Ronald Reagan spans post-World War II America like the Golden Gate Bridge spans San Francisco Bay.
No serious discussion of the man or his presidency can fail to acknowledge the immense change he brought to the economy, the defense of American exceptionalism, and the defeat of the Soviet Communism.
Regrettably, it has been fashionable in certain Republican circles to dismiss — sometimes subtlety, sometimes blatantly — Reagan as a relic of the 1980’s with little relevance to the new America. The first Bush Administration set the precedent for this public degrading of the Reagan Revolution about ten minutes after its 1989 inauguration. More recently, we have had a host of “big name” Republicans who have suggested that conservatives have an obsession with Reagan and are embellishing his legacy, and that the party needs to “move on.”
Another popular trend with many moderates, who don’t want to directly dismiss Reagan, but who want to pretend they are really “like him,” is to suggest that Reagan “could never win a Republican primary today, because he was too moderate for today’s conservatives or Tea Party Patriots.”
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is only the latest of many to attempt to foist off this line of political babble. Bush, a presumed presidential contender for 2016 has used this line frequently. Frankly, for Bush and other big name Republicans who are trying to re-invent President Reagan by the standards of their own weakness, it instead reveals their lack of seriousness intellectually and politically, not Reagan’s. (Interestingly, you never hear Democrat’s trying to dismiss FDR!)
On this week of his birthday – he’d be 103 year old – it’s worth recalling exactly who this man was, and was not.
First and foremost, Reagan was a teacher – a man who could carry a narrative into the public square – who over the thirty years prior to becoming President turned the ear of a whole generation to the foundational concepts of life, liberty and property at a time when cultural Marxism was at flood stage. It was Reagan who for all intents and purposes (with all due respect to William F. Buckley and so many others who labored hard in their lifetimes to re-establish conservatism) drove classical conservative ideas back into the mainstream of the culture, who called communism communism, who rallied middle America back into the fight for individual freedom, and who placed God in the center of his worldview.
Is it too much to say he saved constitutional government for another generation? Perhaps so; but it’s hard to see in the rearview mirror who, besides Reagan, could have rescued the nation, and joined with Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul to save the West.
Reagan was Tea Party before there was a Tea Party. And those who don’t think so simply have not familiarized themselves with his words, or listened to his speeches in his thirty years prior to 1980.
Reagan was an astute and extremely well read leader, who combined his grasp of the foundational classics with a keen eye on the human condition. His early religious upbringing and his adult battle with the organized communists in Hollywood only sharpened his understanding of the nature of evil contained in Socialism as an ideology specifically, and in the human heart generally. And yet, for all of that, Reagan was a sentimentalist and a traditionalist, slow to punish, and quick to forgive.
In short, Reagan knew what he was talking about and why he was talking about it, and didn’t have to pretend to be someone or something he wasn’t. That fact alone makes him largely unique in modern American politics.
What other leader in modern times would have withstood the pressure of the entire American foreign-policy establishment and walked out of the meeting with the Soviet dictator in Reykjavik, except Reagan?
But, above all of this, Ronald Reagan stood on the stage of the world as an American leader in the most descriptive sense possible. Perhaps unlike any twentieth century president except Truman, Reagan was an American in the most demonstrative ways possible; in attitude and outlook, in personality and demeanor, and in the uniquely American sense that he believed in our Divine destiny.
He touched the country class — the blue collar, the tradesmen, the shop keeper and the tailor. He touched the whole swath of Middle America, because he carried in him the seed our forefathers planted 238 years ago.
He believed in our goodness, and he believed God had positioned this shining city on a hill for such a time as this.
For this the left will always hate him; and the weaklings will always resent him.
Most of us will just have pride that he was ours for too short a time.
Virginian Mike Giere has written extensively on politics, foreign policy, and issues of faith. He is a former candidate for the U.S. House in Texas; worked for Ronald Reagan in ’76 & ’80; and served in both the Reagan and Bush (41) Administrations.