|View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Sunday, June 06, 2004
Ronald Reagan died yesterday. He had been out of the public eye for so long, with a disease that we all knew about, that his passing almost seemed incidental. We had had so much time to mourn while he was still alive. Funerals are both for the dead and for the living. There was much the same dynamic with Ronald Reagan these last 10 years - any tributes paid him were for our ears, not his.
As a kid growing up outside of DC, the late 70s were miserable politically. Politics was the town business, and you couldn't avoid it even if you wanted to, which I didn't. I rememebered Nixon's resignation, Whip Inflation Now (WIN) buttons, Jimmy Carter's famous walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, and his Presidency, all downhill from there. Hostages, Hanafi Muslims (even then), inflation, gas lines (again), and President who blamed us for all this.
Even as a kid, I knew two things with unshakeable faith: 1) we were special, we were the good guys, and 2) the Soviets were the bad guys. Ronald Reagan validated that faith, by refusing to apologize for this country, and by refusing to let us devour ourselves. Anyone could have run against Carter. But Reagan didn't just run against failure; he ran for success.
I went to his inaugural, helped by some VIP tickets from my (Democratic) Uncle Joe Richman. I got to see the new President announce that the plane carrying the ex-hostages had left Iranian airpace. The thinking at the time was that the Iranian let the hostages go out of simple self-preservation. But when he fired the PATCO employees, he was refusing to let the country be held hostage by lawbreakers here, either.
This was a great Presidency, not a storybook one.
The first two years were tough economically, with a second recession following the one in 1980. But the economy had clearly recovered by 1983, and in those days everyone knew it. The press hadn't yet decided to switch back and forth between whichever jobs number was less impressive. It didn't much like him, but it hadn't declared war on him, either.
Last night, the news showed a brief clip from one of the 1984 debates with Walter Mondale. President Reagan had just answered a question about age by saying that he wouldn't make his opponent's youth and inexperience an issue. Reagan was smiling; the press, audience, and even Mondale were laughing. It broke the tension, answered the question, and had the side-effect of making Mondale's normal expression all the more dour.
People forget that the outcome of the Cold War, like the outcome of WWII, was far from pre-ordained. But for people like Reagan, the world could be a very different place right now.