In the 1970s, those who believed in the promise of America instinctively knew that America was more than she’d been allowed to become. Images from the decade — gas lines, Watergate, Nixon holding up the peace sign and boarding Marine One, hostages in Iran and helicopters burning in the desert — showed we were a nation lost, a once great nation on the decline — or so we thought.
Then a simple man stepped forward to present a new image. That man was Ronald Reagan and the image was one we hadn’t seen in quite some time — the image of American greatness.
Many historians go on about Ronald Reagan’s story-telling ability, saying his willingness to laugh at himself and spin a tale was how he moved people. What Ronald Reagan really did, though, was hold up a mirror.
For so long, people in America were told how corrupt or inept they were. Critics ran us down and divided us — rich from poor, white from black, Democrat from Republican. Tearing Americans apart had become as fashionable as bell bottoms and silk disco shirts. Yet Ronald Reagan forced us to look at the good. Once again, we saw ourselves for who we really were: hard-working, decent, honest, capable and God-fearing Americans whose best days were still on the horizon.
At first, many said he was a simpleton, an idealist. They said he was way over his head with Gorbachev and Reykjavik, but he won the Cold War. They said he was arrogant, but he tore down that wall. They said he was too stupid to talk economics, yet he created a better economy than in the 1990s.
Opponents said he was just a Bible thumper, but at the same time claimed he didn’t go to church. In reality, he was like most Americans: a man of deep faith, while not attending a specific church, wasn’t hostile towards them. In fact, Ronald Reagan stopped going to church when security became disruptive. And yet, until the day he died, he and Nancy still tithed. How many of us still do that? They said Reagan was too simple to become a great president, but that’s what we loved about him. He was like our father or our grandfather. He told us what we needed to do and inspired us to go out and do it on our own. Reagan said that a great leader doesn’t do great things, he inspires others to do them.
And he did just that. Reagan inspired us to believe in the power of the individual, in the small business owner, in the strength of our military and the humility of those who live it. And he reminded us of the existence of good and evil, that there are evil systems of governments that we must stand against.
Ronald Reagan named his ranch in California the Ranch of Heaven, saying, “If it weren’t heaven itself, it certainly was in the same ZIP code.” It’s good to know that following Ronald Reagan’s final day on earth, he didn’t have to move far.