Remembering President Reagan

Monday, June 07, 2004
Remembering President Reagan

I met President Reagan twice, both times before he was President Reagan. Merely Governor Reagan. During both the 1976 and 1980 campaigns while he was in Florida I had the chance to meet him and talk with him for a few minutes each time. He was genuinely interested in what people said to him, even a child. It wasn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t an act. Kids are good at telling a phony, and he never was one. Not on the campaign trail or in office. He knew what he believed and stood by it.

In 1980, after staying up late watching the returns, we ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú my parents and I – broke open a bottle of ?¢‚Ǩ?ìGold Wasser?¢‚Ǩ¬ù from Germany to celebrate victory at last of the campaign for freedom that Barry Goldwater ran in 1964. During the 1976 campaign, I was the only grade-schooler who had a Reagan bumper sticker on my books. A fluorescent orange one, no less. Someone fighting for liberty is worth standing up for. He was the first person I voted for, for President, in 1984 – although I voted for him in 1976 and 1980 in spirit.

Human freedom increased worldwide during President Reagan?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s stewardship. He made a big difference in many people?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s lives around the world. He unabashedly espoused the cause of freedom whenever he could. He was one of the few 20th Century politicians who honestly believed what Patrick Henry said: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìbut as for me, give me liberty, or give me death.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Few contemporary politicians believe it. A few might mouth the words, but they will always later hedge their comments on liberty with ?¢‚Ǩ?ìprotecting people,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù ?¢‚Ǩ?ìsecurity,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù ?¢‚Ǩ?ìsafety,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù or ?¢‚Ǩ?ìfor their own good.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù A handful of politicians in the 20th century could be said to have been true friends of freedom, President Reagan was one. Sadly no other U.S. President since the Great Depression was. None even came close.

The cause of human freedom deserves President Reagan?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s kind of clear, principled, steady, leadership today. He never failed to acknowledge the evil of taking liberty. He stood up to the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìevil empire?¢‚Ǩ¬ù with courage and that pushed the Wall down. When you are defending freedom, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìkinder and gentler?¢‚Ǩ¬ù doesn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t work. Consistency and principles work. Compromising on liberty means losing liberty. For President Reagan there were no causes or goals that trumped freedom.

He understood freedom like few other national politicians: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìSafety?¢‚Ǩ¬ù or ?¢‚Ǩ?ìsecurity?¢‚Ǩ¬ù without freedom would still be tyranny and tyranny is always inherently unsafe; Tyranny, whether of the one or of the majority, is equally evil; Liberty is lost bit by bit; Liberty is extremely difficult to get back once lost; which is why defending liberty is the worthiest cause; accommodation of the Communists, Statists, Fascists, or Socialists means sacrificing the days of one individual’s life for another and that is inherently evil; Compromise with your own destroyers results in your destruction; our rights are ours?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ by birth, not grant; when you are attacked for taking a stand for liberty, you know you are on the right path. Reagan knew that either you preserve liberty while you have it or you would ?¢‚Ǩ?ìsentence [your children] to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

President Reagan always believed in the capacity of the American people to decide what was right for themselves; he didn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t condescend to them unlike most politicians since the 1930s. The American individual never needed to be babied. In short, he believed everyone should have the freedom to make decisions for themselves, even if they were wrong. He knew the nature of liberty is that people have to have the freedom to make good, neutral, or bad choices for themselves or they are really not free. He was never afraid to say that people are born with the right to be free, wherever they were in the world. The vitriol directed against him was invariably of a personal level. He was hated by some, hated because his beliefs gave power over your life to you, instead of some faceless power-hungry bureaucrat or politician. The greater the personal attack, the more he knew the power-hungry were threatened. An “amiable dunce” was the stereotype, yet seeing his writings, his quick wit, the expression of his beliefs, one knows that was anything but true. It was wishful thinking by liberty’s enemies. He had a simple answer to many problems – freedom to the individual solves lots of problems – but that did not mean he was simple. Believing in the power of a person to rule their own life is a simple concept, but difficult to practice and difficult for many elistists, statists, communists, and socialists to accept.

His clear voice has been missed for the decade since he announced he had Alzheimer?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s. No one has successfully taken up the banner of freedom on the U.S. national stage. Now, our 40th President?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s presence will be missed even more by those who admired his optimism, and his un-wavering commitment to restoring freedom to the American people. The void left by this leader will be felt even more acutely now.

President Ronald Wilson Reagan made a difference in my life with his example of principled defense of freedom. My father?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s discussions of then-Governor Reagan?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s views stirred my 7-year old interest in politics, history, philosophy, and the United States. For that, I thank them both. Now they can speak of politics together again.

Christian H. F. Riley, June 6, 2004

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[More on this topic in a future installment, but some was apropos here]