Sunday is what would have been President Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday. This milestone will be observed by many, especially the Young Republicans of Richmond Hill High School. But why do millions see Reagan as such a great president? What made him so successful, and why is this occasion worth celebrating?
Certainly, Reagan’s stature has grown in the years since he left office, but as president, he enjoyed great popularity, too. In his re-election bid in 1984, Reagan won the largest electoral landslide in history, winning 49 states.
Once in office, Reagan operated with a laser-like focus in implementing his core beliefs: American greatness; small government; and the defeat of Communism. By utilizing the application of military, economic and moral pressure, the president was able to set into motion the collapse of the Soviet Union and win the Cold War.
Reagan, while diplomatic, was often antagonistic – at least to opponents of freedom. In a 1983 speech given to the National Association of Evangelicals, Reagan is remembered for calling the Soviet Union “The Evil Empire.” The Berlin Wall was the concrete symbol of the divide between the oppressive communist regimes of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union and the free democracies of the west.
Reagan had crafted a hard-hitting speech in which he called out the Communists, and numerous advisors had urged the president to remove a particularly incendiary line. Of course we all know the line he triumphantly delivered: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Just a few years later, the wall did come down as Communism crumbled in Eastern Europe, and in 1991, the Soviet Union. In commemorating the end of the Cold War and Reagan’s victory over Communism, the city of Berlin donated a large chunk of the wall to the Ronald Reagan Library in California.
Reagan not only fought Communism with oratory but challenged it at every turn in every situation that presented itself. Sensing that the Communist regime in Poland was beginning to crack, Reagan worked with none other than Pope John Paul II in a successful effort to strengthen the underground Catholic Church there. Reagan believed the church could be a catalyst in toppling the Soviet-led Polish government.
He also worked closely with other ideological partners, especially British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whom Reagan called not only an ally but a friend. “The Iron Lady” and Reagan built upon the “special relationship” between the U.S. and the United Kingdom.
Communists were not the only targets of Reagan’s efforts to spread freedom. He took on dictators and despots who in any way threatened freedom or the U.S. Reagan sent in the Marines to rescue the tiny island nation of Grenada from a Cuban takeover. He bombed Libya in retaliation to its support of terrorism. He strongly supported Israel in its fight to survive. Even Iranian revolutionaries understood they had a formidable adversary in Reagan. As he was being sworn in on Jan. 20, 1981, 52 American hostages who were held captive for 444 days were released.
Yet, another reason we celebrate Reagan was his success in rescuing an ailing economy and for his ability to make our country believe in itself again. In his first inaugural address, he stated that “Government is not the solution to the problem, government is the problem.” He then set about reducing the size of government.
His economic policy was one that placed emphasis on the individual’s ability to prosper and succeed without the intrusion of government and the burden of high taxes. Reagan enacted a large tax cut, reduced regulation, and dramatically lessened the burden of government on small businesses. This juiced the American economic engine and resulted in dramatic drops in inflation, unemployment and interest rates. The U.S. enjoyed an unprecedented period of economic expansion and growth that lasted more than a decade.
“The Gipper” was known to many as a citizen politician who ran in response to a government that was out of touch with common people, and who truly understood the encumbrances the middle class had to deal with as a result of massive entitlement programs.
A large measure of Reagan’s success was his unapologetic patriotism. He firmly believed that America was the most awesome nation on earth and often described it as “the shining city on a hill.” He often recounted how he had achieved the American dream. Reagan came from a working class family with an alcoholic father. He worked in the summers as a lifeguard and enrolled not at an elite institution but at modest Eureka College in Illinois.
When he didn’t get the job he had applied for at Montgomery Ward, he happened upon a radio announcer job and later went on to become a successful actor. He was viewed by his colleagues even in his early days as a leader and was elected as president of the Screen Actors Guild. From there he went on to become governor of California and, of course, the 40th president.
Reagan passed in 2004, but his legacy lives on. He knew what he believed in, didn’t waver in the face of opposition and insisted America was indeed special. Americans of all political stripes appreciate what he did for our country and the world. And in his extraordinary life and accomplishments, today’s leaders can find many solutions for our current problems at home and abroad.
He championed, above all, freedom, but warned that “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” The Richmond Hill High School Young Republicans seek to preserve, for the next generation, that freedom. Join us in celebrating the Reagan Revolution.
The column was written and submitted by the Young Republicans Club of Richmond Hill High School.