A Look Back At Reagan

I wasn’t going to write any more about Reagan today until I realized that tomorrow is the anniversary of D-Day. Tomorrow is a day for the veterans of WW2 and the people who currently serve in the military. I won’t be writing about Reagan tomorrow at all. If I do post it will be about D-Day or some thanks to the troops. However, today is Reagan’s day.

As is often the case, Jeff says it best: “You gave us back our dignity. Rest in peace.”

When Reagan was elected I was in seventh grade and twelve years old. I sat in Mrs. Hogue’s English class and watched Reagan’s inauguration and saw the plane with the Iranian hostages either leave Iran or land in America about 30 minutes later; can’t remember which. Reagan had made it clear to the mad mullahs that the hostages would be returned or Iran would suffer terrible consequences, of the military variety.

By the time I was in college in the late 80s, I was fully aware of how far we had come in the preceding few years. Reagan inherited a country from a political Left that had forgotten their roots (Hubert Humphrey, Scoop Jackson, JFK) and said, seriously, that our best days were behind us. The Right, such as it was, was either corrupt or inept. One of my earliest memories was Nixon leaving just ahead of the articles of impeachment. Reagan changed that and, of all people, Bill Clinton understood that you can’t get elected President anymore without being able to convey hope to the American people. That goes a long way in explaining Bill Clinton’s success as President. He did move to the middle on some important issues – trade, welfare reform, to a lesser extent foreign policy – but it was his ability to convey hope that made him successful. Our best days are not behind us and that’s still the case.

Even as young as I was, I had a feeling for how despondent our country was in the seventies. I was a business major as an undergrad and had a commercial law professor who was a genuine leftist. He had hated seeing Reagan win – both times – but even he had to grudgingly admit that Reagan had transformed the country. When I get accused of Reagan worship, I find it easy to laugh off. My memory is clear enough to know what he did for this country and I’ll be eternally grateful. He defeated communism, deregulated the economy and endured – without pressuring the Fed – a recession that was engineered to kill off inflation. That recession was the worst since the Great Depression, but was completely necessary to kill off inflation and inflationary expectations, thus altering people’s behavior. They became more rational economic actors over the long term because monetary stability returned.

We went from high unemployment and high inflation to low unemployment and low inflation and Reagan guided us through it, so much that he won re-election massively. It was one of the biggest ass-whippings in electoral history. In spite of a terrible recession he convinced the American people to hope again and all of our successes since then are a product of what was done then. To the extent that a President does have control over the economy – not much in my estimation – Reagan performed superbly through deregulation, tax cuts and having the political will to talk directly to the American people and give them hope in trying times.

His defeat of the Soviet Union is still a matter of dispute among some, but not me. It’s not a coincidence that the Berlin Wall fell less than a year after he left office. His defense buildup was remarkable, going all the way up to 6% of GDP during a time of fast economic growth and at a time of “peace”. In defiance of most of the population of Europe he convinced the West Germans to accept Pershing missiles as a move against the Soviet deployment of similar missiles in eastern Europe. You think Europe hates us now? They were convinced Reagan would get them incinerated in the early 1980s and the protests were massive. Never mind that it would be Soviet missiles that did the killing, we were supposed to sit back and let them deploy them and hope they wouldn’t use them. Reagan would have none of it.

Against the strenuous objections from the diplomats in his administration, he included the line, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”, in a speech in front of the wall in 1987. Two years later, after that wall had fallen, CNN was using it as a tag line beside the traditional James Earl Jones voice of “This is CNN”. He didn’t believe in small dreams and favored a moral foreign policy. He made it OK to love your country again, when the prevailing wisdom said no. He did more for us than we’ll ever be able to repay. That’s why he remains the best President of my lifetime. He gave us back our dignity and believed in this idea called America. His detractors called him a simpleton, but they were horribly wrong and we have the election results – and the economic results and the foreign policy results – to prove it.

Perhaps the moment that cemented my affection for him was the Challenger disaster. I would be graduating from high school in a few months and knew full well what was going on in the world. Again, in a moment of crisis, he was able to talk to the American people in a way that acknowledged the tragedy but allowed us to keep moving forward. As he said, they “slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God”. Today he did the same. Thank you, Mr. President. You won’t be forgotten.

UPDATE: See also Sgt. Hook, Silent Running, Darmon, Sean, Right Wing News and Poliblog.

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