Many others have articulated the meaning of Ronald Wilson Reagan's legacy to this nation far better than I. Others have posted personal recollections about Reagan that are far better than you will find here. Nevertheless, I will attempt to share my thoughts about the Ronald Reagan presidency, shooting for a mark no more ambitious than that my thoughts will materialize in such a fashion as to be more or less readable.
It is with a bizarre mix of mirth, irony and disgust that I have watched and listened to the mainstream media's comparisons of Barack Obama to Ronald Reagan during this, the centennial birthday of the "Great Communicator." From Katie Couric to Christiane Amanpour, the media is in unanimous agreement: Obama is "Reaganesque." The mainstream media, who unquestionably hated Ronald Reagan's guts, now cynically uses his memory to try to rehabilitate a defeated, deflated, and roundly repudiated Barack Obama, even going so far as to suggest that Obama looks upon Reagan as some kind of role model. Ain't that rich? Now pull the other one, Katie.
The media's desperate and schizophrenic attempts to get the "Reagan magic" to rub off on Obama while simultaneously pooh-pooh-ing his legacy shows just how much they still hate him, and how little they understand why the vast majority of America loved him. I watched the media with this same annoyed bemusement in the wake of Reagan's death in 2004. The talking heads of the media left looked on as traffic in California came to a standstill along the route of Ronald Reagan's final motorcade, unable to conceal their astonishment. As 100,000 people fought traffic, crammed into buses, and waited for hours in line to pay their respects to "The Gipper," the left looked on in utter befuddlement.
To try to explain the antipathy of the media and the left toward Reagan, or the rest of America's love for him, is far too broad and complex a task than I am willing to undertake here. I maintain that it is one of those things where you either "get it" or you don't. Trying to explain Reagan's appeal to a Reagan-hater is a pointless exercise, and it is beyond the scope of this post anyway. I will simply try to describe my feelings about the 40th president and leave it at that.
I was born in July, 1974. My recollection of the 70's consists mostly of flashes--images and impressions. I remember my parents, relatives, and their friends being worried. I remember a lot of disturbing imagery on the news. I remember my dad swapping license plates between his car and mom's Chevelle (one plate ended in an odd number, the other in an even number) because there was a "crisis." I, of course, didn't understand the larger picture: Carter, the energy crisis, the hostage crisis, and a country reeling from the stinging humiliation of pulling out of Vietnam. I just knew that things were "bad."
My memory of the 80's, naturally, is much better.
From the doom and gloom of the dour President Carter, there was suddenly this grandfatherly man with kind eyes, a quick smile and an infectious ease in his manner. Everything about him seemed to put everyone in my life at ease. He told us that we were special, we could achieve anything we set our minds to, that we shouldn't back down in the face of aggression, and that everything was going to be okay, because we were going to make it so!
Reagan's role in lifting the nation's morale out of the dumps is one of many reasons the left derides him. They sneer that he was nothing more than a "cheerleader," an actor playing a role. Even if that were so, Reagan's role in lifting the spirits of this nation can be neither discounted nor exaggerated. He gave us the hope to pull ourselves up, which we did in spades. Surely Obama supporters wouldn't discount the importance of hope... would they? This narrative about "just acting"--like so many about Reagan from the angry left--is false, but I'll get to that in a bit.
Reagan was a cheerleader for America. But that is not ALL he was. His achievements in both foreign and economic policy are tangible and irrefutable (though his critics try mightily).
President Reagan rebuilt our military from the disastrous, dilapidated state it was left in by Jimmy Carter, revitalizing and strengthening all military branches, the intelligence services, and re-starting vital programs like the B-1 bomber.
In response to the Gulf of Sidra incident and the terrorist bombing of a West Berlin discotheque which killed several Americans, Reagan put terrorists and tin-pot dictators of the world on notice that they would be hunted down when he attacked Muammar Khaddafi's Libya. Haven't heard a peep from ol' Colonel Mo in quite a while, have we?
Reagan was a staunch enthusiast of the space program. The International Space Station orbiting above us now is the incarnation of the vision he articulated in 1984. He also recognized the value of private industry in America's endeavors in the final frontier. This of course, led to his interest in researching SDI, the Strategic Defense Initiative, which gave the Soviet Union another reason to come to the bargaining table.
When an armed coup overthrew the government of Grenada, endangering the lives of U.S. medical students studying there, Reagan responded to the pleas of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States with an invasion that saved the lives of those potential hostages and prevented a Soviet-Cuban militarization of the region. Even ultra-liberal House Speaker Tip O'Neill eventually supported the move.
