In the lead up to last Sunday’s 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth, many a media pundit, politician, and even President Obama have been channeling their inner Gipper, perhaps hoping the greatness of his presidency some 20 plus years ago can rub off on them today - as though by standing in the light they will somehow be mistaken for the sun.
As always, those who stood in harsh judgment of him while he was President have today again underestimated the man and his legacy.
The record of greatness of President Reagan was far more complicated. He entered office and was promptly handed an economy with nearly 12 percent unemployment and inflation at a stunning 20 percent. The Soviet Union was on the march globally, even into the Western Hemisphere, and the only solution to the “Evil Empire” seemed to be containment and accommodation. Iran had held American hostages. The world was at least as dangerous as it is today, while the economy and America’s spirits were worse.
Yet the “Great Communicator” knew what needed to be done, and he kept it simple without making it simplistic. The economy was stuck in wet concrete, so he cut taxes and reduced regulatory burdens, allowing American ingenuity to take hold and create an unprecedented 20 years of economic expansion and prosperity.
He called out the Soviet Union for what it was and then proceeded with a strategic military buildup that drew no quarter and made no excuses. As he once said, “Here is my plan for the Cold War. We win; they lose.” And in all of his hard fought battles he focused on the policies, not the personalities.
In a 2009 Gallup poll, the American people ranked him as the best president. Was it because he was likable? Yes. Was it because he promoted freedom in his domestic policies and strength and liberty in his foreign policies? Indeed.
But it was more than that. It was his uncanny ability to create a vision of America and remind us why we were here and why this nation mattered. Those who seek to stand in his light today should be careful that in trying to do so, they don’t instead end up in the shadows of his greatness.