Goodbye to 'The
Hopeful, big-hearted, idealistic – daring, decent and
So Ronald Reagan said of America in his second inaugural address. And so it
shall be said of him.
He came from another time and place, Ronald Reagan did, a time long ago when
love of country was as natural for a boy growing up in Illinois as was a faith
that nothing was beyond the capacity of the great and good people whence he
He had a lifelong love affair with America, with her history, heroes, stories
and legends. Now he is now one of those legends.
In life and as an actor, he always relished romantic and heroic roles, whether
as the lifeguard who pulled 77 swimmers to safety, the legendary George Gipp
of Knute Rockne's Notre Dame or the statesman who walked out of a summit
meeting in Iceland rather than compromise the security of the country he was
elected to protect.
When America began to tear herself apart over morality, race and Vietnam in
the 1960s, the old certitudes he articulated and the old virtues he
personified held a magnetic attraction for a people bewildered by what was
happening to their country. When he spoke, he took us to a higher ground,
above petty and partisan squabbles and divisions, where we could dream again
and be a people again.
In the crushing defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964, Reagan's speech of blazing
defiance vaulted him into the leadership of the conservative movement. And
after Watergate, defeat in Vietnam, the Soviet empire rampant and America held
hostage, the country, unready for Reagan or conservatism in 1964, took a
chance in 1980.
And when she did, America won the lottery.
With the help of tough Paul Volcker at the Federal Reserve, Ronald Reagan's
tax cuts, after they took effect in 1983, ignited a 17-year boom unlike any in
the 20th century. America was back.
Reagan's sunny persona, his grace under fire after the attempt on his life,
endeared him to his countrymen. When he came out of the anesthesia after the
surgery to remove the bullet so near his heart, he looked up at the nervous
nurses hovering over him and said, "OK, let's do the whole scene over again,
beginning at the hotel."
His refusal to compromise principle, his resolve to restore the morale and
might of the armed forces of which he was now commander in chief, converted
America to conservatism and created a constituency all his own: Reagan
Democrats. I do not know if Ronald Reagan would have cared that they named
that building in Washington after him, but he would have loved that big
In the 1960s, it was a handicap in a presidential campaign to be a
conservative. Republicans shied away from the label a hostile media had
equated with extremism. With Reagan, it was an honor. He was never embarrassed
or ashamed at being a man of the right.
Every year, he would speak at CPAC. In every State of the Union, he demanded a
line be inserted calling for an amendment to the constitution to protect the
life of the unborn. He believed God had spared him and that the time left to
him was to be spent doing God's work here on earth.
Where other politicians feared to tred on the battlegrounds of philosophy and
principle, Reagan rushed in. Nominated in 1980, he demanded a "no pale
pastels" platform – and then ran on it.
He had a wonderful sense of humor, and he loved stories. Seconds before going
out to face the press in prime-time news conferences 80 million Americans and
the whole world would watch, he was still telling jokes. He was devoid of ego
and of the boastfulness so common in this capital. "There is no limit to how
far a man can go," read a plaque in his office, "so long as he is willing to
let someone else get the credit."
What did he achieve? Ronald Reagan let the American eagle soar. He cut tax
rates from 70 percent to 28 percent, restored our spirit, rebuilt the armed
forces into the most formidable the world had ever seen and led us to
bloodless victory in the Cold War. Time declared Mikhail Gorbachev Man of the
Decade. America knows better.
Branded by a hostile city as "an amiable dunce," he paid no heed. He was more
concerned with what his friends at Human Events wrote than what his
adversaries at the Washington Post or the New York Times said.
He was warned that his determination to challenge the Soviet Empire
philosophically, and strategically in Afghanistan, Angola and Nicaragua,
risked war. Yet this 70-year-old man who began his presidency calling the
Soviet Union an evil empire ended it strolling through Red Square arm-in-arm
with the last leader of that empire.
A British statesman once said all political lives end in failure. As always,
Ronald Reagan is the exception. We shall not see his like again.
© 2004 Creators
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