“What a difference a president makes!”

The words in the title above were used by the late great Jack Kemp as he opened his remarks at the 1984 Republican Convention. Recently I came across references to two Ronald Reagan speeches. The first was his speech to members of the British Parliament in June 1982. That was the speech where he set out “a plan and a hope for the long term” —

“– the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people.”

He finished with this:

[T]he task I’ve set forth will long outlive our own generation. But together, we too have come through the worst. Let us now begin a major effort to secure the best — a crusade for freedom that will engage the faith and fortitude of the next generation. For the sake of peace and justice, let us move toward a world in which all people are at last free to determine their own destiny.

That entire speech can be read at the Heritage Foundation website.

The other speech was the commencement address he gave the University of Notre Dame in May 1981. In it were paragraphs like this:

Winston Churchill, during the darkest period of the “Battle of Britain” in World War II said: “When great causes are on the move in the world . . . we learn we are spirits, not animals, and that something is going on in space and time, and beyond space and time, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty.”

And this (sure sounds familiar):

We’re troubled today by economic stagnation, brought on by inflated currency and prohibitive taxes and burdensome regulations. The cost of stagnation in human terms, mostly among those least equipped to survive it, is cruel and inhuman.

And these two:

We need you. We need your youth. We need your strength. We need your idealism to help us make right that which is wrong. Now, I know that this period of your life, you have been and are critically looking at the mores and customs of the past and questioning their value. Every generation does that. May I suggest, don’t discard the time-tested values upon which civilization was built simply because they’re old. More important, don’t let today’s doomcriers and cynics persuade you that the best is past, that from here on it’s all downhill. Each generation sees farther than the generation that preceded it because it stands on the shoulders of that generation. You’re going to have opportunities beyond anything that we’ve ever known.

The people have made it plain already. They want an end to excessive government intervention in their lives and in the economy, an end to the burdensome and unnecessary regulations and a punitive tax policy that does take “from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”

And these three:

For the West, for America, the time has come to dare to show to the world that our civilized ideas, our traditions, our values, are not — like the ideology and war machine of totalitarian societies — just a facade of strength. It is time for the world to know our intellectual and spiritual values are rooted in the source of all strength, a belief in a Supreme Being, and a law higher than our own.

When it’s written, history of our time won’t dwell long on the hardships of the recent past. But history will ask — and our answer determine the fate of freedom for a thousand years — Did a nation borne of hope lose hope? Did a people forged by courage find courage wanting? Did a generation steeled by hard war and a harsh peace forsake honor at the moment of great climactic struggle for the human spirit?

If history asks such questions, it also answers them. And the answers are to be found in the heritage left by generations of Americans before us. They stand in silent witness to what the world will soon know and history someday record: that in the [its] third century, the American Nation came of age, affirmed its leadership of free men and women serving selflessly a vision of man with God, government for people, and humanity at peace.

Here is how Reagan closed it:

I have one more hope for you: when you do speak to the next generation about these things, that you will always be able to speak of an America that is strong and free, to find in your hearts an unbounded pride in this much-loved country, this once and future land, this bright and hopeful nation whose generous spirit and great ideals the world still honors.

Barack Obama, like Jimmy Carter before him, never spoke in those terms. It takes a leader grounded in the principles of our Founding Fathers. What a difference a president makes, indeed.