Reagan gave America confidence in itself

February 5, 2011


On the centenary of Ronald Reagan’s birth, I pause for another historic event: agreement with President Obama, who says of his predecessor in USA Today, “Ronald Wilson Reagan was a believer ... he recognized that each of us has the power — as individuals and as a nation — to shape our own destiny. He had faith in the American promise; in the importance of reaffirming values like hard work and personal responsibility; and in his own unique ability to inspire others to greatness.”


I suspect Reagan would be embarrassed by the attempts to elevate him to political sainthood. Even conservatives who now long for another Reagan were sometimes critical of him during his presidency and of those around him they believed were holding him back. “Let Reagan be Reagan” they cried, as if he wasn’t who he was.

What made Reagan a great president was that he understood America and his countrymen better than any politician of his time, or perhaps any time. He saw that the greatness of the country is not found in Washington, no matter which party or personality is in power. Rather, it is to be found in the people. Reagan awakened that dormant truth from hibernation.

Ronald Reagan didn’t need to be president to complete himself as a man. He knew who he was before seeking the job. Self-awareness is an essential quality in a leader if he or she is to avoid the siren call of narcissism and the temptations that go with the preoccupation about “legacy.”

Reagan awakened in many Americans the belief that no matter what the challenge, Americans can meet it. His opponents mocked him for what they regarded as an “old-fashioned” concept. In a time of growing dependency on government, based on the fallacy that we can’t do much on our own (and if we do we must be punished with higher taxes and more regulation), such a notion was offensive to the dominant political culture. Reagan tapped into a principle that is as much a part of our DNA as motherhood and the American flag.

Reagan’s “vision for America” mirrored our vision of ourselves: strong internationally, economically sound at home. He restored our self-confidence at a time when his predecessor, Jimmy Carter, was suggesting America had seen its best days and we should trim our expectations and become “realists.”

Reagan, the eternal optimist, even after discovering he had Alzheimer’s disease, was always thinking about the future. Bill Clinton made the future his theme when he adopted Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow)” as his 1992 campaign song. After reading a book about Reagan, President Obama tried to channel him in his State of the Union address. It fell flat.

Trying to be Reagan without the substance didn’t fully succeed with Clinton either because of his self-absorption, manifested in the sex scandals. It is even less likely to succeed with Obama because his big government philosophy is the antithesis of Reaganism. A theme must have more than a melody. It must be in harmony with America. Reagan’s was. Obama sings his off-key.

A Google search for Reaganisms finds scores of little phrases that touched principles handed down by previous generations of Americans. These aphorisms were born of Reagan’s own experiences with FDR Democrats and the notion that the bigger government gets, the fewer liberties we enjoy.

Here are just three:

• “We have a deficit, not because the government taxes too little, but because it spends too much.”

• “Above all, we must realize that no arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. It is a weapon our adversaries in today’s world do not have.”

• “...there are great advantages to being elected president. The day after I was elected, I had my high school grades classified Top Secret.”

Self-deprecation and humility rested comfortably on Reagan’s broad shoulders.

Reagan didn’t promise to do great things for us. He showed us that great things came from within us. Modern Republicans would do well to remind themselves that America’s greatness doesn’t lie within politicians, but within each of its citizens. That is Reagan’s legacy.

Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services.


Maddy Griffin 6 years ago

He's still dead and his trickle-down economics still don't work.

RogueThrill 6 years ago

He's closer to being a Ronald Reagan than being an actual Liberal.

Corey Williams 6 years ago

That would actually be your brain, Nancyboy

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

"Republicans use an ideal of Reagan that never existed to portray their own agenda. Don't believe the lie."

Actually, he represents their agenda quite well. It's just that they lie about what his was, and what theirs is (to themselves as much as anyone.)

tomatogrower 6 years ago

Ah, you left out the debt he ran up as governor of California, then Jerry Brown, a liberal, had to come in and fix it. You know Jerry Brown, the guy who has to clean up fiscal messes for Republican governors.

notanota 6 years ago

There are a lot of "liberals" that end up having to clean up the fiscal incontinence of the "conservatives" in power before them.

