On a crisp winter evening in New Hampshire, the presidential candidates convened for a debate that nearly didn’t come off. Just a week before, the Federal Election Commission ruled the newspaper-sponsored debate would violate election law – the media could moderate the debate, they just couldn’t pay for it. The Nashua Telegraph withdrew its sponsorship of the match pitting the party’s top two contenders against each other. The leading candidate, afresh with “Big Mo” after his win in Iowa, sighed with relief.
But the fella in the second spot had other ideas. He needed the win and the debate offered him his best chance. He did something no other candidate had ever done – he used his own campaign’s funds to pay for the debate. The leader thought his opponent made a tactical error. The newspaper’s debate had already generated controversy when it refused to invite the other men vying for the nomination. By sponsoring the debate, his rival placed himself smack dab in the middle of said controversy. The pole-sitter decided to do just that – sit and watch his chaser fidget.
The afternoon before the debate, the new sponsor called the paper desperately trying to change the ground rules to include the other candidates. The paper declined. No one knew if the debate would actually occur, so, when the moderator Jon Breen introduced the front-runner, it surprised no one to see the challenger’s seat empty. But Mr. Breen went ahead with his introductions nonetheless. As the moderator readied himself to introduce the empty chair, the defiant competitor marched onto the dais with all the other candidates lock-step behind. The bold move enchanted the heretofore anxious audience. Breen continued to announce the ground rules as if the debate would remain a two-man affair. He immediately began to ask for the first question, ignoring the bevy of politicos behind him.
The sponsor interrupted Breen, stating, “Mr. Green, before the question, you asked me if you could make an announcement first and I asked you for permission to make an announcement myself…”
Undeterred, Breen calmly requested “Would the sound man please turn Mr. Reagan’s mike off?”
The stunned crowd protested loudly and an irate Ronald Reagan shot up from his seat, grabbed the bulky microphone and angrily asked, “Is this on?” When the shouts in the room confirmed they could hear him, he sat back down and continued, “Mr. Green, you asked me if you…”
Jon Breen had had enough. Whether Reagan purposely or accidentally mispronounced his name we’ll never know, but Breen abruptly demanded, “Would turn that microphone off please!”
A miffed Reagan immediately cut himself off, looked in shared disbelief with the audience, then turned to Breen glaring, “I am PAYING for this microphone Mr. Breen!”
And the crowd went wild…
* * * * *
Many continue to believe in his “Nashua Moment,” Ronald Reagan made a statement about fairness. He didn’t. He made a gallant argument about the meaning of property rights. The United States’ prime belief holds property rights above all else. Property rights trumps politics. Property rights overpowers ideology. In America, property rights must even stands ahead of religion. Individuals may choose to subordinate their own rights for these things, but no one man, organization or institution can prevent another for exercising and enjoying his own personal right to property, a.k.a., “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Reagan understood his microphone represented no mere instrument of political equality. Quite simply, it was his property. He bought it. He had the right to say how others could use it.
On Tuesday, May 19, 2009, the citizens of the State of California rediscovered their inner Nashua. Although we haven’t seen the media reflect on its significance, the title of an editorial in the Washington Examiner tells it all: “Warning to Obama in California Vote.” That a Blue State turned red – at least for one brief shining moment – speaks volumes as to the continued propriety of property rights in America. I could hear Reagan saying of his former constituents, “Today we did what we had to do. They counted on America to be passive. They counted wrong.”
So, ironically, the sun rises from the west. It’s morning in California. Let’s see how long it takes the idea to spread to the opposite coast.