Independence Day and a lesson from the Gipper

Ronald Reagan in March 1961 delivered a speech before the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce that outlined his view of the world and his beliefs on the role of government.
Alternatingly called the “Encroaching Control” speech or the “Foot in the Door” speech, Reagan, according to an account in The Arizona Republic, “touched on numerous subjects, so many that it would be difficult to recall them all.”
But the main theme of the future president’s speech was his concern over the growing influence of a governing philosophy antithetical to the American ideal, one that sought to erode the liberal democratic foundation upon which the country was established.
As we celebrate Independence Day, that 1961 speech is worth revisiting. It provides a stark reminder of the incredible uniqueness of the American experiment.
It was timely when it was first delivered. Looking back, it was also prescient.
“Our Founding Fathers, here in this country, brought about the only true revolution that has ever taken place in man’s history. Every other revolution simply exchanged one set of rulers for another set of rulers. But only here did that little band of men so advanced beyond their time that the world has never seen their like since, evolve the idea that you and I have within ourselves the God-given right and the ability to determine our own destiny. But freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. The only way they can inherit the freedom we have known is if we fight for it, protect it, defend it and then hand it to them with the well thought lessons of how they in their lifetime must do the same. And if you and I don’t do this, then you and I may well spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.”
These are tumultuous times across the globe. Change is occurring faster than ever. The free movement of people and goods is under tremendous stress. Traditional political parties are dying or rapidly changing, while upstarts are gaining traction. Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his four-year-old party’s sweeping victory in Mexico last Sunday is the latest in a string of dramatic political realignments. Mainstream media as it once existed is no more. Can you identify the three evening news anchors of ABC, CBS and NBC? I can’t. There is less public support for traditionally respected institutions than probably ever.
This void is being filled in some ways that bring to mind Reagan’s comments to the Phoenix audience nearly 60 years ago that freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.
In the second decade of the 21st century there are voices at the political fringes growing increasingly loud that are disparaging the quintessentially American values Reagan extolled in his speech. They are shouting down the mainstream. Technological innovations give their attacks a megaphone.
Sometimes it helps to pull the lens back and focus on the big picture.
While the political and media classes are losing altitude and other established institutions are losing confidence, chambers of commerce still have a strong reservoir of goodwill. This has been earned. There is nothing more important to maintaining the health of the United States than making sure that the land of opportunity remains the land of opportunity. This means supporting policies where every American can have a job and climb the ladder towards a stable middle class or better life.
The five major economic tenets the business community champions – tax competitiveness, regulations that encourage innovation, free trade of goods and services, an immigration system that protects our borders and responds to real market needs for labor, and a skills-based education system – are the ingredients to a healthy America.
We have seen more progress on tax and regulatory reform in the last 18 months than at any point in the last 30 years. As a result, the US economy is roaring and outpacing the rest of the industrialized world. And the focus on skills in education is blossoming in different ways across the country.
There is a lot of turmoil in trade and immigration politics right now.
Here the business community is playing an incredibly productive role, led by leaders such as Tom Donohue, head of the US Chamber, and Jay Timmons, the head of the National Association of Manufacturers. The focus on workforce skills is a commitment to all those in our K-12 system who we want to ensure have a path to a productive career. This will help with the angst caused by automation, artificial intelligence, and the overall rapid pace of technological change. On immigration and trade, I believe we’ve found a sweet spot that hits all the levers — security, humanity, and greater economic prosperity for all Americans.
I do not believe Reagan back in 1961 could have picked a better audience to share his message with than with a chamber of commerce. Reagan knew he could count on them.
The community leaders listening to Reagan’s speech understood the miracle of the free enterprise system. The wonders of capitalism. The power of the right to contract. The value of entrepreneurism. The dignity that results from work and earned success.
A chamber audience today listening to a message similar to the one delivered by a then-50-year-old Ronald Reagan would be just as receptive as the men and women who were gathered in that room in 1961. The business leaders I know would take it as a call to action.
The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry is heeding Reagan’s message. Our foundation is producing research that makes the intellectual case for free market policies. We’ve launched Chamber Business News to provide coverage of stories from the business community that the mainstream media ignores. We’re providing a civics lesson from the perspective of job creators to the millennial generation – now the largest cohort of the workforce – through our Millennial Fellows program.
This Fourth of July, let’s reflect on the fundamental ideals and values that make America so unique, so special, so unusual.
The experiment undertaken by the Founders remains one of the most audacious in human history. It remains a work in progress, but for a secure, free future, success is the only acceptable outcome.
It’s up to the business community – the job creators, the risk-takers, the innovators – to rise above the partisanship and the tribalism and to assume without apology the role as the keepers of the American dream and to pass it on to the next generation.
It’s a tremendous responsibility. It’s also a wonderful privilege.

Glenn Hamer

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