Sunday, February 6, 2011

100 Years Young: The Reagan Centenary

Lots of talk out there about Ronald Reagan's 100th birthday (he was part of the "Taft Boom," along with the Free Will Grandparents), but if you want to read just one essay, you can't do worse than this Steven Hayward piece about the Reagan presidency and its connection to the Statue of Liberty
Reagan formally launched his 1980 campaign on Labor Day across from the Statue of Liberty, and his entire speech made reference to the "Great Lady" in the background. Reagan's upraised arm looks almost like a mimic of the Statue's countenance, and perhaps this was not a coincidence.

In that speech Reagan referred to "the torch that many times before in our nation's history has cast a golden light in times of gloom." He closed out the speech with the phrase, "Let us pledge to each other, with this Great Lady looking on, that we can, and so help us God, we will, make America great again."

It is important to note, though, that in 1980 the Statue of Liberty, like the nation, was in serious disrepair. It was corroded and rusting; there were rust holes all the way through in places. The paint was peeling. Structural engineers warned that the arm bearing the torch was in danger of falling off. It was swaying dangerously in the strong winds that blew off the ocean.

In other words, the condition of the statue was a perfect metaphor for Jimmy Carter's America.

During Reagan's first term, the statue underwent a complete renovation. It cost $350 million--every penny privately raised. Who says only the government can do large things? The great Lady of Liberty didn't need a "stimulus" bill to get fixed up.

Reagan presided over the unveiling of the refurbished statue in 1986, a bit past the halfway point in his presidency. His approval ratings were at an all time high, as the economy was booming. In his remarks before throwing the switch to turn on the nighttime spotlights, Reagan said: "We are the keepers of the flame of liberty. We hold it high tonight for the world to see, a beacon of hope, a light unto the nations."

I was 10 years old when Reagan became president. He was, by miles, the best president of my lifetime. Even at the elementary school level, we were aware that Jimmy Carter's America was one beset by energy shortages, double digit inflation, hostage crises, and a Death Wish style urban environment. Not only that, liberals actually seemed to enjoy all of this misery, whether inflicted by Communists in the Third World or by themselves in the US of A. When Reagan came into office, Americans knew that things were going to change for the better. So did Reagan's opponents. That's why they spent their time during the Eighties and after trying to recast his presidency as little more than David Stockman, Oliver North and "I just ordered a missile attack against the Soviet Union." But we knew the truth and in the years since, the truth has won out.

Mark Levin spent three hours last Friday playing soundbites from Reagan's career. It was one timeless quote after another, all on the themes of freedom, opportunity, and America. He may have been the Great Communicator, but so much of what he said seems so obvious, both then and now. Yet, so few American politicians are able to do the same. A Clinton or Obama supporter would never be able to fill three hours of radio time with similar quotable quotes (the Bridge to the 21st Century??) Indeed, it's inconceivable. Will an aging David Axelrod be cuing up portions of Obama's "Cairo Speech" 30 years from now? Even now events are diminishing the "Progressive Reagan's" legacy, something that never happened to the real thing.

Every president has ended his addresses to the American people with a heartfelt "God Bless America." But when Reagan said it, you got goosebumps because you knew that, at least for those 8 years, He did.


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