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June 5, 2004
Farewell, Ronald Reagan

Only minutes after our radio show ended, I found out that President Ronald Reagan had passed away after a long struggle with Alzheimer's disease. While not unexpected, the news of his passing stunned me in a way I had not thought possible. For me and millions of other conservatives, Ronald Reagan was our touchstone, even after his debilitating disease struck, and I found myself thinking about all of the ways in which Reagan influenced and molded my own philosophy.
The Gipper
Although Reagan had been the governor of California for two terms, I was too young to remember much about him in that role. I first recall his political impact in 1976, when I was 13, as he ran against the incumbent President, Gerald Ford, in an election Jimmy Carter eventually won. He challenged Ford that year as a representative of the so-called Goldwater wing of the GOP, preaching a strong defense, anti-communism, and reduction of the tax burden as a way to correct the weak economy of the 1970s. While Ford won the nomination, it was Reagan who electrified the race -- and his keynote speech at the convention in 1976 served notice that Reagan would not be fading away.

After the debacle of the Jimmy Carter presidency, Reagan ran again, and his infectious and constant optimism for American possibilities stood in stark contrast to Carter's malaise and his insistence that American exceptionalism was merely mythology. Pundits at the time, and worse yet since, have branded Reagan as a simple man (or a simpleton) who won by huckstering the US into thinking happy thoughts, but optimism was a key component of Ronald Reagan -- and people knew it.

Coupled with a strong belief in individualism and personal liberty, Reagan literally changed the nature of American politics in a single election cycle. The previous three election cycles produced centrist Republicans and leftist Democrats, both of which proposed to enlarge federal intrusion on American life (and succeeded). Reagan brought, or rather reintroduced, a philosophy of limited government and promotion of freedom abroad and added a Theodore Roosevelt-style projection of power that eventually toppled the Soviet colossus. While he contended with a Congress controlled by his opposition and therefore only achieved limited success in shrinking the federal government, the power of his personality carries that philosophy forward to this day.

Just to prove Reagan's impact, all you need to know is that the Environmental Protection Agency and wage and price controls were all proposed by a Republican president in the 1970s. He took a party that had lost its way and returned to basic tenets of freedom and defense, while convincing America that we could handle the hard tasks ahead and eventually succeed. And we did.

Was he perfect? Of course not. Did he make mistakes in office? Certainly -- you'd be hard pressed to find a president who didn't. But at a time in his country's history when leadership instead of management was needed, Reagan delivered. We'll have good presidents yet in my lifetime, perhaps even great presidents ... but I know I will not see his like again.

Goodbye and Godspeed, Mr. President.

OTHERS SAY: Power Line -- "Is there room for one more on Mt. Rushmore?" I certainly hope so.

Jay Reding -- "He left the world a better, stronger, and freer place than he [found] it."

The Commissar has a simple and eloquent memorium.

QandO -- "Ronald Reagan consistently displayed the one trait that put him head and shoulders above any other US politician: leadership."

Just A Girl -- "The legacy of this great man lingers everywhere in the world."

Baldilocks -- "Its a sad day, but hes been released from his purgatory of Alzheimers disease."

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 5, 2004 4:45 PM

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