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Last Updated :
September 21, 2008


Thank You Ronald Reagan

By William J. Bennett.


You wrote us that extraordinary letter, in your own hand to let us know that you were falling victim to Alzheimer´s disease. You spoke of other families suffering with the disease. You worried about your wife. The you chose these words to comfort the nation:
 
"I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always he a bright dawn ahead."
 
There you go again, I thought, showing us the way.
 
You´ve always had that capacity - not just because you´re a natural leader, but because of your great personal strength. My mind wend back to a day when we were all picking up our papers and leaving the table after a Cabinet meeting. I literally bumped into you. Now, I´m a pretty big guy, but it was like bumping into a redwood. And it struck me at the time - that´s you inside and your solid in your stance, solid in your beliefs.
 
Your critics always said you were not a "detail" man. Thank you for that. What great leader is? There are plenty of people to handle the details. You know instinctively that the President must above all lead.
 
I´ve been following your path for many years, from the day you invited me to come to Washington to be director of the National Endowment for the Humanities. I crossed my fingers, packed up and moved from North Carolina. It was a chance, I thought, to help make a difference in the world. I never realized what a different world it would soon be.
 
Soviet missiles were pointed then at America and Western Europe, and the Red Army was fighting in Afghanistan. The Kremlin dominated millions around the world, and many thought communism was unstoppable.
 
But you proclaimed that " no weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women." You meant it. You identified publicly the "Evil Empire" and, in doing so, rearmed the Western alliance as a moral force.
 
"Experts" thought you were "rash," that your words were dangerous. But as one of those experts. Stephen Rosenfeld, would later concede, "in this lonely threshold strategic judgment [you were] proved right."
 
You rebuild Americas military and sent Pershing H missiles to Western Europe to counter a Soviet missile buildup. You supported Afghan freedom fighters, making the Soviets pay dearly for their invasion.
 
You strengthened the voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and Radio Liberty. From Ukraine to China, people turned on their shortwave radios and heard the truth about democracy and free markets.
 
And in the most daring decision of all, you announced that we would begin developing a defense against nuclear missiles. You dismissed the long accepted policy of MAD, "mutually assured destruction," which depended on the threat of massive nuclear retaliation to prevent war. " it´s like two cowboys in a frontier saloon, " you pointed out, " aiming their guns at each other´s head- permanently. " The Strategic Defense Initiative(SDI) was an act of faith in the innovative genius that freedom fosters. And with it, you quite literally scared the hell out of the Kremlin.
 
SDI met vicious opposition. A campaign against "Star Wars" was drummed up. At the summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev insisted the he would not make any concessions on strategic arms cuts unless we gave up SDI testing.
 
Your reaction was pure American. " This meeting is over, " you said to your Secretary of State, George Schultz. " "
 
The diplomats wrung their hands. They didn´t know that in that moment you had largely won the Cold War. Back in Moscow, the Generals, the Politburo members, the apparatchiks knew they could not win a technological race with America, build up their conventional military forces and provide for their people at the same time. The Soviets simply could not compete with SDI. They could not keep up. You knew it. Gorbachev knew it too.
 
The Soviet facade began to crack, and in a desperate attempt to keep the Communist Party in control, Gorbachev began some reforms. But if he´s really a reformer, you reasoned, why doesn´t he dismantle the Berlin Wall? You decided to pose the challenge in a speech in West Berlin.
 
Don´t rock the boat, the State Department advised. Don´t make the Soviets mad, your own advisors agreed. You ignored them, and wrote about the Wall in you speech. They took it out. You put it back. Air Force One was on its way to West Berlin when the National Security Council gave you a final version, again sanitized, the part about the Wall missing.
 
You pursed your lips in that familiar way, cocked your head and said, " Well, I think I´ll stick to my original. "
 
The next afternoon you stood at the Brandenburg Gate, looked toward East Germany and demanded, " Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall " Then you publicly predicted that " this wall will fall " it did, taking down Soviet communism with it Withinfour years, you were walking through the streets of Moscow as crowds of people chanted "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" and elbowed for a sight of you.
 
At the opening of your Presidential library you Said, " I have seen the world tuned upside down with conventional utterly disproved " Indeed. It was your broad shoulders which helped turn that world.
 
Thank You, too, for believing in us. When you came to the White House we were sinking in a sea of high taxes, high interest rates, and low morale. Politicians and pundits alike told us that we had to resign ourselves to a new era of "limits."
 
You were undaunted. With an utter faith that government was the problem, not the solution, and a firm grasp of the only economics lesson worth leaning - free enterprise works - you released our creative energies and entrepreneurial spirit.
 
You cut the highest income tax rate from 70 percent (Yes 70%) to 33 percent, energized investment by cutting the capital-gains tax, and brought tax relief to every income group.
 
Result: the longest peacetime rise in prosperity in the nation´s history. During your Presidency interest rates dropped sharply, and inflation was slashed to less than three percent. Twenty million new jobs were created, most of them in the higher skilled, higher-tech, higher -paying areas. The average American family had thousands of dollars more a year to spend on its own needs instead of feeding the IRS.
 
Thank You, also, for creating for us an ideal of the way the Presidency should be carried.
 
Your manner sprang from the fact that even though you were President, you were always yourself. You never had to prove anything. I´ll never forget the day you phoned me when I was Secretary of Education. The call came in out of the blue. " Hello, Bill, " came your familiar voice. " Did I know a certain poem that paid tribute to teachers? ", you asked.
 
"No, Mr. President, "I confessed.
 
" Well, let me get it to you, " you answered.
 
I thought you´d get some aide to look it up, copy it and fax it to my office. But no, you wrote it out longhand, from memory, and sent it over, as if you were a neighbor eager to share something.
 
Congressman Dana Rohrbacher remembers a moment when he was a young campaign staffer back in California. You were giving a whistle stop speech, and there was a small group of blind children in the crowd. Their teacher asked if you could greet them.
 
Sure, you agreed, but not with the photographers or reporters around. After the press had left, Rohrbacher saw you go to the children and shake their hands. Then you knelt so they could "see" you by touching your face.
 
"What politician can you think of who would not have given a million dollars to have the press get pictures of him in a scene like that?" marveled Rohrbacher, "But not Reagan."
 
Finally, Mr. President, thank you for being there when the nation needed your hope, your courage, and sometimes just your reassurance. When the Challenger astronauts died before our very eyes in 1986, you put a comforting hand on your shoulders, and spoke so simply. " I Know it´s hard to understand that sometimes painful things like this happen. It´s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It´s all part of taking a chance and expanding man´s horizons. The future doesn´t belong to the fainthearted. It belongs to the brave. "
 
In your letter to us, you reminded us again of the bonds of faith, courage and affection that unite us with you. " When the Lord calls me home, " you wrote, " I win leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future. "
 
Thank You Mr. President.
 

Last Updated : September 21, 2008