Scott Drummond 6 years ago

Uglyrumor, you are too kind. Let us not forget the following:

  1. HUD grant rigging scandal in which Reagan's HUD Secretary was convicted of rigging bids in favor of republican donors to Reagan's campaign. (Something I am sure Saint Ronnie had no knowledge of - eyes rolling)

  2. Illegal administration lobbyists: Reagan's Press Secretary and Chief of Staff were both convicted of illegal lobbying and lying to a federal grand jury to cover their improper lobbying

  3. Sewergate: the illegal funneling of taxpayer Superfunds to republican campaign donors. Reagan's EPA head was forced to resign after being found in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over Superfund records. She cited "Executive Privilege." (funny how the same themes run through all republican scandal.)

  4. Savings and Loan debacle: Thanks to Reagan's efforts to eliminate excess government regulation, US taxpayers were blessed with the opportunity to rescue the S&L industry to the tune of $160 billion. (sound familiar)

Amiable dunce used by Daddy Koch and other right wing traitors to pursue their agenda of stripping most of the country's wealth out of the New Deal middle class.

Now, 30 years later, look at how well they have succeeded.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

"I suspect Reagan would be embarrassed by the attempts to elevate him to political sainthood."

His son considers his worship by conservatives to be a form of fetishism. (I know I've already posted that, but it's too true not to repeat.)

notanota 6 years ago

After hearing his remarks, I really want to find Reagan printed PVC fabric.

Corey Williams 6 years ago

You mean Ronnie Reagan, the actor? Yes, I'm sure that had nothing at all to do with any of his presidential speeches.

"President Reagan himself testified before the Tower Commission that he had poor recollection of the details of the operation [Iran Contra] due in part to the heavy pain medications he had been on in that period." http://www.conservapedia.com/Reagan

He should have just said no.

notanota 6 years ago

You caught me. I'll add that the rumor that they used to read speeches from pieces of paper before the TelePrompter is totally unfounded, too.

Corey Williams 6 years ago

No comment on the drugs, then?
I see.

Scott Drummond 6 years ago

"Reagan gave America confidence in itself"

And what was the cause of the supposed "lack of confidence."

Right wing assassinations of the leaders on the Left in the 1960's?

Richard Nixon's disgrace of the US Presidency?

The fallout from our leader's wicked foreign policy?

The repubs will always have something to sell you to fix a problem they've created. Watch Faux "News" and you can witness first hand the disgrace your grandchildren will one day study.

Corey Williams 6 years ago

This from the poster that used conservapedia as a reference link.

Alceste 6 years ago

These musings are mere jokes, correct? We're talking about the guy in Bedtime For Bonzo.

deec 6 years ago

The guy who ignored AIDS until it started killing nice blonde kids who weren't gay? The guy who left his first wife to marrry his pregnant girlfriend? The guy who supported mercenaries in Central America by selling weapons to our enemies? That swell hero guy?

parrothead8 6 years ago

No, no, no. The guy who tripled the size of the national deficit. The guy who raised taxes eleven times. The guy who gave amnesty to over three million illegal immigrants.

Oh, wait. Same guy.

Corey Williams 6 years ago

Come on people, what about "Just Say No"? Remember what a huge success that was? Oh, and how Republicans held hearings for five years on a campaign promise by the gipper that he would put prayer back in schools?

Corey Williams 6 years ago

My Magnum PI 500's tell me that there is a sad, twisted individual that keeps coming back, hoping to bait people into an argument with someone who has no soul. Who could that be? Why not switch back to one of your previous incarnations? At least then your rants were somewhat intelligible.

jafs 6 years ago

Reagan did indeed make people feel good about this country, and that everything was ok.

The problem was, that feeling and perception was not based in reality.

jafs 6 years ago

Thanks - that's interesting stuff.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

This is particularly telling. Reagan's whole political career started with his becoming a shill for millionaires in the 50's, right through his governorship and right through his presidency.

"While wealthy Americans benefitted from Reagan's tax policies, blue-collar Americans paid a higher percentage of their income in taxes when Reagan left office than when he came in."

yourworstnightmare 6 years ago

Reagan also gave us massive amounts of deficit spending and started the national debt explosion that we have today.

Only Bill Clinton was able to rein it in, and then GWB went back to deficit spending with a fervor never before experienced.

