Feb. 6, 2009
This is Ronald Reagan's birthday. The Gipper would have been ninety-eight. Last year, on the campaign trail, Barack Obama paid a tribute to the man they called the Great Communicator. He told liberal supporters he would be their Reagan. Backers of Hillary Clinton pounced. How could you say anything good about Reagan? But Obama held his ground. He said that Reagan was a transforming President. It was for that purpose that Obama was seeking the Presidency.
It's hard to imagine today how bad things were when Ronald Reagan clobbered Jimmy Carter in 1980. The economy was a shipwreck. The "misery index," that statistical combination of inflation plus unemployment, had been used by Jimmy Carter in 1976 as a stick to beat the hapless Jerry Ford. In 1976, it was 13.5, but by 1980, Carter's misery index had jumped to 20.8. Young couples couldn't buy a home. They were lucky if they could even get gas. Carter warned Americans to prepare for a future that would be colder, darker, poorer. It was a time of "malaise."
Carter spent days at Camp David conferring with his Cabinet. Then, he descended from the mountaintop to fire the lot of them, retaining only his young, inexperienced White House staff. Even a key liberal congressman was exasperated: "He's cut down all the tall trees and left the monkeys!"
Even worse was Carter's record on foreign policy. Millions of people in the Third World lost their liberty and tens of thousands their lives under Jimmy Carter. Communist-backed guerillas rampaged in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America. When Iranian jihadists invaded the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Carter dithered for 444 days as fifty-two Americans were daily subjected to beatings and threats of murder. Even the liberal media described the situation as "America held hostage."
Ronald Reagan swept into office in 1981 with confidence and courage. He coolly faced down Soviet threats and brushed off an assassin's attack with a hearty joke: "Honey, I forgot to duck." When Libyan jets threatened American planes in international waters, Navy brass asked the commander-in-chief how far they could pursue the hostiles. "All the way into their hangars," Reagan said.
Reagan slashed taxes and re-built our hollowed-out military. Americans were once again proud of the uniform and the flag it served. It was "Morning in America" as Reagan trounced Fritz Mondale in 1984, carrying forty-nine states.
President Reagan took a strong stand in defense of unborn children. He showed malice toward none. Yet the oldest of our Presidents appealed eloquently for the lives of the youngest of Americans.
Ronald Reagan was never ashamed of his faith. He braved media scorn when he proclaimed 1983 "the Year of the Bible." He told an Evangelical convention the Soviet Union was "an evil empire." With Pope John Paul II, he helped the believers behind the Iron Curtain push back against godless Communism. Reagan went to West Berlin. There, he publicly challenged Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall." He lived to see that ugly scar through the heart of Europe removed.
When he died in 2004, after a decade-long bout with Alzheimer's, even the liberal media was impressed by the American people's outpouring of feeling. As George Will said of him: "Reagan became the great reassurer, the steadying captain of our clipper ship. He calmed the passengers -- and the sea."
Today, we honor his memory. We thank our Lord for such a leader.