America on Ronald Reagan's Birthday

Today nearly everyone in America sees Ronald Reagan as a great president.  Barack Obama does; every Republican leader does; Time magazine does.  Four years ago, when Ronald Reagan died after a decade of seclusion, millions of Americans lined up patiently for long hours for the chance to pay a few moments of silent respect to the greatest president of the Twentieth Century.  John Kerry, who never had a kind word to say for Reagan when he was president, stood moist-eyed by.

The day after Super Tuesday, we celebrate the birthday of Ronald Reagan.  If we all agree that Reagan was great, perhaps we should reflect on his birthday why he was so great.

Reagan grew up without a bigoted bone in his body.  As a child in Dixon, when blacks could not find food and lodging, he brought them into his home.  As Governor of California, when inspecting the prison system in California and discovering that there were no rabbis to attend to Jewish prisoners, Reagan remedied that gap.  The Gipper truly believed that we are all God's children.  If that thinking seems too simple to us moderns, that is our flaw and not the flaw of God or of Reagan.

He grew up in poverty and learned self-reliance early.  America was an ocean of opportunity, even in the Depression.  Reagan swam hard in that ocean, first as a lifeguard in Illinois and then as an adult taking the opportunities that America had to offer while never forgetting that America is a gift.   His road to the presidency took a long lifetime, but each step was marked with achievement by merit and by courage under fire.  The real Reagan was the man we saw facing imminent death with a nobility and grace that no one really expects to ever see. 

Reagan lived and Reagan governed with that courage and clarity of moral purpose.  When both of those are genuine sentiments, then friendliness, self-deprecation, and humor --  the qualities which made Reagan so wonderful -- come naturally and easily.  His persuasive eloquence, which was at its best the ethical directness of Lincoln or Churchill, comes best from courage and clarity of moral purpose.

Placing morality above popularity and above "efficiency" has another marvelous trait:  It also places you on the moral high ground.  Reagan, in this respect, resembles another man whose birthday we just celebrated:  Dr. Martin Luther King.  The Reverend did not speak of exactly how to accomplish his domestic dream, anymore than the Gipper spoke about exactly how to accomplish his dream of ending Communism.  He rather said:  "I have a dream."  Ronald Reagan dreamed of a time in which the bondage and terror of Communism would be gone, like Dr. King, he achieved his dream with a minimum of violence and a maximum of moral pressure.

Both men called others to them to stand for things that were undeniably good.  In an age in which we are fat, lazy, bored and spoiled, the light of goodness is sometimes obscured under an avalanche of stuff, but when it catches the eye, the pull is irresistible. It is not coincidence that men like Ronald Reagan, Martin Luther King, and Pope John Paul II were men who's great power came from a deliberate decision to ignore opinion and to ignore power and to stand instead on the hill of righteousness.  It is also not coincidence that evil men fired bullets into all three of these men.  It is hardly coincidence that all three of these men were guided foremost by the Blessed Creator. 

Ronald Reagan was conservative, but he was conservative because that was true and right.  It all sounds so simple -- to stand up for what is true and right -- but that is the unassuming power of conservatism.  When he took office, the whole world knew that the Soviet Union was an evil empire, but nearly everyone wished to somehow finesse that moral truth.  Fifty years earlier, ordinary men had tried to finesse the evil which was Nazism.  It does not work.  Anyone with eyes can see that those who hate America, hate Israel, hate Christians and hate Jews these days is evil and loves hatred, just like Nazi Germany and just like the Soviet Union.  The ultimate challenge for those who would wear the Reagan mantle is how to utterly defeat that deliberate and unapologetic evil which battles for our planet.

Truth requires defying big lies like global warming.  Mockery, insinuations of stupidity, accusations of callousness -- all these and more -- were the price that Reagan paid every day for his stands against tax rates that actually reduced overall tax revenues.  Although every thinking mind knew the truth, prejudice and passion lead people to embrace convenient lies about rich taxpayers.  Reagan faced those lies without blinking.

Do truth, faith and righteousness lead to a political philosophy?  Of course they do.  Reagan had quips that distilled this philosophy:

"They say the world has become too complex for simple answers. They are wrong. There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right." 

"The martyrs of history were not fools, and our honored dead who gave their lives to stop the advance of the Nazis didn't die in vain."

"Nations crumble from within when the citizenry asks of government those things which the citizenry might better provide for itself."

Which American political leader is saying things now like Reagan said then?  None are, as far as I know.  Our "leaders" (who do not lead) tell us that our problems are too complex for us to understand, that our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have died in vain, and that the federal government will provide for all our needs.   Sadly, many of Americans seem to want this limp leadership.  Reagan did not leave America:  It has left him.

