Just over a week ago, some of us commemorated the 100th birthday of a remarkable man – one I affectionately call Ronaldus Magnus.
What is it about a man that can cause so many people to proudly refer to themselves as “Reagan Conservatives?” I for one think it’s a far better alternative to what the contemporary Republican Party has become. Today I mention Republican only in the same passing sense that some families gloss over a mafia goombah or other criminal who ends up in their family trees.
Just one of the many things I admired about Ronald Reagan was his unshakable, eternal optimism. He would often talk about “morning in America,” the beginning of a new day that held endless possibilities.
In elegant form, John Hayward, a writer for Human Events, said “There is a light which illuminated Reagan’s words, as a bonfire drives back the wolf-haunted night … It is the light of faith in America and her people.”
Throughout his political career, Reagan often referred to America as “a shining city on a hill.” It was a reference to the Puritan John Winthrop, who saw a grand future for our fledgling nation. Actually, Winthrop’s reference goes back to the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew.
Somewhere online, I ran across a turn of a phrase that made sense to me: “A light shining on the hill need not speak to get its message across.”
Reagan’s words really were illuminating. In his second inaugural address, he proclaimed “The American sound is hopeful, big hearted, idealistic, daring, decent and fair.”
That faith affected me as well. Our 40th President made me proud for America again. Along with so many others, I was pummeled by nearly a decade of extremely bad political theater in the 1970s. More countries than in any other single decade fell under the boot of communism during that time. The Cold War hadn’t ended. America had stopped fighting it.
Our dyspeptic, sullen President Nixon resigned in disgrace. He was replaced by a weak-kneed moderate named Gerald Ford, who had no stomach to fight a Cold War. I sometimes wonder what the reaction of America’s military was when Henry Kissinger, Ford’s Secretary of State, told them “The day of the United States is past and today is the day of the Soviet Union. My job as Secretary of State is to negotiate the most acceptable second-best position available.”
“The Kissinger issue,” (a media label) became a point of contention at the 1976 Republican convention when Reagan was challenging Ford for the nomination. Reagan was on a campaign to win the Cold War. He blasted the unilateral concessions Ford was giving away in the wrong-headed pursuit of “détente.” And I watched it all on the tube.
Reagan narrowly lost to Ford for the nomination. I guess a lot of people thought Ford was just an extension of the irksome Richard Nixon. So they opted for a fresh face – Jimmy Carter.
Four years of bungling followed: a “misery index” of double-digit inflation and interest rates, gas lines, and unemployment around 10 percent. Gee … this sounds familiar.
By 1980, Carter stepped down due to illness and fatigue – America was sick and tired of him. Thirty-plus years later, I still am.
During eight years of the Reagan administration, the nation created some 20 million new jobs and the median family income rose every year. It was the greatest peacetime economic expansion in our history.
Yes, I’ve heard the fatuous complaint the deficit ballooned during the Reagan years. When Reagan drastically cut marginal tax rates, all kinds of money started flowing into Washington as business began to invest in itself again. The deficit came from Congress, who saw all that money and decided to go on a spending spree. Much like today, but the money is fabricated out of thin air.
I’m still amazed at the amount of irrational hatred that was spewed at Reagan by the media and the progressives. It reminds me of another political lightning rod who is getting the same treatment. And neither of them deserves it.
I wish I had Reagan’s gentle ability to listen to someone’s hateful rant, then chuckle and tell them they needed a hug and a cookie. He knew that adults didn’t act like that.
I believe what ultimately made Reagan great was his Christian faith. His belief in God provided him with purpose, that life has meaning. And that faith gave him a fervent sense of purpose, that America was founded to shine the light of freedom to all mankind.
He believed that “Providence,” as defined by the Founders, charged us to play a role for good on the world stage, with or without the approval of “world opinion.” That’s important to remember in a contemporary world that’s primarily run by tin-pot dictators, assorted thugs and kleptocrats.
That happy optimism stayed with Reagan until the end of his life in 2004. Ten years earlier, he announced he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. “I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.”
Even as he knew his memory would soon be gone, Reagan could say “When the Lord calls me home, whenever that day may be, I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future.”
That’s why I observed his 100th birthday. And that’s why I’m proud to call myself a Reagan Conservative.
Well done, sir – requiescat in pace. I’ll see you soon.