Today marks the 96th anniversary of the birth of the greatest president of the second half of the twentieth century, Ronald Wilson Reagan. As we remember this champion of freedom, we can always be stirred by his optimistic rhetoric and his positive vision for this great nation. Even during the most difficult moments of his presidency, he never gave up hope that we could solve our problems.
This good man helped end the Cold War and help lifted our nation out of the worst economic slowdown since the Great Depression. And he continues to inspire his party. All three leading Republican candidates for president in 2008, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and John McCain have invoked the name of this great man in their bids for the White House. Our man Rudy served Reagan in the Justice Department, first as Associate Attorney General, then as US Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
As usual, columnist Peggy Noonan, whom I have dubbed the Athena of punditry, offers a wonderful tribute to this great man, her former boss. In her piece, she includes a question a friend asked, “What do you think made him so likable to many who disagreed with him and who look back with nostalgia on his White House?” Peggy notes that “
It’s funny that people like to talk about this even though they know the answers:”
There was the courage to swim against the tide, to show not a burst of bravery but guts in the long haul. The good cheer and good nature that amounted to a kind of faith. The air of pleasure Reagan emanated on meeting others, and his egalitarianism. He thought everyone, from Nobel Prize winners to doormen, equal. Not that he wasn’t aware of status. When he stood behind Errol Flynn for a still photo to promote “Santa Fe Trail,” he knew of Flynn’s towering reputation. Between shots, Reagan kept quietly pushing little piles of dirt together. When he had a mound, he stood on it so that he was, literally, of equal stature. He told the story on himself for years because it was funny, and he believed in laughter. He was a little like Art Buchwald in this; he thought laughter was a value of its own. I think he thought that people who shared a laugh had in fact just voted for something together: something funny and human just got said or done.
Yeah, Peggy gets the Gipper. He was a man of strong convictions who had great respect for all people, even those who disagreed him. His was friendly with an ideological adversary, the Democratic Speaker of the House (for six of his eight years in office), Tip O’Neill. And he never spoke ill of his political opponents.
We could use a man of Reagan’s optimism — and vision — today. And while that great man is no longer with us, on this, his birthday, we can remember. Peggy’s column is a good place to start. And her two books on the Gipper, What I Saw at the Revolution: A Political Life in the Reagan Era and When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan, provide a more complete picture of the man whose vision continues to inspire the GOP rank and file. And should our party’s leaders return to his ideals and principles, we’ll regain our majority in Congress — and hold onto the White House in 2008.
UPDATE: To show how GOP presidential candidates are invoking Reagan, check out John McCain’s video tribute to the Gipper, where he attributes the GOP defeat in 2006 to losing sight of the Gipper’s principles.