Along with many other industries, Reagan removed price controls and punitive regulation on the oil industry, bringing the energy crisis to an end and making sure the gas lines of the 70's didn't continue in the 80's. Price controls are antithetical to a free market. Reagan understood this. He removed price controls, and let the free market do what it does best.
Now, the one which will most infuriate my liberal friends: Reagan and his administration's policies, more than any other single factor, won the Cold War. He won it, forcing the Soviet Union into capitulation and collapse, decades ahead of the predictions of pundits in the media and academia, through a cunning mixture of hawkish militarism and earnest, clever diplomacy. Leftist pundits gush over Gorbachev and Glasnost (Rush Limbaugh used to call this effusive praise a "Gorbasm"). Gorby certainly deserves some credit, mostly for seeing the obvious truth that the Soviet Union was headed for ruin, but he would never have had the opportunity or the support to enact the changes he did without both the military resolve and the calm assurance provided by Ronald Reagan.
Contrary to the flippant, foolish, "senile-warmonger-with-his-
finger-hovering-over-the-button" image perpetrated by his detractors, Reagan hated nuclear weapons (he thought them immoral), and made diplomatic overtures--without discussing it with his staff--to Gorbachev that suggested getting rid of ALL nuclear weapons from BOTH arsenals, and even suggested sharing SDI ("Star Wars") technology with the Soviets to prevent the re-proliferation of nukes. It was Reagan's assurances to Gorbachev--both that we were determined to meet Soviet military aggression in kind, and that we also wanted peace and would not attack Russia first--that gave Gorbachev the confidence to make the push for the reforms that he did, because he believed Reagan to be a sincere, earnest man of his word.
Ronald Reagan was not perfect, and is presidency was not perfect, as leftists delight in pointing out. I have no intention of, or interest in, claiming otherwise. He raised taxes (not as much as he lowered them, but still). The federal budget deficit grew significantly under Reagan (though it should be remembered that he was working with a staunchly Democratic congress that kept spending). He gave amnesty to 3 million illegal immigrants. Reagan bailed out social security and created an enormous new Cabinet department, the department of Veteran's Affairs. Spending and government didn't shrink under Reagan, it just grew at a lesser rate (which is an accomplishment in itself, considering the resistance he faced in Congress and the media). And yes, he traded arms for hostages in the Iran-Contra affair.
I am well aware of these facts, and contrary to the caterwauling of ThinkProgress, I think most conservatives know these things as well, and have no agenda to hide them. I, and those who admire Reagan, just don't make the mistake of allowing these things to overshadow his great accomplishments and the tremendous good that he did for the United States, the American people, and the world.
This brings me back to the earlier point about Reagan simply "playing a part" that I touched on before. Reagan did what he did, achieved what he did, because he was an honest, genuine man filled with heartfelt values and convictions. Reagan kept a diary every day of his presidency, save for the day that he was shot. I have read these volumes (as published in book form in 2009), something I encourage anyone who is sincerely curious about the real Ronald Reagan to do. These personal, private recollections paint a vivid picture of a kind, decent, caring, deeply principled man who was generous to a fault and harbored a deep, unapologetic love for the United States, its history, and its people. He loved the American people, and he believed in their intelligence, resourcefulness, ingenuity, generosity, and decency.
Yes, he was a pragmatist, like any politician. Some of the mythos that has taken shape amongst his conservative supporters is inaccurate and unjustified. He yielded in some ways that perhaps he shouldn't have, and did things he shouldn't have.
But those examples are far fewer than those times where he stood firm and accomplished that which was previously unthinkable--as when he told Khaddafi after the Libya bombing, "if necessary, we will do it again," or when he stood at the Brandenburg Gate, called out Soviet oppression and Communism as evil, and challenged Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall." Reagan loved America to his very core, and was an unabashed partisan on her behalf. (This is not a sense that I get from Barack Obama at all, by the way, no matter how ardently the media insists that he has become "Reaganesque.")
This is why America, and a good part of the world, loves, respects and reveres Ronald Wilson Reagan to this day. He reminded us of the good, generous, freedom-loving people we are. He reminded us that we have accomplished extraordinary things, that we will continue to do so, and that we have much to be proud of. He reminded us that freedom is fragile, and it must be defended from all those who envy and resent it, and would seek to take it away--both from outside and from within. When the left had us almost convinced that we deserved to fail, that we were reaping what we had sewn for some perceived "crime," Reagan told us, and showed us, that this wasn't so--that we could be, should be, and deserved to be great again.
He was right. And in the eyes of the left, this was probably his greatest sin of all.
Thank you, Ron. It is with great pride and pleasure that I remember you on your 100th birthday. May the United States of America and your legacy endure for all time. As you would have, sir, I shall end this post with a little humor: