Today Nancy Reagan turns 91.
The former First Lady appeared yesterday to open a Walt Disney Archives exhibit in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, her first public appearance since breaking a couple ribs in an April fall. Other than last year's tumble, the First Lady seems to be in good health. Her daughter wrote last year that Mrs. Reagan has some difficulty walking but maintains as much independence as possible. Another strong conservative woman from her generation – Margaret Thatcher – is now 86, but sadly does not maintain the mental sharpness that Nancy Reagan has.
George Shultz, Reagan's Secretary of State, told CBS News that one hallmark of Reagan's presidency was that Nancy was always by his side. True, she was a very supportive First Lady. But in the years after Reagan left office, and even after his death, she has continued to speak out on policy issues and political matters. Her support is one of the most valuable political commodities for Republican candidates today.
There is a stark difference, however, in today's political climate than the Reagan years. Conservatives are not in power, and it shows. (Take a look at the unemployment numbers out today.) Many have compared today's high unemployment and stagnant economy to the 1970's, the Jimmy Carter years, and have suggested that another "Reagan Revolution" is needed to get the country back on track.
Such a turn around appears more realistic all the time. No, I'm not talking about the 2012 elections; I'm talking something much greater – winning the war of ideas.
Reagan famously said, "Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." In the past few years, a growing percentage of Americans cite big government as the biggest threat to the country.
Reagan also said, "One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine. It’s very easy to disguise a medical program as a humanitarian project." And it's difficult to push back on what many Americans see as a "humanitarian project" – ObamaCare. Yet in spite of the White House's PR efforts, a majority of American voters have wanted to repeal this law since it was passed.
Reagan favored a small-government approach to budgeting: lower taxes and lower spending. He said, "We don't have a trillion-dollar debt because we haven't taxed enough; we have a trillion-dollar debt because we spend too much.” Americans today agree with him.
Now, Reagan didn't always live up to his conservative ideals. And since his Administration several other presidents – both Republicans and Democrats – have also made the mistakes of raising taxes, spending too much, and adding to the national debt. But President Reagan was a great leader, and he had a great First Lady.
As Nancy Reagan turns 91, she might be thinking of the "sunset years" when her husband said they might "tell their… children's children what it was once like… where men were free."
But I am more hopeful than that. I'm just getting started on my American life, and I'll focus on a different Reagan thought: "While I take inspiration from the past, like most Americans, I live for the future."