June 9, 2004
By Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.
Conqueror of communism, sworn enemy of statism, leader of
unshakable conviction and contagious optimism, Ronald Reagan became
one of history's heroes long before his death.
At a time when patriotism was mocked, he exposed the bankruptcy of
modern liberalism and proved that true liberty is still a fighting
faith. And like all great presidents, he created a yardstick
against which future presidents will be measured.
President Reagan was not only congenitally optimistic; he could
talk "through the camera" to the American people, making each
viewer feel as if it were just the two of them. They were
comfortable with him -- and this made them comfortable with his
ideas. He had no need for spin doctors to convey what he "really
meant." His message of lower taxes, smaller government and a strong
U.S. military resonated deeply with the nation.
Indeed, no one since Franklin Roosevelt connected so well with
ordinary Americans. In many ways, Reagan did for the 1980s what
Roosevelt did for an America struggling with the Great Depression.
He took an America suffering from "malaise" and double-digit
inflation at home, as well as declining respect and foreign policy
embarrassments abroad, and made its citizens believe again in their
destiny as the "last best hope of mankind."
Long before voters began pining for "authentic" candidates,
President Reagan was the genuine article. What you saw was what you
got. Those who say he was scripted -- a former actor in the role of
a lifetime -- didn't know the man.
Consider his famous description of the Soviet Union as an
"evil empire." Several close advisers warned against using what
they considered inflammatory language, but in his view diplomatic
euphemisms were allowing a morally and intellectually bankrupt
regime to suppress the freedom of millions. History proved Reagan
right. As Margaret Thatcher memorably put it, "He won the Cold War
without firing a shot."
Although Reagan believed in a strong America, he didn't expect it
to act as the world's policeman. But he did believe in giving
support to people fighting for freedom. "All they need is our
support," he said of Nicaragua in 1985. "All they need is proof
that we care as much about the fight for freedom 700 miles from our
shores as the Soviets care about the fight against freedom 5,000
miles from theirs."
He also brought new perspectives to old problems. Take welfare. A
full decade before Congress passed the most sweeping reform of
government-sponsored charity, Reagan was laying the groundwork by
pointing out that welfare -- in FDR's words, "a narcotic, a subtle
destroyer of the human spirit" -- should be measured not in terms
of how much welfare recipients get, but "by how many of its
recipients become independent of welfare."
I first saw Ronald Reagan close up in 1973 when he testified on
welfare reform before the Senate Finance Committee, displaying his
rare talent for expressing conservative ideas that Americans found
so compelling. In November 1978, my friend Richard Allen, Reagan's
director of foreign policy research, asked me to arrange a meeting
between the candidate and journalists in London. Bill Deedes,
then-editor of the Daily Telegraph, complained to me beforehand
about coming to a breakfast meeting -- "a barbaric American custom"
-- with this man who used to be governor of California. He left
telling me it was one of the most interesting, fruitful and
positive meetings he had ever attended on either side of the
But perhaps the most memorable moment of my personal encounters
with President Reagan occurred on Oct. 3, 1983, at The Heritage
Foundation's 10th anniversary dinner in Washington, D.C. My wife,
Linda, stood next to the president on the dais. He was so moved by
the color guard's presentation of the colors and the Navy Band's
playing of the national anthem that he leaned over to Linda and
whispered, "That was so moving, it makes me want to clap. Too bad
no one else is." She replied, "Mr. President, I'll bet if you did,
everyone else would join in." He did, and within a second 1,400
people were on their feet applauding.
In Ronald Reagan's two terms as president, he gave America a
transfusion of his own optimism and hope. He enkindled a sense of
the possible, rescuing America from defeatism and much of the world
from tyranny. He restored our confidence in the presidency itself,
proving that Jefferson's "splendid misery" could be simply
splendid. And -- not coincidentally -- he helped create a safer,
freer world. For that, his nation will be eternally grateful.
Ed Feulner is the president of The Heritage Foundation
(heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research
First Appeared on FoxNews.com
At a time when patriotism was mocked, he exposed the bankruptcy of modern liberalism and proved that true liberty is still a fighting faith. And like all great presidents, he created a yardstick against which future presidents will be measured.
Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.
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