in as the 40th president of the United States when the nation was in the grip of stagflation and recession in the aftermath of two oil crises that had punctuated the prior decade, leaving the efforts of both President Nixon’s energy policies and Carter’s new Department of Energy’s efforts to reduce the increasing dependence of the United States on oil in vain.
The seeds of the crises were sown in the year of Reagan’s birth, in 1911, by a British aristocrat named Winston Churchill. It was also the year when the Sherman Antitrust Act was enforced in the United States by the Supreme Court to break up John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil monopoly.
Reagan’s election in 1980 had brought together two Republican rivals: himself, an Illinois and California simpleton, similar to presidents Nixon and Johnson, and his running mate, George Herbert Walker Bush, a New England blue blooded northeastern Republican of Andover, Yale and Skull and Bones one of whose members in the first decade of the 20th century was Percy Rockefeller, a director of Brown Brothers Harriman, Standard Oil and Remington Arms. Prescott Bush, a U.S Senator from Connecticut from 1952-1963, and infamous for supposedly stealing the skull and bones of Geronimo, the legendary American Indian warrior, for the Yale secret society. He is the father of George H.W. Bush, an oil man himself, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, U.S Ambassador to China, U.N Ambassador, Reagan’s Vice President, later the 41st president, and the father of the 43rd president of the United States, George W. Bush, also, faithful to the family lineage, of Andover, Yale, Skull and Bones and Harvard. Reagan and Bush through their backgrounds, were together representing a broad swath of America, sufficiently to carry midwestern democrats away from Jimmy Carter in 1980 to win the election handily.
While Reagan had taken with him to the White House fiscal conservatism and a political clarity about Communism calling it the Evil Empire, Bush had complemented the ticket by adding the moderation of Rockefeller Republicanism in both domestic and foreign affairs. It was a formidable duo which had put together a team of serious people such as James Baker III and George Schultz who blended midwestern simplicity and American elitism to bring extraordinary collegiality and competence to Washington’s political culture to ultimately end the Cold War in 1989 while recovering the U.S economy 2 years into the new administration by reappointing Carter appointee Paul Volcker at the U.S Federal Reserve who has indelibly changed the focus of U.S and global monetary policy to combat inflation, fixing social security in 1983 through the Baker-Tip O’Neill-Greenspan alliance but for the ensuing lack of spending discipline by the Federal government, and comprehensively reforming the U.S tax code in 1986. Alan Greenspan was appointed Chairman of the Federal Reserve by Ronald Reagan in 1987. More importantly, the first woman on the Supreme Court and an illustrious member, Sandra Day O’ Connor was a Reagan appointee. Reagan and Bush had identified General Colin Powell who went on to become U.S Secretary of State in the George W. Bush administration and Bush 41 had later appointed Justice Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court for Justice Thurgood Marshall’s seat after his death.
Reagan’s chief critic who rose to prominence during the Clinton and Obama administrations is the current U.S Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner. The Geithner critique is essentially rooted in the gradualist politics of detente. The Johns Hopkins Nitze foreign policy ideology of confrontation (Geithner is an alumnus of Johns Hopkins University) had served Reagan well at the right time. It was abundantly clear that a more flexible U.S economy which was growing would provide the necessary basis to push the Soviet economy over the edge by provoking an arms race, to escalate in the short run only to deescalate in the long run, while the Soviets were mired in Afghanistan as David Remnick of the New Yorker magazine who was a reporter for The Washington Post in Moscow during the fall of the Soviet Union so brilliantly describes in his Pulitzer Prize winning book Lenin’s Tomb.
The skillful and timely juxtaposition of the Afghan proxy war, along the lines of those which began under Eisenhower and Churchill (Iran) and Kennedy (Cuba and Vietnam), and direct confrontation proved to be successful. However, Gorbachev went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 for unilaterally ending the nuclear arms race. While Gorbachev’s peace reward was instant gratification, Reagan’s was yet to come. It is yet to be seen, in spite of the Prague speech by the current U.S president Barack Obama for which he was awarded the same prize in 2009, if the deescalation to Global Zero would even happen from the American side, as if forgotten in the folds of American memory and intent, similar to Reagan’s Alzheimer’s only to have died along with him: today’s Reagan religion on the right is not the same as the principled and sensible political pragmatism of Ronald Reagan.
America is having a hard time cleaning up the debris of the Cold War around the world, itself mired now in the Cold War proxy aftermath of Afghanistan which is being watched closely by both Russia and China, now prosperous and authoritarian at the same time, quietly garnering support in regions of the world where America is faltering because of a United States that is complacent and wealthy beyond the imagination and reach of the rest of the planet, but ideologically spent and compromised.
The battle is over, but the war is yet to be won for the hearts and minds of the peoples of the world. It cannot be won if democratic capitalism comes off as gaudy exhibitionism of wealth and projection of power by the few elites around the world, which is what it has been since 1993, but as a genuine framework for improving the lives of all peoples in a participatory manner. Otherwise, the war would be won by socialist democracy that seeks the gratuitous trade-off of individual liberty for geopolitical stability and economic security, with America singing along in that chorus of emerging mixed economies where the governments compete with their own peoples’ enterprise or seek rent where they cannot. Such a world is not new elsewhere, but it has become an American fantasy, particularly since the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Nothing speaks more eloquently to that than the symbolism of the Capitol view of President Obama’s Inauguration: Obama on the Rawlesian center-left and Reagan on the American center-right. There is room for both and everything in between in American politics. The trick is to figure out which issue belongs where. America can indeed afford to lose the war economically for the foreseeable future to be taken to the left by the current president. But in that process it could lose itself, forever, addicted to easy money, oil and drugs.
As Ronald Reagan had so ably demonstrated like another Illinois abolitionist (from Kentucky) before him, Abraham Lincoln, it is to save the soul of a nation that leaders are for.