On this day, 98 years ago, Ronald Wilson Reagan was born.
From the beginning days of his life and throughout his Hollywood career no one would have imagined Ronald Reagan to be a future President. But fate is much like the American spirit. It is surprising.
Our spirit is endless and it is the thing stories are made of. Our great American spirit keeps us going and keeps us moving forward despite any and all obstacles.
The American spirit was what gave birth to Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
Down and out economically, with double digit inflation and unemployment rates, our nation was in the doldrums. Domestically our financial situation was dire and in an ever declining downward spiral..
Internationally we were in the midst of a Cold War game riddled with Soviet deceit and imperialism. Cuba was in the midst of the Marielle boat lift and Castro was casting tens of thousands of his island nation’s worst criminals and criminally insane citizenry to our shores.
In the Middle East, fellow American citizens were held hostage as Islamic extremists took control of oil rich Iran and overran our embassy.
We were a people struggling to stay above water while losing jobs, losing money and losing our ability to secure freedom and defend it from communism. We were in disarray and each time we tried to pull ourselves out of the misery index we were in, things got worse. Unemployment would rise a bit more, production would go down and taxes would go up. It seemed hopeless and then on April 24th, 1980 we woke up to the horrific news of a botched attempt at getting our hostages out of Iraq.
In a covert operation, above the sands of the Middle East , helicopters being used in the rescue mission crashed, wounding four American servicemen and killing eight. The mission was aborted and it seemed that America was doomed to depression and failure.
As the year progressed, so did the election for President. A weak and tarnished President Carter even found himself in a rare challenge for re-nomination by his own Democrat party.
Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy tried to take Carter to task but by the time the Democrat’s national convention took place, it was clear that President Carter would be running for election as their standard bearer.
Republicans had their own race and in it was Ronald Reagan.
Four years earlier Ronald Reagan gave another sitting President a run for the nomination when he challenged President Gerald Ford for the Republican presidential nomination. Although it started off competitive, Ford did prevail but it set the stage for Ronald Reagan in 1980.
Although George Herbert Walker Bush initially took the wind out of Ronald Reagan’s sails, Reagan ultimately captured the G.O.P. nomination.
Along the way he also captured the attention and imagination of the nation.
At a time when we were down and seemingly out, Ronald Reagan spoke of an America that stood up for itself and stood up to our enemies. He spoke about an America that was once the greatest force for freedom the world ever knew but was now relegated to being held hostage to the whims of the rest of the world and vulnerable to an expansion of communism.
He spoke as to how it should and could be different. He made Americans realize that our people were not doomed, we were simply held back. Held back by of all things, government. Our government, a government consumed by misguided thinking, and a misguided philosophy.
Through debates and speeches and the poor results of Jimmy Carter’s liberal leadership, Ronald Reagan convinced people that they were not the problem, their government was. He convinced them that it was our government’s lack of will to stand up to Soviet aggression which was responsibile for its spread into places like Afghanistan.
He convinced people that it was government’s demonstrated lack of backbone which made our citizens susceptible to Mid East hostage taking.
Throughout the campaign Ronald Reagan allowed people to see that it was our governments overregulation of us which killed job markets, reduced income, raised prices, denied effective educations to our children and perpetuated policies of urban decay. He made people understand that it was government which was in our way and that with government out of the way, the American people, and our inherent entrepreneurial spirit, would lift us out of the days of malaise and into a better America, a more secure America, an America that we all knew we could be.
At a time when our spirits were down, like a cheerleader doing cartwheels with the band blaring and the crowd cheering , Ronald Reagan lifted our spirits and out of the lifting of our spirits was born his presidency.
On Election Day Jimmy Carter won the District of Columbia, and the states of Minnesota, West Virginia, Rhode Island, Maryland and Hawaii. His homestate of Georgia, which he once governed, even turned its back on Carter
Ronald Reagan won the 45 remaining states in the union including the state he once governed, California.
With 489 electoral votes, to Jimmy Carter‘s 49 electoral votes, Ronald Wilson Reagan became the 4oth President of the United States and so began the “Reagan Era” With its beginning came an immediate sense that things were going to get better.
As I watched President-Elect Reagan raise his right hand to take the oath of office, the television network had placed a ticking clock on the lower right hand of the screen. As Reagan began to utter the words to his oath of office, the clock ticked away and just after Reagan was sworn in as President, the clock passed 12 P.M. and it was official. Our Americans hostages were out of Iranian airspace and beginning their journey home. The fear of what a forceful President might do to those involved in holding our citizens hostage was enough to end the standoff.
444 days after having their freedom taken away, it was restored and just like those hostages, America was about to embark upon a journey that would rekindle our spirits, raise our hopes and restore our standing in the world.
It was not easy. Liberals chastised Ronald Reagan every step of the way. They called him a war monger and said he was old and out of touch. They even equated him to the devil.
Some claimed that he was the devil.
They said that his name, Ronald Wilson Reagan, was proof , because just like the numbers representing the devil, 6 6 6, each of the three monikers used in Reagan’s full name were comprised of 6 letters.
The outlandish charges, and innuendoes never dampened the spirit of Reagan.
In regards to criticism of his age, he replied “Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘We should never judge a president by his age, only by his works.’ And ever since he told me that, I stopped worrying.”
When it came to his aggressive stance against the Soviet Union and the arms build up that he stood for, Reagan said “Of the four wars in my lifetime, none came about because the U.S. was too strong.”
