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Decades ago national security eminence Dick Allen asked Ronald Reagan what the strategy was for the Cold War. Reagan boldly responded “We win. They lose.”

Reagan’s answer was confident because he knew intuitively that freedom beats repression, and that economic freedom crushes planned economies. To him the Soviet Union’s eventual demise wasn’t if, it was when.

In a majestic speech given at England’s Westminster Abbey in 1982, Reagan grandly spoke of how “the march of freedom and democracy will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history.” Reagan quite simply knew, and he wasn’t afraid to say that the Soviet Union’s days were numbered at a time when it was directing so much in the way of resources to weaponry, and at a time when confidence about the existential flaws of communism was not remotely conventional wisdom.

This comes to mind as Sen. Marco Rubio’s office sends out a press release with “a timeline of Rubio’s major actions on TikTok.” Profiles in courage? While Reagan asserted with great conviction from the most global and prominent of stages that “I am prepared to offer [Soviet] President Brezhnev an opportunity to speak to the American people on our television if he will allow me the same opportunity with the Soviet people,” Rubio expresses fear of pro-China content from an app while promising to trample on the freedom of the American people as a way of allegedly protecting us from it.

The actions of the two Republicans were and are very telling. Reagan’s belief in the genius of freedom and the American people was powerful, and it lent utter certitude to his belief that we didn’t have to act like the enemy in order to win. As for Rubio, apparently his fear of an app is so great, and his belief in the American Way so gossamer thin that, by his communications team’s own admission, he’s been writing and talking for years of his “concern with regard to Chinese influence operations” like TikTok, and their potential to weaken the United States.

The bet here is that Reagan wouldn’t have bit his nails about an app if such technology had existed in the 1980s, or about alleged propaganda emanating from it. The bet is that instead Reagan would have arched an eyebrow to political fears of an app most known for comedic and dance videos popular with young people, and that he would have really laughed at the alleged threat of an app said to be controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The laugh would have been rooted in certainty that freedom and its fruits always and everywhere run roughshod over propaganda meant to put a happy face on repression.

Rubio has asserted that “For years, we’ve allowed the Chinese Communist Party to control one of the most popular apps in America.” What fun Reagan would have had with that line! Lest readers forget, Reagan rather famously asserted that “the nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”

Of course, it’s not just that Reagan rightly understood the horrors of government doing something, and in doing something, substituting its narrow knowledge for the greatest marketplace in the world: the American people. The bet here is that Reagan would have also let the alarmists in his midst in on a little secret, that whatever government touches it generally wrecks. Translated for a Republican right increasingly comfortable with its victim status vis-à-vis everything and everyone, the surest sign that TikTok isn’t controlled by the CCP is its popularity with the American people. At the same time, if Rubio is actually right about the CCP’s control of an app that apparently makes him squeamish, he needn’t worry. Again, what government touches or controls generally sucks.

Instead of robbing the American people of freedom in a rather perverse attempt to strengthen the U.S., Reagan likely would have asserted with great confidence that the genius of the U.S. is its freedom. And he would have been right. Just as 38,000 Soviets turned up their noses to their own country’s propaganda on the opening day of McDonald’s in Moscow, all so that they could taste the ultimate symbol of freedom, so do millions of Chinese routinely patronize the 5,500 (and counting) McDonald’s on a daily basis in China.

Yet Senator Rubio is once again fearful that an app is a threat to the brilliant fruits of freedom. Forget for a second the absurdity of the political class’s fears of TikTok, can we instead start talking about how the taking of freedom stateside to allegedly protect us from foreign authoritarians is the real threat, and one that is an exponentially greater than the one that has Rubio so anxious?

John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, President of the Parkview Institute, a senior fellow at the Market Institute, and a senior economic adviser to Applied Finance Advisors (www.appliedfinance.com). His latest book, released on April 16, 2024 and co-authored with Jack Ryan, is Bringing Adam Smith Into the American Home: A Case Against Homeownership

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