Tuesday was former President Ronald Reagan’s 90th birthday. As we move forward into the new century, it is fitting that we reflect on the remarkable life he lived, the bold leadership he offered our nation and the world at the crossroads of history and the powerful vision of America he left as his legacy.
Ronald Wilson Reagan was born above his father’s store in Tampico, Illinois in 1911. His life embraces the quintessential American experience. He worked as a lifeguard, sportscaster, actor, soldier, union leader, businessman and politician. He worked his way through college, broke into broadcasting and surprised everyone by being one of the greatest presidents of the American century. His life is marked by the thousands of Americans he came into direct contact with throughout his years. This contact fostered an unshakeable belief in the particular greatness of the American people. He was able to lead us because he had walked in our shoes.
Others have lived similarly remarkable lives, but few have impacted the course of world history as much as Reagan. His faith in humanity and his belief that all people should be free drove his political career and his presidency. He worked to free the American people from an expanding and unwieldy government and to free the people of the world from Communist oppression.
Reagan’s presidency certainly had its failings. First among these must be the deficit spending that was the cost of massive military expansion. Reagan also personally lamented his inability to prevent the entrenchment of abortion.
Despite these shortcomings, no one did more than Reagan to restore America’s faith in itself, to end communism, or to reverse the tide of statism that had dominated American politics since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society initiatives of the 1960s.
In the decade before Reagan’s election, America had lost its way. With the disillusionment of Vietnam, Watergate, the energy crisis and a startling, “stagflation” driving a recession, we as a nation were left wandering in the darkness. The Soviet Union rattled its saber while the western world trembled. Americans were hostages in the Middle East. Many scholars seriously argued that the American republic could not survive.
Reagan reminded us of the greatness at the heart of America. He led a stunning economic recovery and a massive military modernization. He recommitted our nation to fighting communism calling the Soviet Union an “evil empire.” He cemented our alliances in Europe and reaffirmed our commitments to the Western Hemisphere. Most importantly, he inspired the people of the U.S. to once again believe in our own greatness and in the righteousness of our mission to protect the freedom of others.
When Reagan left office in 1989, the Soviet Union was unable to keep up with America’s military expansion, and its attempts to do so hastened the erosion of its rotting core. At home, America completed the most remarkable economic recovery since World War II. Reagan’s visions of welfare reform, free trade and a efficient government have become accepted realities. He led us back from the brink and on to greatness.
As President Reagan’s health deteriorates as a result of Alzheimer’s disease, it seems his truest benediction came from Reagan himself as he left office. He concluded, “And as I walk off into the city streets, a final word to the men and women across America who for eight years did the work that brought America back – my friends, we did it. We were not just marking time. We made a difference. We made the city stronger. We made the city freer, and we left her in good hands. All in all, not bad, not bad at all.”
-The writer is in the five year BA/MA program for political science.