Today is Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday.
It is impossible to really say about most of our leaders, “greatest American President”. George Washington will always be first because, quite simply, without him there wouldn’t be a United States of America. No President will ever have to endure Lincoln’s trial. Both of those men are secure in our affections and can never be displaced – for all the rest of the Presidents the stakes have never been and never will be as high, and thus they cannot ever rise to the heights of Washington and Lincoln. But Reagan still stands apart from and above all those other Presidents.
It is hard to recall just how bad things were for the United States in 1980. Nothing was going right for America and no one seemed to have an answer for our troubles. Reagan became a beacon for all those who wanted to work and rebuild – people gravitated towards him and became enthusiastic food soldiers in a revolution because Reagan refused to bow to expert opinion which said we could never get out of the mess and could only hope to manage our decline. The turn around still astounds those of us who remember – with Reagan, we went from dispirited to confident in a matter of months.
True enough, the impetus of Reagan faded over time. He could not escape the slanders of the left and so by 1989 while national confidence was restored, faith in Reaganism had been greatly weakened. We, as a people, choose old, establishment George Bush for President, and followed that with a liberal hustler who told us what we wanted to hear – that we had won, everything was great and no further efforts need be made. We started to slowly undo what Reagan had done – we got back a bit of it in the patriotic aftermath of 9/11, but those who hated Reagan back in the 80’s swung in to action post-9/11 to ensure that any manifestation of Reaganite views were mercilessly hammered in the public square. By 2008, we were heading back in to exhaustion, again, and so fell for another liberal hustler who also told us what we wanted to hear.
But Reagan still lives on in those of us who remember 1980. It is why, even now, we quest for someone like him – we don’t know if Palin or Bachmann or Jindal or Christie or Pawlenty or Daniels or whomever will have what Reagan had…but that is what we are looking for. We know our nation can overcome all obstacles but we need leadership which will allow Americans to the American thing – strive and succeed against all odds. Reagan will live on in the hearts of Americans for all time – in the hearts of all those who firmly believe that decline is a choice and we can choose not to decline. Reagan reminded us back then and he reminds us today – only we can be the author of our own destruction.
And so while Reagan cannot displace Washington and Lincoln, it is wise to say, “Washington, Lincoln, Reagan” when pondering who has been vital to America. The first made the nation, the second preserved it, the third showed that renewing America is always an option – that we never, ever have to die out as a nation as long as men live in this world. We can go back to the well springs – back to Washington and the Founders, back to Lincoln and the trials of the Civil War – and find what we need to restore whatever we’ve lost through weakness, laziness or cowardice.
It all comes down, as Reagan could note, to what we choose to do:
Let us be sure that those who come after will say of us in our time, that in our time we did everything that could be done. We finished the race; we kept them free; we kept the faith.
Keep the faith, keep running the race. Reagan’s gift to us is just that – the knowledge that the doom sayers are wrong, always and everywhere. And for this gift, I am grateful and will be as long as I am in this world.