Sunday, February 6 is the 100th anniversary of the birth of the 40th president of the United States Ronald Wilson Reagan. He was born February 6, 1911 in Tampico, Illinois and left this earth in 2004. He was elected president in November 1980 and served two terms from January 1981 to January 1989.
Some of us think that Presidents’ Day should include Reagan with Lincoln and Washington. He was a transformational leader and one of our truly great presidents.
In his most significant role, Reagan led our nation through the final years of the dangerous Cold War to its bloodless end. It was only his courage and conviction that won that war for America and for freedom without firing a shot against a heavily-armed adversary that had nothing to lose but its tyranny.
His partners in this momentous victory were two other humble servants of the world’s people – Pope John Paul II who was born in Poland; and Lady Margaret Thatcher, the first woman prime minister of England.
Ronald Reagan also nursed a downhearted nation back to spiritual and economic health. Americans in the late 1970s were adrift and uncertain much like today, and the economy was in terrible shape. Jimmy Carter, who was president for one term in 1977-1981, was seen as a weak, vacillating leader who inspired precisely nobody. And today he still is remembered that way.
Reagan was exactly the type of leader that we needed then and that we need today – an uncompromising president who fixed our economy with conservative free-market principles, and fixed our nation’s spirit with reminders of our individual potential of which he himself was a sterling example.
For those who remember the Reagan years, they were a time of dynamic change and bold leadership. One of his first acts was to fire 15,000 unionized federal air-traffic controllers who went on an illegal strike. In other words, Ronald Reagan put the nation’s best interests ahead of those of special-interest pressure groups.
Reagan was struck in the chest and almost killed by a would-be assassin’s bullet on March 30, 1981 just nine weeks after taking office. But he recovered rapidly and re-took command, amazing for a 70-year-old man. This in itself was like something out of a Hollywood movie, and surely an inspiration for the nation. But when the Soviet military shot down the civilian Korean Air flight 007 in September 1983, tensions rose dramatically between the two superpowers.
There never was a moment during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, however, when the majority of Americans did not feel that a strong leader was in control and working in the best interests of the nation. And we will not see another Reagan-like figure in our lives. Or ever. He truly was one of a kind.
Many Americans have forgotten that after he was defeated by Gerald Ford in the 1976 primary for president that Reagan considered quitting politics. But Jesse Helms, the Republican North Carolina US senator convinced him to stay in the ring and the rest is history.
After his inauguration, Reagan gathered around him tough people of stature and character including Caspar Weinberger at defense, George Schultz as secretary of state, Jeanne Kirkpatrick as ambassador to the United Nations, and a tough-as-nails CIA chief in William Casey.
The Democrat left and the Ancient Media hated all the president’s confidants for precisely the reason that they were so successful: Because they wanted America on top and were unwilling to accept anything less. The media savaged them all and savaged Reagan, but to no avail. Reagan prevailed by force of will and personality and because he was always “right”.
Certainly there were problems in the beginning of his presidency recovering from the recession of the late 1970s. But Reagan, working with a Democrat Congress, pushed through legislation that always works, lowering the top tax rate significantly and allowing private capital to remain in the productive private economy. The result was a decade of growth and prosperity that still was producing well into the 2000s and the term of George W. Bush.
Reagan terrified the liberals in America because he wanted to defeat the communist Soviet Union, not accommodate it. He knew well the machinations of American communist agitators from his years in Hollywood and as president of the Screen Actors Guild. When he called the Russians an “evil empire” in a televised speech, the left went nuts. When Reagan walked away in 1986 from an arms-control agreement with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that Reagan knew was too restrictive toward America, the left was agog. Why couldn’t he keep the world safe by agreeing? they wondered. He must be a madman, they hinted.
No, quite the opposite. It was Reagan’s tenacity and wisdom that toppled the Evil Empire, something he had been ‘rehearsing’ much of his life for.
When JFK went to the Berlin Wall in 1962, he simply expressed empathy for the people held behind it in East Berlin, saying “I am a Berliner!” in German. But when Ronald Reagan visited the Wall in 1987, he commanded in English, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!!”
Which would you rather hear if you were imprisoned by the communists behind their historic Wall of Shame?
The media gunned for Reagan every day. They wanted desperately to defeat him for re-election in 1984 and the Democrats sent up former vice president Walter Mondale. In the first debate, Reagan stumbled and the media proclaimed that it was all over, that Reagan was toast, that he was too old.
But in the second face-off, he came charging back with one of the most memorable debate quotes in modern political history. When asked about his advanced age of 73, Reagan quipped that he was not going to make age an issue in the campaign, and that he was not going to exploit his opponent’s youth and inexperience as a campaign issue. Americans loved the joke – and a famous photograph shows even Mondale laughing – and that sealed the race. It was Reagan being Reagan.
Ronald Reagan was beloved because he truly was one of “the people”. He came from humble roots in the Midwest and was a self-made man. This did not appeal to the Democrats who preferred inherited-wealth aristocrats like FDR and JFK.
He did not have a massive point-by-point agenda for the nation, but a few simple ideas. And by delegating authority and declining to seek credit for his every accomplishment, he transformed the nation in the most positive way. Because ultimately he well knew that only history would judge him finally and that there was nothing he could do about it except to do his best.
Reagan was the Sarah Palin of his day. The media targeted him because they feared him just as they are targeting Palin because they fear her and her grass-roots appeal. And they trashed him relentlessly as a dumb actor from Hollywood where he lived and worked for decades. But in fact the great truth is that Reagan never was a successful actor; he never got beyond B movies. He was far too smart for that and had a much bigger role to play and he played it like a pro. He used his acting skills and his remarkable persona to influence America to move forward, not fall back into stasis and ennui.
Ronald Reagan believed in his heart, and even said aloud, that you can move mountains as long as nobody seeks to take the credit. And he was basically a humble man who was on a mission to salve and save the nation he loved. He never bragged about himself and he usually kept his statements short and sweet. When the space shuttle Challenger blew up in the first minutes of flight in January 1986, he made a brief but eloquent televised statement from the Oval Office; he did not turn it into a pep rally as the Democrats did with the Tucson memorial. Because Reagan cared about much more than politics. He loved America. And it shows. May God bless Ronald Reagan each and every day.
Please visit my website at www.nikitas3.com for more. You can read excerpts from my book, Right Is Right, which explains why only conservatism can maintain our freedom and prosperity.