Today nearly everyone in America sees Ronald Reagan as a great president.  Barack Obama does; every Republican leader does; Time magazine does.  Four years ago, when Ronald Reagan died after a decade of seclusion, millions of Americans lined up patiently for long hours for the chance to pay a few moments of silent respect to the greatest president of the Twentieth Century.  John Kerry, who never had a kind word to say for Reagan when he was president, stood moist-eyed by.

The day after Super Tuesday, we celebrate the birthday of Ronald Reagan.  If we all agree that Reagan was great, perhaps we should reflect on his birthday why he was so great.

Reagan grew up without a bigoted bone in his body.  As a child in Dixon, when blacks could not find food and lodging, he brought them into his home.  As Governor of California, when inspecting the prison system in California and discovering that there were no rabbis to attend to Jewish prisoners, Reagan remedied that gap.  The Gipper truly believed that we are all God's children.  If that thinking seems too simple to us moderns, that is our flaw and not the flaw of God or of Reagan.

He grew up in poverty and learned self-reliance early.  America was an ocean of opportunity, even in the Depression.  Reagan swam hard in that ocean, first as a lifeguard in Illinois and then as an adult taking the opportunities that America had to offer while never forgetting that America is a gift.   His road to the presidency took a long lifetime, but each step was marked with achievement by merit and by courage under fire.  The real Reagan was the man we saw facing imminent death with a nobility and grace that no one really expects to ever see. 

Reagan lived and Reagan governed with that courage and clarity of moral purpose.  When both of those are genuine sentiments, then friendliness, self-deprecation, and humor --  the qualities which made Reagan so wonderful -- come naturally and easily.  His persuasive eloquence, which was at its best the ethical directness of Lincoln or Churchill, comes best from courage and clarity of moral purpose.

Placing morality above popularity and above "efficiency" has another marvelous trait:  It also places you on the moral high ground.  Reagan, in this respect, resembles another man whose birthday we just celebrated:  Dr. Martin Luther King.  The Reverend did not speak of exactly how to accomplish his domestic dream, anymore than the Gipper spoke about exactly how to accomplish his dream of ending Communism.  He rather said:  "I have a dream."  Ronald Reagan dreamed of a time in which the bondage and terror of Communism would be gone, like Dr. King, he achieved his dream with a minimum of violence and a maximum of moral pressure.

Both men called others to them to stand for things that were undeniably good.  In an age in which we are fat, lazy, bored and spoiled, the light of goodness is sometimes obscured under an avalanche of stuff, but when it catches the eye, the pull is irresistible. It is not coincidence that men like Ronald Reagan, Martin Luther King, and Pope John Paul II were men who's great power came from a deliberate decision to ignore opinion and to ignore power and to stand instead on the hill of righteousness.  It is also not coincidence that evil men fired bullets into all three of these men.  It is hardly coincidence that all three of these men were guided foremost by the Blessed Creator. 

Ronald Reagan was conservative, but he was conservative because that was true and right.  It all sounds so simple -- to stand up for what is true and right -- but that is the unassuming power of conservatism.  When he took office, the whole world knew that the Soviet Union was an evil empire, but nearly everyone wished to somehow finesse that moral truth.  Fifty years earlier, ordinary men had tried to finesse the evil which was Nazism.  It does not work.  Anyone with eyes can see that those who hate America, hate Israel, hate Christians and hate Jews these days is evil and loves hatred, just like Nazi Germany and just like the Soviet Union.  The ultimate challenge for those who would wear the Reagan mantle is how to utterly defeat that deliberate and unapologetic evil which battles for our planet.

Truth requires defying big lies like global warming.  Mockery, insinuations of stupidity, accusations of callousness -- all these and more -- were the price that Reagan paid every day for his stands against tax rates that actually reduced overall tax revenues.  Although every thinking mind knew the truth, prejudice and passion lead people to embrace convenient lies about rich taxpayers.  Reagan faced those lies without blinking.

Do truth, faith and righteousness lead to a political philosophy?  Of course they do.  Reagan had quips that distilled this philosophy:

"They say the world has become too complex for simple answers. They are wrong. There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right." 

"The martyrs of history were not fools, and our honored dead who gave their lives to stop the advance of the Nazis didn't die in vain."

"Nations crumble from within when the citizenry asks of government those things which the citizenry might better provide for itself."

Which American political leader is saying things now like Reagan said then?  None are, as far as I know.  Our "leaders" (who do not lead) tell us that our problems are too complex for us to understand, that our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have died in vain, and that the federal government will provide for all our needs.   Sadly, many of Americans seem to want this limp leadership.  Reagan did not leave America:  It has left him.