First published in the Messenger, February 1, 2008:
February 6th would have been Ronald Reagan’s 97th birthday. When I first wrote about Reagan’s legacy over a decade ago, conventional wisdom held that the Gipper was an affable and charming leader; the Great Communicator, who used his skills as an actor to guide America through the upbeat 80’s. I argued at the time that Reagan’s legacy had more to do with his substance than his style; more to do with his ideas and conviction than with his warmth and humor. Now, nearly twenty years removed from Reagan’s time in office, history has taken note of his greatness.
I’m gratified that Ronald Wilson Reagan’s place in history has grown over the years, because I’m a bit biased. I’ve been a Reagan fan since I was seven. I got the afternoon off from school to go see the former Governor of California at a campaign stop in downtown Hillsboro. Growing up around the First in the Nation Primary has its perks. I remember shaking the hand of the man who would be one of America’s greatest Presidents. In fact, the campaign poster he signed for me that day has followed me from job to job over the past fifteen years, slightly faded over the years, but still inspiring.
My admiration for the man grew as I grew to understand the ideas Reagan promoted. He spoke of freedom not as a cliché, but as a basic right of all people and a guiding principle for government. He stood up to an Evil Empire, and challenged it to tear down the wall that trapped millions in tyranny. He renewed America’s faith in itself, and was never ashamed about the economic, political, and military strength that we possess. He always saw America as a shining city on a hill. And he relied on this strength to win the Cold War, as he knew that the Soviet Union could not hope to match our combination of freedom, democracy, and capitalism.
As we mark Reagan’s birthday, remember the anecdotes; asking the doctors removing an assassin’s bullet if they were all Republicans, and later telling Nancy that he forgot to duck; promising Walter Mondale not to use his opponent’s youth and inexperience against him; and reminding Nashua Telegraph Editor Jon Breen that “I paid for this microphone.” Remember Reagan’s charm. Remember Reagan’s humor. But please, remember the core values that Ronald Reagan promoted, and the strength of character he showed by sticking to them.
Happy Birthday, Mr. President.