Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Ronald Reagan - A Personal Remembrance
Ronald Reagan - actor, Governor, President. And I didn't like him in any of those roles. His acting was at best mediocre. I was too young to vote when he ran for Governor of California, but I would not have given Reagan my vote had I been of voting age. By the time Reagan was running for the office of President of the United States of America, I was registered to vote as a Democrat. I had voted for Jimmy Carter the first time and I voted the same the second time.
Ronald Reagan won that second time around largely because Carter had totally screwed-up the situation with Iran that had been holding American hostages for 444 days. Those 444 days gave birth to NightLine with Ted Koppel and guns for hostages, Nicaraguan freedom fighters and David Stockman.
In May of 1979, I had finished college with a B.A. in Art and a K-12 teaching credential in California. I, then, set about getting a teaching position. In January of 1980, Ronald Reagan was sworn in as President. As I searched for my first career position, David Stockman, as Director of Management and Budget, set about declaring ketchup to be a vegetable as part of Reagan's program to cut Federal spending on school lunches. The administration was ridiculed for making such a stupid assertion, but the budget cutting went on. The budget cutting became more severe after Stockman admitted to purposely running-up the budget deficit and using it as an excuse for gutting Federal spending on domestic programs. Among those domestic programs completely dismembered from any Federal aid were school arts programs. My career, in one fell swoop, was cut out from under me. I had less love for Reagan at that point than I had when he was Governor and closed the mental hospitals of California dumping thousands of the mentally disabled out on the streets and into the arms of a public totally unprepared for the crisis.
As the nation experienced a resurgence of prosperity, I was mostly unemployed or under-employed, seldom having enough money to last through any given month. The Reagan years were not nice to me. Having a college degree, I was not eligible for any school loans for re-education. Though physically handicapped, I had held jobs which was proof enough to the government that I could provide "gainful employment" for myself and was thus ineligible for any government assistance. After more than 40 years of socialism under various Democratic administrations from FDR's New Deal to LBJ's Great Society to Jimmy Carter's National Malaise we, the people, had lost our private charitable institutions and native belief in self-reliance. I was no exception.
Within all of this, I began to experience a slow transformation. Though I detested the domestic policies that had destroyed all of which I had studied and worked, I could not deny that this nation was better off than it was four years before. I could not deny that, though I still hated this man, this President, when he spoke of the inherent greatness of America and goodness of Americans, I felt a stirring in my soul, a love and pride of country I had not felt with the Presidents I had supported, Democrats all.
"I paid for this microphone!" Ronald Reagan said at a debate. I balled my fist, punched the air, and shouted Y-EEE-SSS! I was proud of a man I hated. Shortly after being sworn into office, the President was shot and was nearer death than anyone realized. Before going into surgery to remove the bullet, Reagan smiled at the surgeons and said, "I hope you are all Republicans!" This man still had a sense of humor even while dying.
President Reagan completely demolished the traditional position of detente with the Soviet Union and I believed, along with millions of other Americans, that we were about to breath our last because of the doddering old fool in the White House. Reagan forcefully confronted the USSR over nuclear arms, Cold War skirmishes around the world, and Soviet hegemony. By rapidly increasing US military spending and building the largest peace time military the US had ever known, the Soviet Union was thrown into an arms race that Premier Mikhail Gorbachev knew was unsustainable by his country. In a speech in Germany, in the shadow of the Berlin Wall, Ronald Reagan challenged, "Mr, Gorbachev, tear down this wall... As I looked out a moment ago from the Reichstag, that embodiment of German unity, I noticed words crudely spray-painted upon the wall, perhaps by a young Berliner: "This wall will fall. Beliefs become reality." Yes, across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom."
It didn't happen immediately, but the walls standing between America and Russia did come tumbling down just as the walls of Jericho had tumbled before the trumpets of Joshua's mighty army thousands of years ago. The clarion call of freedom's trumpet can be muffled, but never silenced.
Reagan had served his last term as President in 1988 and George H.W. Bush had been elected President. He took the Oath of office January 20, 1989. Though the Reagan years had come to an end the effects lingered on as if awaiting the final curtain call. That call came eleven months after Reagan left office.
I was in my apartment in Long Beach, CA. with my friend and roommate, Bianca, a native of Hamburg, Germany. We were watching television Friday night, November 10, 1989, when a special news report interrupted the program with live satellite pictures broadcast from Berlin. People were beating on the Berlin Wall with sledgehammers and clawing pieces away with their bare hands. The reporter said the Wall was being torn down and apparently East Germany had opened the borders to the West.
Bianca turned to me and asked incredulously, "Is this really happening?" I could only say that I was seeing the same thing she was seeing and "I don't know." Just the day before we had been talking about the Wall and that it would never come down in our lifetimes. Yet, there it was being torn to pieces before our eyes. Then two east German border guards appeared on top of the Wall with their submachine guns. I thought for sure they would fire and people would die. But, no. One of the guards reached down and pulled West Germans up to stand on top of the Wall with them. Both Bianca and I began to cry and laugh and cry some more.
Our world was changing right there in front of our disbelieving eyes. We hoped, Bianca and I, and the rest of the world, too, hoped this was the end of war, the nuclear threat had been removed from over our heads and we would all live in peace at long last. The long nightmare of the Cold War was over.
Hope is a fickle thing and peace forever was not to be. But for one moment in late 1989 there was peace. The world was a much different place when that doddering old fool took to the world stage for the greatest role he ever played. The world was again a much different place after he took his final bow and left the stage.
Because of one man, Ronald Reagan, my life is a much different one from the one I had planned. I don't know if mine is a better life, but I like it. Today I can honestly say that I am proud that Ronald Reagan led my nation and that I loved this man even when I didn't know it. Reality became belief.