By now you have probably noticed that America celebrated the 100th birthday the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan (1911-2004). The date was February 6, 2011. While it is good to honour a leader, Reagan was more than your average leader. He will be rated up there with Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt.
What made Reagan a great leader?
When Ronald Reagan entered the White House on 20 January 1981, America was in a big national slump. The economy was troubled, the nation had been humiliated by an Iran hostage crisis that lasted 444 days, and morale was low in the wake of the Vietnam debacle. Reagan came on the scene and, like Nehemiah of old, lifted the nation’s spirit to a new and higher level. This was due in no small part to his reputation as ‘The Great Communicator.’ America’s ‘Communicator-in-Chief’ had an amazing ability to connect with Americans of all ages, despite being nearly 70 years old at the time of his inauguraiton.
Focusing on the US economy, he unleased it to a point of unparalleled prosperity. Regarding the government, Reagan was a tireless proponent of ‘the smaller, the better.’ He believed large government stifled the economy and personal freedom. As the ‘Great Communicator,’ he sold his case convincingly.
One of Reagan’s greatest qualities -- something that is missing with so many leaders today -- is courage, conviction, and consistency. During his younger days, he was a Roosevelt Democrat who voted for FDR all four times. Then in 1964, he did an about-face. He realized that (enlarged) government was not the solution for all human ills ... indeed, it was part of the problem. So Reagan made a right-hand turn at the very time that America was turning hard left. Lyndon Johnson’s ‘Great Society,’ the advent of the sexual revolution and the hippie movement and general baby-boomer rebellion, where symptomatic of this leftist orientation. Being on the political right was not a way to enhance one’s career in Hollywood or in politics. Yet Reagan did it because he believed it was the ‘right way’ to go. Faithfully and courageously he clung to that conviction and eschewed expediency, whether it was fashionable or not. Reagan was consistent.
Reagan gave a speech at the 1964 Republican National Convention called ‘A Time for Choosing.’ This was Reagan’s debut as a limited-government conservative. Though the presidential candidate at that time, Barry Goldwater, lost the election to Lyndon B. Johnson by a landslide, Reagan speech gave him the platform to go on to be elected governor of California (1967-1974) and President in the United States in (1981-1989).
Reagan’s courage/conviction/consistency became evident during his battle with abortion. Reagan was unabashedly ‘pro-life’ and even wrote a book about it called Abortion and the Conscience of a Nation. His pro-life convictions were not universally shared, even by his cabinet or family. But he stuck to them because he believed they were right. A story is told how the budget a major sector of the US government was up for congressional approval and eventual Presidential signature. It is the 3rd largest budget in the world. Reagan announced that he would not sign it unless the ‘Hyde Amendment’ was attached. This amendment stipulated that taxpayer money could not be used to fund abortions unless the life of the mother was threatened. The Democrats were incensed; even a few Republicans were bemused. Reagan had no political capital to gain from his position. But it didn’t matter. He believed that the American people should not be forced to pay for something that is a controversial as abortion. Despite furious opposition publicly and private, Reagan stood steadfast. Congress stared at Reagan, Reagan stared back at Congress ... and Congress ‘blinked.’ The Hyde Amendment was attached. Reagan and the pro-life camp won the day.
Probably the area where Reagan showed the most consistency, conviction, and courage, had to do with the battle against communism. Reagan’s anti-communist stance dates all the way back to his Hollywood days as President of the Screen Actor’s Guild. At that time, it looked like the communists were ready to conquer Hollywood (could Tinsel Town’s perceived leftist inclination be traced back to those days?). So even back in the 1940s Reagan had his own personal ‘Cold War’ against the communist threat. He resolved to defeat this ideology in any way he could, not realising forty years later he would do so from the great vantage point of the White House itself. As President, he did not mince words, calling the Soviet Union ‘the evil empire.’ He worked overtime to undermine the Soviet Union at every turn, especially in the arms race, ‘star wars’ missile defense system, and working with leaders like British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II. At the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin in 1987, Reagan famously declared ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.’ Unlike his precedessors, who advocated detente (Reagan saw it as appeasement), he believed the only way forward was not co-existence but victory. ‘Here’s my strategy on the Cold War: We win, they lose,’ Reagan declared. And it worked! Months after he left office, the Berlin Wall was breeched and like a row of dominoes communism collapsed across Eastern Europe. The Cold War had been won without firing a shot.
While some Americans refuse to give Reagan credit for peacefully winning the Cold War, explain why people came from thousands of miles away from across Eastern Europe to Washington DC to pay respects to Reagan at the time of his funeral. ‘We want to honour the man who set our country free’ was their constant refrain. So even the citizens of the Eastern bloc won the Cold War ... and won their freedom as well.
Even on a personal level, Reagan displayed remarkable courage. Two months after he entered office, he was shot by John Hinkley. When his distraught wife, First Lady Nancy Reagan, entered his hospital room, he announced, ‘Honey, I forgot to duck.’ When the surgeon was about to operate, Reagan asked, ‘Doctor, I sure hope you are a Republican.’ The doctor ‘Mr. President, today ... we are all Republicans.’ The spirit of Reagan’s courage was contagious.
The ‘Reagan Revolution’ continued on long after he left office. In addition to the fall of communism in Europe, an earthquake occurred in the US mid-term elections of 1994, where the Democratic Party of President Bill Clinton lost the House of Representatives and Senate. The Republican freshman congressmen were Reagan’s ideological children and wanted to carry on his agenda. Until now, conservative politicians are claiming to carry Reagan’s mantle.
Sure, the Reagan era was no Millennium: there were record budget deficits and the Iran-Contra Scandal. But in a world that worships success, there is no question that Ronald Reagan succeeded in achieving his goals of economic and political freedom, both home and abroad. He did so in a manner that inspired Americans of all ages to believe in their nation and the future. In a day when we are desperate for leadership of conviction, courage, and consistency, this anniversary is an appropriate time to salute the memory of Ronald Reagan.