ScottyMac 6 years ago

Gosh. Is a cheap ad hominem the best you can do? Oh yeah. You're Nancy Boy. That's the best you can do.

Corey Williams 6 years ago

I think Nancy is speaking from experience there...

Corey Williams 6 years ago

Oh, and Unknown does indeed play a fine guitar, doesn't he?

yourworstnightmare 6 years ago

Reagan would be a RINO in today's republican party.

jaywalker 6 years ago

It's amusing to read thru the comments and see only one poster deemed conservative actively defending Reagan, yet a good portion of the comments rail about how all conservatives hold him up as some sort of gold standard. No proof of it here.
I don't consider myself to be a conservative, more libertarian, but I for one am well aware that any hindsight that recalls Reagan as some sort of standard bearer is wishful thinking at best. More likely a natural phenomenon akin to 'the heart grows fonder.' There's a term for it but it escapes me at the moment.....li'l help?

Corey Williams 6 years ago

Yeah, if you take out Nancy, Reborn 'Merican, and Barry's comments there aren't any conservatives carrying the torch. Strange, it seems most of the conservative talk show hosts achieve sexual gratification when they speak of the gipper.

Corey Williams 6 years ago

Why would that be any kind of a win, Nancy?
Don't push your sexual agenda off on me.

jaywalker 6 years ago

No doubt. If you can take Hannity long enough for him to get into one of his Reagan-love fest spiels you have to be concerned that he might have an accident while he's genuflecting. Disturbing.

gogoplata 6 years ago

But not smaller government like he promised.

weeslicket 6 years ago

in journolizing (to quote a frequent poster) on president obama's state of the union speech (2011), mr. thomas was fine right up until: "Obama sings his off-key." aahhh, the perils of calvinist propaganda.

because next, in his journocal (that's funny play on language, isn't it?), mr. thomas sings us his melody of propaganda: "Here are just three (reaganisms): • “We have a deficit, not because the government taxes too little, but because it spends too much.” • “Above all, we must realize that no arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. It is a weapon our adversaries in today’s world do not have.” • “...there are great advantages to being elected president. The day after I was elected, I had my high school grades classified Top Secret.”

how is all this quoting propaganda, you might ask?

because none of the above quotes were actually in the state of the union address. tho mr. thomas suggests such is the truth. (because he referenced these quotes in his journocal) -- mr. calvin thomas is pulling the ol' switheroo on us.

quart an ord brit of journolsim, inst it? (just checing)

here were the actual quotes from fellow countrymen contained within the actual state of the union address (2011) As Robert Kennedy told us, “The future is not a gift. It is an achievement.” In Robert’s words, “We reinvented ourselves.”

Mike Ford 6 years ago

hey corkyhundley with the crazy acronyms, here's a couple for you, fatd (fox addicted thought disorder) aowgd (angry old white guy disorder), fap (fox affected paranoia), ldd limbaugh delusional disorder), bbbd (beck blackboard disorder), ovd (o reilly volume disorder) doabd (delusions of alaskan barbie disorder), and brrd (bonzo revisionist reality disorder). Get ready for some real fun....

Mike Ford 6 years ago

and for you state's rights constitutional experts? I remember a specific point in history that I as a lifelong Democrat and American Indian love to rub in the face of the denialicans. That was when Bonzo the Debtlican signed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988 allowing tribes to have casinos. This as all of your amnesiacans deny this and blindly assert state's raits like all good dummies with no memory of recent history, The supremacy clause made this the law of the land as the same clause makes the health care law the law of the land. It only proves what hypocrites some people really are. I hear state's raits ( I'm pronouncing it with the proper southern drawl) and I think of the 1970's Mississippi and Louisiana I grew up in with racism still around. Kansas must feel so treasured to step back 40 years into political stupidity. Just like when William Allen White had to run as a third party candidate in the 1920's to wake Kansas up from it's love of paranoia, hate of immigrants, and the KKK, and move it forward out of the darkness. In 2011 it appears nothing has changed has it?

Alceste 6 years ago

Ronnie RayGun: Stool Pigeon for J. Edgar and Joey McCarthy. Swell guy. Makes sense the public elected the guy.....

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