Jan. 20, 2009
January 20, 1981
Surveying a world that had grown increasingly violent and arbitrary, in which freedom everywhere was in retreat, in which America itself seemed to be held hostage, Ronald Reagan reaffirmed our commitment to constitutional government. The peaceful, orderly transition of that day, he said, was normal for Americans, but for others it was "nothing less than a miracle." Under Jimmy Carter, Americans were told they had to prepare for a future that would be colder, darker, and poorer, an America in which their children would lead lesser lives. A malaise stalked the land. Media chin pullers and professional deep thinkers lectured the people that the Presidency was too big for any one man. Well, it was too big for their one man, but not for Ronald Reagan.
Perhaps Reagan remembered Churchill's poem, broadcast to America when Britain braved the Nazi blitz: "Westward look, the land is bright!" For the first time in our history, the Inauguration was taking place on the West Front. Reagan the Californian wanted us to look out from the West Front of the Capitol to the history represented on the Nation's Mall. As he looked over that scene, he paid tribute to the giants of our past--Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln." Whoever would understand in his heart the meaning of America will find it in the life of Abraham Lincoln."
Reagan spoke unabashedly about his faith in God. He expressed his gratitude for all the prayer meetings that were taking place throughout America to consecrate the day. Every Inauguration Day, he said, ought to be a day of prayer.
Within weeks, Reagan would need the prayers of all Americans in an urgent way. At age seventy, he nearly fell victim to an assassin's bullet. "Honey," he told his wife in a widely quoted quip, "I forgot to duck." Few then knew how close Reagan came to dying just sixty days into his Presidency. After he recovered, he joined with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who had narrowly escaped an IRA terrorist bomb, and with Pope John Paul II, who had himself been shot by a Soviet-backed assassin. Together these three outstanding leaders worked to lift the Iron Curtain and bring down the Berlin Wall. With faith and courage, they changed the world.
We can still do this. "Why shouldn't we believe this? After all, we are Americans," Reagan said that memorable day.