Last Sunday, America celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of President Ronald Reagan. From General Electric commercials excitedly gushing about their original spokesman, to Sarah Palin tweeting up a storm, to Super Bowl tributes, to the “Ronald Reagan Honeymoon Package” ($1200 to spend a night in Ronald and Nancy Reagan’s honeymoon bed), America has whipped itself into a celebratory frenzy that is perhaps a touch too comically commercialized. Nevertheless, on the occasion of Reagan’s 100th birthday, it is worthwhile to evaluate and reflect upon the presidency of this extraordinary man.
If you know next to nothing about Reagan, you can probably still attribute two phrases to him — phrases so ingrained in our national consciousness that they are a defining element of what it means to be American. The first is “Morning in America.” In 1980, the winds of decline and despair ravaged our country. A weak and feckless commander-in-chief whimpered that our best days were behind us. Muslim extremists had brazenly captured fifty-two Americans, ruthlessly imprisoning them in the bowels of the American Embassy in Tehran to spite a nation on its knees. International communism had reared its ugly head, and the Soviet Union was flexing its muscles. Was America, like so many before it, a superpower collapsing under its own weight?
Though his foes disparaged him as a cock-eyed optimist, naïvely peddling feel-good patriotism, Reagan shattered their insults. “It’s morning in America,” he proclaimed. With vigor and determination, he convinced the American people that the future was ours for the taking. Reagan’s bright spirit, steady hand and battle-tested resolve inspired a nation to pick itself up by the bootstraps and stand tall.
Known universally as the Great Communicator, Reagan once famously remarked: “I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things.” In fact, both were true. The second of the two aforementioned phrases encapsulates this reality. On June 12, 1987, a steely president stood at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and thundered: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” That simple command must not be labeled trite, for it was a clarion cry that the United States would not compromise on securing, liberty and justice for all God’s people. With Reagan, Americans had a president who said what he meant, and meant what he said. And sure enough, that wall came tumbling down.
It is evident that much of America now reveres Ronald Reagan as one of its greatest presidents in history. Democrats and Republicans alike sing his praises. Washington National Airport bears his name. The California legislature recently recalled one of its two contributions to the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall, replacing it with one of Reagan, a former California governor. In the seven years since his death, the myth of Ronald Reagan has become a uniquely American story. This is a well-deserved honor, but must not come at the price of whitewashing history.
It is all well and good for President Obama to sing Reagan’s praises, but the fact is that Reagan was a conservative warrior, which must never be forgotten. Reagan would be horrified by today’s leftists and their obsession with eroding national security, jacking up taxes and apologizing for American greatness. “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” Reagan famously quipped. We as Americans must demand Reagan’s common-sense conservatism from our leaders, especially the coming deluge of presidential candidates. Today, America cries out for another Reagan Revolution. We need leadership to focus on robust national security and fiscal conservatism, and to embrace American exceptionalism.
At the same time, Reagan was renowned for his genteel and amiable manner. He famously worked with Democrat Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil for years. Reagan did not let party labels impede cooperation between any Americans who wanted a stronger future for our country. His fundamental civility and decency are sorely lacking in modern American politics.
In his farewell address, President Reagan stated: “Whatever else history may say about me when I’m gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears; to your confidence rather than your doubts.” And so he did. Mr. President, a grateful nation wishes you a happy birthday.
Sam Dulik is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. He can be reached at [email protected]. QUORUM CALL appears every other Friday.
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