On the day that the Supreme Court released its Obamacare ruling, my daughter and I had the opportunity to visit the Reagan Ranch. Located in the mountains in the Central Coast region of California, the ranch is where President Reagan spent nearly one out of every eight days of his presidency. As you might imagine, it’s a wonderful place.
But part of why it’s wonderful is that it’s not remotely ostentatious or extravagant. The modest 1,800-square-foot house is not a home fit for a king but for a citizen in a republic. It’s republican through and through. Moreover, the land’s open expanses and the house’s American Western décor beautifully capture the spirit of liberty. To think of Mikhail Gorbachev and Queen Elizabeth visiting (as they did) and seeing the president of the United States living in such a humble yet alluring place, is a satisfying thought. The Founders would have been proud.
Reagan reportedly liked to sit on the patio in front of his home and take in the panoramic view of the trees, the pastures, and the hillsides. From there, he said, he could “see freedom.” It’s nearly impossible to imagine President Obama saying such a thing. He’d presumably instead be looking to “see equality” — although it wouldn't be easy to spot from Martha's Vineyard.
Despite its clear historical significance, the Reagan Ranch almost wasn’t preserved for posterity. Once Reagan’s Alzheimer’s had deteriorated to the point where he could no longer enjoy the ranch, Nancy Reagan put it up for sale on the open market, and it was nearly purchased — and carved up — by a commercial developer. At that point, the Young America’s Foundation stepped up and raised the money to buy it and preserve it, and Nancy left behind almost all of the Reagan furnishings so that the ranch could appear as it was when they were there.
The primary mission of the Young America’s Foundation is to teach college and high school students about the principles of limited government and liberty that Reagan so ably espoused and advanced, and the YAF regularly takes students who are enrolled in its classes up to visit the ranch. Many of these classes are taught at an impressive new facility and museum, the Reagan Ranch Center, in downtown Santa Barbara. The Reagan Ranch itself, located in a remote area and accessible only by a more or less single-lane winding road, isn’t open to the general public. But the Reagan Ranch Center is, and it’s well worth a visit.
One of the Center’s exhibits shows Reagan signing his momentous 1981 tax cut into law — outside, at the ranch. It shows a clip of the president, at a time when the highest marginal tax rate was 70 percent (having been even higher until JFK signed legislation cutting it to that level), saying, “The solutions we seek must be equitable, with no one group singled out to pay a higher price.” The highest marginal tax rate eventually dropped to 28 percent, and the economy boomed. The contrasts with Obama could hardly be clearer.
At or near the highest point of Rancho del Cielo (the Ranch of the Heavens), which Reagan named, one can look to the north and see for miles across the valley below to the mountains beyond, while to the southwest one can see the Pacific Ocean and the Channel Islands. These are stunning views, and for some reason the thought occurred to me that Thomas Jefferson — who built his own home on a hilltop in Virginia and whose presidency went a long way toward opening up the West — would surely have shared Reagan’s appreciation of this place. Likewise, Reagan surely appreciated the truth in these words penned by the Sage of Monticello: “The true foundation of republican government is the equal right of every citizen, in his person and property, and in their management.”
As we watch the colorful symbols of freedom explode in the skies on July 4, let us reflect on Reagan’s example, Jefferson’s words, and what we’re fighting for on November 6.