As Americans prepare to celebrate and commemorate the life of one of our greatest and most popular presidents, Ronald Wilson Reagan, I am reminded of something said by the current White House occupant.
In Tucson he called for a return to civility. That said, I harkened back to when President Reagan could criticize specific policy and legislative proposals without sinking into the mud with name calling and personal attacks, and also enjoy a drink with then House Speaker Tip O’ Neill (D-MA).
Reagan was a man of genuine folksy charm. He could disarm political foes with the turn of a phrase, an amusing anecdote or a simple wink and a smile.
Proof of this was never more evident than during the October 21, 1984 presidential debate with Democratic nominee Walter Mondale when Reagan was asked about the age factor. After all, Reagan was 73 years old when he sought reelection. Reagan turned the tables saying, “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience,” to the complete roar and applause from the audience. Even Mondale cracked a smile.
Yet, Reagan could play hardball with the best of them. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” he implored regarding the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987. And with the release of the hostages held for 444 days in Iran, was there any question why that event coincided with the first inauguration of President Reagan? The Iranians certainly did not fear Jimmy Carter.
Above all, with Reagan the United States was getting a president, a Commander in Chief and a leader who would restore confidence in the American people, who would give people a reason to have pride in being American once again – a president who had a vision for a brighter future and a stronger America both at home and abroad.
Ronald Reagan did not put on airs and could certainly be stoic – delivering a most stirring speech upon the horrific Challenger explosion on January 28, 1986. “We mourn their loss as a nation together… We don’t hide our space program… We do it all up front and in public. That’s the way freedom is, and we wouldn’t change it for a minute. We’ll continue our quest in space…
“The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of earth, to touch the face of G-d,” concluded Reagan without the need for any embarrassing shout-outs.
Ronald Reagan was a leader not reliant upon poll numbers. Nor did he find it necessary to resort to referring to those on the other side of the aisle as enemies. Reagan was more intellectual, intelligent and curious then the credit given him by a media, that was, and remains, with little exception, left of center. There was no Fox News, Sean Hannity or Mark Levin.
Yet, President Reagan, in spite of the Democrat majority in the House during his two terms, managed to restore dignity to the United States. America once again became that “shining city on a hill,” as people returned to work while interest rates and tax rates began dropping.
“Common sense told us that when you put a big tax on something, the people will produce less of it. So, we cut the people’s tax rates, and the people produced more than ever before,” said Reagan on January 11, 1989 in his farewell address to America.
The United States must return to a more civil tone and discourse. The lessons learned from Ronald Reagan, the first president for whom I voted, are just as applicable now, if not more so, as we celebrate his centennial.
Words have meaning. Let’s use more of them, not fewer because somebody objects to certain words. When words fail, uncivilized behavior soon follows.
Ronald Reagan was never at a loss for words. Honor the memory of the Great Communicator and his spirit shall endure forever.
Sanford D. Horn is a writer and political consultant living in Alexandria.