Sunday, June 6, 2004

Req. in pace, Ronald Wilson Reagan, 40th President of the United States


Brotherdear called asking if I had seen the news, and I knew pretty much as soon as he asked what he was talking about. I had read yesterday that it appeared Reagan had taken a turn for the worst, and the concern in Brotherdear's voice for my mental state could only mean that Reagan, my idol since I was nine years old, had passed away.

I cried for Reagan tonight. Aw, hell, he's in a better place, the tears were for me. For Nancy. For all of us.

I was nine when Reagan won the Presidency. Iran, a pissant little country led by a bunch of hooligans fresh from the middle ages had taken 54 Americans hostage and held them for over a year. Inflation was in double digits, and my Dad had been out of work for what seemed like forever. Topping it off, I was a fat little kid with white hair who was regularly threatened with death in my new school. All of this was Carter's fault (even the white hair and the threatened beatings). In rides Reagan.

Ronald Reagan spoke to me that year. He understood the role of the President. The people don't need some sourpuss jackass who gets on the television, spends eleven paragraphs telling America it's screwed, and by way of solution four sentences basically saying "have faith". And, what's more, a sourpuss who looks like he's sucking a lemon suffused with goat piss. Yeah, that's what we need.

Reagan was an actor. So what. I'm married, I have a job, I have kids: I pretend all the time. We're all actors. Reagan was just better at it than the rest of us. And his best role, The role of his lifetime, was that of President. When asked in 1966 what kind of a Governor he would be, Reagan said "I don't know, I've never played a Governor." Well, I'm pretty sure Anthony Hopkins had never played a sociopathic cannibal before winning the Best Actor Oscar in 1991. He just nailed the role. Just like Reagan did.

Reagan was the right man at the right time. We needed, after four ungodly years of Carter (gas lines, inflation, unemployment, canceled Olympic appearances, military advances by the Russian bear) a radical change in direction. Reagan was that fresh wind.

He became the standard bearer for the Conservative Cause, but he governed pragmatically -- getting half a loaf rather than going hungry. He frustrated the Bejeesus out of Democrats, probably for the same reason Republicans went bananas over Clinton: the people loved them, even when they disagreed with them. There was a magnatesim to Reagan that was compelling, just like Clinton. And like Clinton, Reagan understood that the best use of a President is to set a tone -- not to engage in the minutae of government, a la Carter.

He delivered a script the American people were dying to hear. Better times were ahead, don't look back except for inspiration, and buckle up. Carter spoke of lesser glories; of belt-tightening and settling. Reagan spoke always in the positive, didn't dwell on the negatives, and focused America's attention on what should be done, not what couldn't be done.

He made me proud to be an American. I remain so. I am happy for him that his long day's journey has reached its end. I feel very sad for his wife, with whom he was so completely in love. I feel sad for us, as we lose a leader, but I am hopeful that his death at this time will lead to an examination of his life, and that our current crop of politicians may remember the simple truths that sustained and informed his tenure in public life:

Never doubt the strenght of American will and the power of American ingenuity.
Always look forward to a future that will be brighter than today.


Here's something telling, CNN is treating today's news as a solemn event, arguing about the legacy of Ronald Reagan. FOX is going with the Irish wake: an appreciation of the man; his triumphs, faults, and foibles.

Lou Cannon, who covered Reagan for years, both in California and in Washington, wrote an excellent obituary for the Wastington Post, online here (requires registration, which is free).

Go read it. And go read National Review's The Corner, which has an excellent round-up of people's reactions to Reagan's passing.

Information on the President's Funeral Arangements may be found at the Military District of Washington website.


From his goodbye address to the nation in 1989:

"I wasn't a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn't spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation -- from our experience, our wisdom and our belief in the principles that have guided us for two centuries."

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