I can’t believe how much this hurts.
I didn’t know Ronald Reagan, didn’t work for him or even in government. Yet his loss is mine; it is ours, the country’s, even the world’s. I can’t count the number of call-ins to radio shows I’ve heard in the last two days, one-time prisoners behind the iron curtain, calling to express their grief and their gratitude. I was just a prisoner of my own narrow-mindedness but am grateful nevertheless for the light he brought.
I voted against Ronald Reagan in 1980. I can’t remember who I voted for, some third-party candidate. Not Jimmy Carter, that’s for sure; but not Reagan either. I was in academia at that time, a part-time professor at the University of California in Santa Barbara and various community colleges in the area (including Moorpark College, closed today and tomorrow in his memory). I saw the world through a slit in the bulwark of the ivory tower. I was of the intellectual elite, the intelligentsia, the ones that get killed off first in social revolutions because they control so much yet understand so little.
Reagan’s tenure as governor of California had angered us, the intellectual elite. Not enough money was being thrust by the state through the same little slit. It was the state’s job, we insisted, to feed us well, so we could keep thinking. Like Butch Cassidy, that’s what we were good at.
But our trough suffered at Reagan’s hands and nothing else mattered. We showed him — we made Jerry Brown our next governor. Brown was an elitist of our own ilk. We celebrated his cerebralism, saw his asceticism as Thoreauesque, and scratched our heads when he cut university funding still further. Brown’s traducement did not exonerate Reagan, however. Brown was one of us; Reagan, we adjudged sniffingly, to be one of them, unread, unwashed.
It’s amazing how blinding that ivory tower is; how utterly constrained the view; how detached the life and lifestyle. I left academia to discover a world different than that I thought I knew and led by a man I clearly didn’t.
Vision, purpose and confidence had not been hallmarks of our Presidency for many a term. Reagan towered above the inconsequence of his predecessors and persisted in believing in us even when we would not. He was unmoved by his haters around the world who were content to see an increasing share of the world subjected to the yoke of communism; unwilling to accept a truce of “mutual coexistence” with evil; and stalwartly unbowed by the hysterics of the media, academic elite and Europeans who accepted a delusion of comfort from appeasement (eur-appeasement, let’s call it). Reagan saw the light and saw the right and insisted on taking us there. By 1984, we went willingly.
Ronald Reagan changed me and he changed the country. I was not in government or anywhere near it, but you didn’t have to be to feel the change. The difference that Reagan made was palpable. There was a sense of people lifting themselves up and dusting themselves off, dazed in a way; not quite aware of having been down and not quite sure what it was that had knocked them down but feeling strength and hope as they regained their footing and their future.
Today we mourn the loss of a man whose very life was a metaphor for the American Dream and we wonder aloud at the too many similarities that link today with yesterday: evil empire, axis of evil; Europeans hating us, fearful (again) of the fight that must be fought, seeking refuge (again) in the familiar haunt of eurappeasement; the renewed siren of the intelligentsia and media with their charges (again) of bellicosity and war-mongering and an American president standing up (again) to the barrage of criticism leveled by the very same people who were so totally wrong 20 years ago and have learned absolutely nothing since.
Today we mourn the loss of the man who renewed our strength and our spirit and his passing reminds us that defeatism is not who we are. His passing reminds us that the chorus of defeatists in the press and in Europe are old voices. Reagan taught us to ignore them, to be better than they.
So today, in my grief, I realize that, even in death, Ronald Reagan can lift me up.