All right, this needs to stop before it gets completely out of hand. Even President Barack Obama is doing it these days: “I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America…” And you’re hard at work changing it back; right, Mr. President?
I met Reagan once. I was a kid, barely old enough to reach the copies of National Review at the book store. It was 1980, and he stopped in my town to remind us how much worse off we all were than we had been four years ago. To the best of my recollection, dark-horse Presidential candidate John Anderson came through town the following week, but by then he might as well have been a zebra on the track at the Kentucky Derby. The real jackass in the race never visited my town.
His physical stature paled next to his ineffable presence. He filled the room, and when he spoke to you, even if you were a snot-nosed kid who was never going to be able to vote for him, he was speaking to you. I immediately liked him.
He reminded me of my father.
Ronald Reagan reminded everyone of their fathers. At least, he reminded them of the fathers they grew up watching on television. Reagan would have understood that there was NO WAY you were the one who sliced a three-wood off the back porch into the neighbors’ garage; and besides, the neighbors were jerks anyway — putting their house right there.
As evidenced by the stampede of Democrats who cast ballots in Reagan’s favor in 1984, he was nearly everything to everyone. Reagan was the proud patriot who eulogized the heroes of Pointe Du Hoc. He was the indestructible superhero who shrugged off an assassin’s bullet while being wheeled into surgery. He was the soft-shouldered father-figure who held us in his warm embrace as we mourned the Challenger crew. He was also the glowering Titan who warned off danger, punished those who threatened our safety and made the bad guys rethink their career paths.
He was, of course, far from perfect. But, given that the last perfect guy who trod these earthly climes ended up nailed to a tree, I suppose we can and should forgive him his humanity.
While Reagan made patriotism stylish again, evoking Heaven itself in his effusive homage to America; he made life a living hell for Democrats. Even as they made gains in Congress in both 1982 and 1986, the Democrats couldn’t conjure up a candidate who could believably stand in the shadow of the Great Communicator without disappearing entirely. In 1988, George H.W. Bush had merely to run on his record of standing next to Reagan on a couple of choice occasions and Michael Dukakis was cooked. However, eight years of life as Reagan’s boy Friday meant only four years for Bush the elder. In fact, it could be fairly said four years of reminding us that he was not Reagan cost Bush four more years in the White House.
Reagan left the White House 22 years ago and this mortal plane seven years ago. But his legacy still lingers. The mere fact that everyone who could spell “Gipper” took a moment to observe the passing of his 100th birthday last Sunday is testament to his lasting influence. No one put together a special for LBJ’s 100th. Even Obama has tried to stroll in Reagan’s oversized shoes of late.
Last weekend, ABC’s John Berman whined that the observance of Reagan’s 100th was sending politicians over the edge:
"There is Reagan Airport, the Reagan Building, the Reagan Library. Then there is the church of Reagan, where candidates worship."
Hey, they ALL get libraries, John. There’s even a Clinton library, but you have to be 18 to get in. And have fun reading back issues of Juggs by the light of a purple neon moon.
With the 2012 Presidential race already heating up as everyone with an eye on the Oval Office begins making “I’m just sightseeing” trips to Iowa and New Hampshire, allow me to offer some advice to the prospective candidate:
Stop comparing yourself to Ronald Reagan. Although the media’s goal is to diminish you by comparison — which is itself an acknowledgement of Reagan’s greatness — they have this one right. I met Ronald Reagan; you’re no Ronald Reagan.