If any speech epitomizes President Reagan, it’s the stunning speech he delivered at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. The ninnies at the State Department were aghast that he didn’t listen to their advice. Reagan fanatics know this passage by heart but it’s worth repeating so here goes:
In the 1950’s, Khrushchev predicted: “We will bury you.” But in the West today, we see a free world that has achieved a level of prosperity and well-being unprecedented in all human history. In the Communist world, we see failure, technological backwardness, declining standards of health, even want of the most basic kind-too little food. Even today, the Soviet Union still cannot feed itself. After these four decades, then, there stands before the entire world one great and inescapable conclusion: Freedom leads to prosperity. Freedom replaces the ancient hatreds among the nations with comity and peace. Freedom is the victor.
And now the Soviets themselves may, in a limited way, be coming to understand the importance of freedom. We hear much from Moscow about a new policy of reform and openness. Some political prisoners have been released. Certain foreign news broadcasts are no longer being jammed. Some economic enterprises have been permitted to operate with greater freedom from state control. Are these the beginnings of profound changes in the Soviet state? Or are they token gestures, intended to raise false hopes in the West, or to strengthen the Soviet system without changing it? We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace.
There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
This speech was about so much more than tearing down the wall seperating what once were East and West Berlin. It was a teaching moment for President Reagan and he siezed the opportunity and made the most of it.
President Reagan’s quoting of Kruschev was intentional and instructional. Kruschev thought Soviet-style discipline would help them rule the world. He really thought that the USSR would “bury” the U.S.
Reagan knew what Kruschev couldn’t admit: that free societies where people could do whatever they wanted will always crush societies that were directed from on high.
When Reagan took office on Jan. 20, 1981, he was likely the only person in the world who thought that he could collapse the Soviet empire. In most people’s minds, peaceful co-existence seemed like the best we could hope for. These bold words spoke to what President Reagan believed:
But in the West today, we see a free world that has achieved a level of prosperity and well-being unprecedented in all human history. In the Communist world, we see failure, technological backwardness, declining standards of health, even want of the most basic kind-too little food. Even today, the Soviet Union still cannot feed itself.
In President Reagan’s mind, the Soviet Union was vastly inferior to America’s system. In President Reagan’s thinking, it was a matter of time before the West would prove that conclusively. It wasn’t wishful thinking on his behalf. It was inevitable.
President Reagan’s critics sometimes called him the “Amiable Dunce.” In reality, Reagan was a visionary who’d thought things through to such an extent that people didn’t realize he was playing chess at a high level while his critics played tiddly winks.
Because his policies, especially those that he embraced on the world stage, kept turning up great, people trusted him more with each passing year. That’s the difference between Reagan and all other world leaders since his time. He was right because he’d thought things through.
That’s what made Reagan special.
When President Reagan insisted that Gorbachev “tear down this wall”, the State Department gasped and the rest of the world knew it was just a matter of time until his command became reality.
Reagan’s “Tear Down This Wall” speech was just the culmination of a vision Reagan had held for decades.
That’s why the American people so trusted him.