When I was born in 1982, Ronald Reagan had been president for almost two years. I was only six when he left office. Most of my knowledge of the recently deceased former president is based on second-hand accounts from the media and older people I know.
But what I have learned about Reagan is that he was a man of principle who believed that ideas had power. He believed that ideas were what moved the world and people to action.
The ideas he promoted were based upon freedom and faith. He believed that human beings did not need government to run their lives, and that God gave man a natural right to liberty.
It was these ideas of freedom and faith that caused him to oppose communism. He believed that the ideology — based on belief in an all-powerful state and disbelief in an all-powerful God — was an evil that must be purged from hearts and minds.
Reagan was a true Cold Warrior. During his acting days, the future president fought communists within the Screen Actors Guild. While in office, he confronted the Soviet Union by calling it what it was: an “evil empire.” He also built up our nation’s defenses while achieving arms-reduction agreements with the Soviets.
Along with former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II and other leaders, he helped lead the world to the end of the Cold War. Thatcher pointed out that Reagan “had a higher claim than any other leader to have won the Cold War for liberty and he did it without a shot being fired.”
At home, Reagan ended America’s malaise. After events such as the Vietnam War, Watergate and the Iran hostage crisis, Americans were losing faith. The 40th president’s fresh outlook and optimism gave Americans new hope and belief in their country. He assured them that it truly was “morning again in America” and that the country was “a shining city upon a hill.” They apparently believed him, because he won all but one state in his reelection bid, as well as the respect of politicians on both sides of the aisle.
Though “The Gipper” used his upbeat attitude, humor and skills as “The Great Communicator” to raise the spirits of Americans and lead them to believe in themselves again, he still had his share of critics.
Sure, he wasn’t perfect; no president has been or ever will be. The Iran-Contra affair pointed out Reagan’s lack of micro-management. Critics also noted that although the economy expanded and jobs were created while he was in office, big deficits were also created — arguably because of congressional overspending of new government revenue created from Reagan’s tax cuts.
Also, for all intents and purposes, the government really didn’t get any smaller during his administration.
But the key was that he led people to believe in themselves and not in government.
With all the problems that humans face, Reagan always remembered that government wasn’t the solution. In 1986, he said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help’.”
Those words summed up his belief that government was a hindrance to the growth of the individual. He believed that the individual, free from government interference, could reach his or her full potential if that individual believed in him or herself and worked hard to achieve his or her goals.
He himself was an example of that American dream. He grew up in a low-income family in Illinois with an alcoholic father. His mother was a God-fearing woman who taught him the values he would later champion. Reagan grew to be a successful radio announcer, Hollywood actor and both a two-term California governor and U.S. president.
After learning that he had Alzheimer’s, Reagan told the nation that he had begun what he called the journey that would lead him into the sunset of his life. The sun finally set on Ronald Wilson Reagan’s life Saturday afternoon after a 10-year bout with a disease that affects so many of the elderly. But thanks to his contribution to the world, Reagan’s memory will still shine bright.
Adam Fowler is a senior majoring in political science. email@example.com