We at The Weekly Standard have had plenty of advice for Republicans on how to criticize (and occasionally to support) Obama administration foreign and defense policies. But as the GOP presidential campaign heats up, it seems that some candidates are more tempted to imitate the foreign policy orientation of George McGovern or John Kerry than of Ronald Reagan. So we thought it might be useful to remind them of what Reagan said when he took on and defeated a Democratic incumbent. Here, then, are excerpts from Ronald Reagan’s acceptance speech to the 1980 Republican Convention:
When we move from domestic affairs and cast our eyes abroad, we see an equally sorry chapter on the record of the present administration. . . .
America’s defense strength is at its lowest ebb in a generation. . . .
Our . . . allies, looking nervously at the growing menace from the East, turn to us for leadership and fail to find it. . . .
Adversaries large and small test our will and seek to confound our resolve, but we are given weakness when we need strength; vacillation when the times demand firmness.
The Carter administration lives in the world of make-believe. Every day, drawing up a response to that day’s problems, troubles, regardless of what happened yesterday and what will happen tomorrow.
The rest of us, however, live in the real world. It is here that disasters are overtaking our nation without any real response from Washington. . . .
I’ll tell you where I stand. I do not favor a peacetime draft or registration, but I do favor pay and benefit levels that will attract and keep highly motivated men and women in our volunteer forces and an active reserve trained and ready for an instant call in case of an emergency.
There may be a sailor at the helm of the ship of state, but the ship has no rudder. Critical decisions are made at times almost in comic fashion, but who can laugh? Who was not embarrassed when the administration handed a major propaganda victory in the United Nations to the enemies of Israel, our staunch Middle East ally? . . .
Who does not feel a growing sense of unease as our allies, facing repeated instances of an amateurish and confused administration, reluctantly conclude that America is unwilling or unable to fulfill its obligations as the leader of the free world?
Who does not feel rising alarm when the question in any discussion of American foreign policy is no longer, “Should we do something?” but “Do we have the capacity to do anything?”
The administration which has brought us to this state is seeking your endorsement for four more years of weakness, indecision, mediocrity, and incompetence. No American should vote until he or she has asked, is the United States stronger and more respected now than it was three-and-a-half years ago? Is the world today a safer place in which to live? . . .
We are not a warlike people. Quite the opposite. We always seek to live in peace. We resort to force infrequently and with great reluctance—and only after we have determined that it is absolutely necessary. . . . But neither can we be naïve or foolish. . . . We know only too well that war comes not when the forces of freedom are strong, but when they are weak. It is then that tyrants are tempted. . . .
Let our friends and those who may wish us ill take note: The United States has an obligation to its citizens and to the people of the world never to let those who would destroy freedom dictate the future course of human life on this planet. I would regard my election as proof that we have renewed our resolve to preserve world peace and freedom. This nation will once again be strong enough to do that. . . .
Reagan’s unapologetic defense of American strength is as timely today as it was three decades ago. Which Republican candidate will make a name for himself (or herself) by delivering a suitably updated version of this message?