President Reagan signing the historic Tax Reform Act of 1986 with members of Congress and White House staff present on the south lawn. 10/22/86
Time and time again Reagan knew what to say, how to say it and when to say it.
When his message didn’t persuade Congress his way, he took his case to the people, won them over and called them into action to win their representatives over.
When Reagan took to the airwaves his message created a political army of active citizens who in turn influenced their representatives. It was a process that crossed party lines and even involved Democrat voters. The tens of millions of Democrats involved in this political army became known as Reagan Democrats and Reagan Democrats were everywhere from New York to Michigan and Florida to Texas, Minnesota, California and everywhere in between.
As the Reagan revolution took hold, our economy steadied and grew, inflation dropped, our military was rebuilt, our influence increased and our spirit was restored. America became a hopeful place once again.
It was not immune from darkness but we knew that no matter what came our way, we could endure and that our best days were still ahead of us.
We also knew that we could not just simply expect everything to come up roses.
Ronald Reagan made us understand that we had to stand up to aggression and that we could not sit idly by and let the enemies of freedom run amuck. Nor could we let the Soviet Union’s actions go unanswered.
It wasn’t always easy.
In 1983 America deployed peace keeping forces to help stabilize a war torn Lebanon.
After being expelled from Jordan, members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization took refuge there. What ensued was a constant clash of Christian and Muslim militias.
In 1982 Israel tried to eliminate the PLO and invaded Lebanon to take them on. A cease fire was eventually agreed to and part of that agreement included a peace keeping force involving Italy, France Great Britain and the United States.
For our involvement, today section 59 of Arlington National Cemetery is lined with 21 of the bodies of the 241 U.S. service members who were killed in their barracks by a suicide bomber.
On the 23rd day of October, 1983 we shed the blood of some of America’s first victims of middle east terrorism.
It was a day that would never be forgotten by the administration and it set in motion a posture that would not allow terrorist action against America to go unanswered.
In 1986 ,after a terrorist bomb in a Berlin nightclub killed two American soldiers was traced back to Libya, President Reagan ordered the bombing of Libya’s capital, Tripoli and the Libyan city of Benghazi.
On the Soviet front, President Reagan brought communism to it’s knees.
His aggressive arms build up forced the “evil empire” into escalating the Cold War to a level that they could not sustain. While this tit for tat game raged on, a rapid succession of deaths at the Kremlin saw the Soviets first lose long serving Communist leader Leonid Breznev in 1982.
Then, two years later Yuri Andropov suddenly died.
Less than one year after Andrpov dropped off, his successor, Constantine Chernenko kicked the bucket.
Following Chernenko’s demise, the old guard decided to turn to someone from a younger generation. Someone who might be able to hold on to life and office for more than a matter of months.
They turned to Mikhail Gorbachev.
Gorbachev knew his nation could no longer sustain itself by trying to keep up with Ronald Reagan’s arms build up. So he began to enter into meaningful negotiations, which along with Gorbachev’s national reforms of perestroika and glasnost, led to an end of Cold War hostilities and ultimately the collapse of the Soviet Union as we once knew it.
Through it all Ronald Reagan reinvigorated America, put it back on track, spared us from a possible apocalyptic clash between superpowers and helped bring about the end of the Cold War and defeat the evil empire .
But his legacy goes beyond victory over a nemesis. His legacy included a rethinking of the way nations had to confront war.
During his second term Reagan made a request that would revolutionize our approach to nuclear threats. It also was a major factor in the Soviet”s inability to keep pace with the U.S. in the Cold war.
He said “I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace: to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.”
That statement led to SDI, the strategic defense initiative. Some came to ridicule it by calling it star wars because, at the time, it seemed unrealistic to shoot down missiles before they hit us.
Back then, it may have seemed unrealistic but what once was Ronald Reagan’s thought, is quickly becoming today’s reality.
President Reagan speaking at a White House ceremony for Medical Students from St. George's School of Medicine in Grenada on south lawn. 11/7/83.
There were several other enduring aspects to the Reagan years.
For instance the Reagan Doctrine.
That ideological policy eliminated the isolationist thinking which prohibited the United States from taking an active roll in eliminating communism. As we did in Grenada, under Reagan.
He understood that we need to challenge our enemies before our enemies become too strong for us to stop.
That is a lesson we learned back then but seem to have a problem accepting today.
There were more long lasting, positive effects such as Reagan’s military build up which gave us the ability to properly defend ourselves and to deter aggression aimed at us. But the greatest legacy of Ronald Reagan is probably the lesson he taught us when he made it clear that the American people were not the problem, government was the problem.
He once said “Government is like a baby. An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other.”
Reagan knew that government had a purpose, and he knew that a government that goes beyond its purpose is a government that is destined to fail its people. And although he did restore our faith in government and the presidency after Jimmy Carter, he helped to restore our faith in something even more important than that, ourselves and our great American spirit.
From his surviving an assasin’s bullets to his speech calling for Mr. Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” at the foot of the Berlin Wall, Ronald Reagan was a true world leader and he was ours. He was an American original and he has helped to keep America strong in so many different ways.
His ability to restore America to its greatness and to leave us with a blueprint for future success is a gift almost as great as freedom itself and just as a fine wine improves with age, so too will his legacy as history unfolds.
“Politics is supposed to be the second-oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.”