Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev

On this day in 1984, President Ronald Reagan, long known for his sense of humor, makes a controversial joke while doing a sound check before his weekly Saturday radio address:

“My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”

Reagan was riffing on the actual opening line of his speech, regarding religious freedom:

“I’m pleased to tell you that today I signed legislation that will allow student religious groups to begin enjoying a right they’ve too long been denied — the freedom to meet in public high schools during nonschool hours, just as other student groups are allowed to do. This has been given the shorthand label “equal-access legislation.”

In fact, it was just a couple weeks later on August 23rd that Reagan would deliver his famous line:
“If we ever forget that we’re one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under.” 

Sure, the bombing joke may have been embarrassing, and in poor taste. It even caused at temporary dip in the President’s approval rating. Even so, he went on to win a second term.

Furthermore, even though Reagan had referred to Russia as the “evil empire,” he established a close relationship with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev starting in 1985. His sense of humor may have had something to do with that. They went on to sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987, the Cold War thawed, and the Berlin Wall eventually was torn down.

Our Lost Founding suggests that we, as “fellow Americans” lighten up. Most importantly, let’s heed President Reagan’s warning to not “forget that we’re one nation under God.”

Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev

Ronald Reagan Evil Empire

On this day in 1983, President Ronald Reagan publicly refers to the Soviet Union as “an evil empire.”

This excerpt is from about halfway through the still relevant speech:
Freedom prospers when religion is vibrant and the rule of law under God is acknowledged. When our Founding Fathers passed the First Amendment, they sought to protect churches from government interference. They never intended to construct a wall of hostility between government and the concept of religious belief itself.

The evidence of this permeates our history and our government. The Declaration of Independence mentions the Supreme Being no less than four times. “In God We Trust” is engraved on our coinage. The Supreme Court opens its proceedings with a religious invocation. And the members of Congress open their sessions with a prayer. I just happen to believe the schoolchildren of the United States are entitled to the same privileges as Supreme Court Justices and Congressmen.”

Good and Evil Empire

Then, Reagan famously says “evil empire” in the final third of the speech:

“So, I urge you to speak out against those who would place the United States in a position of military and moral inferiority. You know, I’ve always believed that old Screwtape reserved his best efforts for those of you in the church. So, in your discussions of the nuclear freeze proposals, I urge you to beware the temptation of pride — the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil. 

I ask you to resist the attempts of those who would have you withhold your support for our efforts, this administration’s efforts, to keep America strong and free, while we negotiate real and verifiable reductions in the world’s nuclear arsenals and one day, with God’s help, their total elimination.”

Our Lost Founding would add that as (a) people this struggle will always plague us, both personally and nationally.

Ronald Reagan Evil Empire