Friday, July 08, 2005

Remembering President Reagan

I wrote this last year, watching the late President's funeral. I didn't have a blog, then, on which to post it.

With the death of President Reagan, and his funeral rites unfolding, unhurried and majestic, before our eyes, memories awake, and tears form, unbidden.

I did not think it would be so.

I put those memories away long ago when he left office. It had not ended as it had begun. A whimper, not a bang; so much hoped-for, left undone.

Reagan did not grow old in those years, but we did. We began as fired-up revolutionaries in our teens and 20s, out to change the world. Everything seemed possible in those early days.

We inherited a movement we knew nothing about. Goldwater? “A Time for Choosing”? “Viva, Ole!”? We soon became part of something greater than we realized. How exciting it all was!

How could we not be disappointed? A vast agenda, gradually whittled down. Tax cuts won, were nibbled away. And the rest? “Later, later,” said the President’s men. Mostly, later never came.

What a memorable disaster the “third term” was! Came Clinton, came Bush II, and what seemed so fresh was now so remote. We knew this much: “No, not the same. Not close.”

Does anyone remember all we hoped for, fought for, back then? Shall the “Reagan Revolution” come down to this: a new face on the $10 bill? Where’s the rest of our Revolution?

And yet . . . and yet what dreams that dreamer had! Do you remember?

A nation of hope, and not of self-doubt. “We will not contain communism, we will transcend it.” A new dawn of economic possibility; a future full of promise. A world not bristling with weapons of nuclear terror. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

These were his dreams. We made them ours. And he made them come true. How did we not realize he meant them? When they began to happen, we did not believe our eyes.

But Ronald Reagan saw that far horizon. Today, they say, “of course”—but they did not say it then. They didn’t see. Only he did.

But what of the rest of the dream?

To have dreams dashed, and others forgotten, as conservatives have since those heady days, is not to have been wrong to dream.

We shall not “declare victory” and withdraw: we shall not pretend all we hoped for is ours.

We shall not mock the hope he made real by settling for half-measures, by a policy of accommodation: with Leviathan government, with the denial of human dignity, and—above all—with those who say it can’t be done.

“Each generation sees farther than the generation that preceded it because it stands on the shoulders of that generation,” President Reagan said to Notre Dame graduates in 1981. Indeed, how far we see, standing on his shoulders!

But those great shoulders are no longer available. It is time for another set. It is time for us whom he inspired, whom he brought this far, to take up his challenge, to espy the far horizons, to see, as he did, the impossible; and make it so.

In his words:

“We were meant to be…a people with faith in each other, courage to dream great dreams, opportunities to climb higher, and determination to go for the gold.”

“It does require, however, our best effort and our willingness to believe in ourselves and to believe in our capacity to perform great deeds…And after all, why shouldn't we believe that? We are Americans.”

Thank you, President Reagan, for what you dreamed, and what you made come true. May we continue to dream, to dream anew, and to keep reaching for the gold.

Why shouldn’t we do such things? After all, we are Americans.

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