Silicon Insider: Reagan

ByABC News
June 23, 2004, 12:13 PM

June 10, 2004 -- It's been said this week that Ronald Reagan, as president of the United States, can be credited with liberating more people than any human being in history.

Less noted was that the Ronald Reagan National Liberation Movement (although he would have hated that phrase) began not in the jungles of Central America, or in the cities of Eastern Europe, but in the laboratories and offices of Silicon Valley.

It was governor, then as president, that Reagan made the crucial moves that created the environment for the entrepreneurial revolution in high tech. And that, in turn, sparked in this country the greatest economic boom in world history.

Freedom takes many forms including physical liberation, private ownership, and, not least, the unshackling of the human imagination. Reagan always exhibited, as both his early writings and later speeches show, a deep and enduring trust in the ability of individual citizens to make the right decisions for their own lives, what he called, in his second inaugural address as governor in 1971, the "collective genius of the people."

That trust puts enormous demands on a leader, because it requires him or her to not only know when to do something, but also when to leave well enough alone. You need only read the newspaper each day to see how rare that second trait is among any generation of business, military and political leaders. The natural tendency of people in power is to accumulate more of that power, to wield it in grand gestures and plans, and to withhold it from the average people, who, after all, can't be trusted to use it wisely even in their own interests.

The genius of Ronald Reagan and I use that term carefully was that he knew when to apply power and when not to. Whether or not you agreed with his policies, there is no arguing that this is a man who knew when to act, and when to trust others to act instead. It was this singular combination, I think, that made him so effective in both domestic and foreign policy using exactly the opposite strategies in each.