Let me finish tonight in what I believe is an important statement on the Presidency of Ronald Reagan.
I should start with a pair of complaints.
I think the stewardship of this planet is vital - literally - to the living things upon it - that includes us. Since we are the only thinking beings on it, we have the innate duty to protect it. I don’t think Ronald Reagan took that duty to heart. It got in the way of his belief of unbound free enterprise. Honestly, I don’t see how we can call “free” enterprises that destroy the very environment in which such freedom lives.
I also don’t think Reagan grasped what it’s like to be a regular working American. I’m not talking about success stories like him. I’m talking about regular people who work for a paycheck, live with the vicissitudes of cutback and lay-offs and get stuck in places where there are scant options for making it.
I don’t think he had a bad heart. He just didn’t open his eyes to the fact that some people need that safety net - need Social Security, need Medicare, need help with tuition bills or other breaks in life and that government is the one institution there to insure those things.
These two powerful impediments taken into consideration, I say three good things about Ronald Reagan that will place him high in our history books - and should.
His personal story is magnificent. He took the hits that came with life - a bad first marriage that was not his fault, a Hollywood market for stars that can be short-lived in its favors, a TV business than can be almost as tough, a political world that can be very tough, extremely tough on those who don’t chart their courses in familiar channels.
He surmounted all these challenges to build a great life and career and, most important, to offer America a leader it needed and has come to revere.
For what he did in bringing the Cold War to a close there can be no denials, no tut-tutting, not but-butting. He saw the opportunity. He saw what was happening in the Kremlin.
He took the measure, personally, of a Soviet leader, and that made all the difference.
He saw the galloping horse of history pass within range and leapt upon it when no one else on the right had the daring to do it and, let’s be straight here, it had to be someone of the right to jump into that particular saddle just as it took Charles DeGaulle to hop aboard that plane to Britain in 1940, leaving Vichy and the others of his country who could not see history’s arrival.
President Reagan did something else. He was a tremendous chronicler, not of the details of our history - no - but of its theme - its character. Through the Great Depression and World War II and the great, long struggle against Communism he heard our music even when it faded. He saw the beauty in what we believe of ourselves - a country of freedom and opportunity that can be - has been when it counts this past century - a land of courage. It’s an American legacy to be deeply, deeply proud of, all in all. Ronald Reagan, the man, made us feel this pride because he felt it himself.