Saying Goodbye To The Gipper

One day after the death of Ronald Reagan, I can’t help but think back to that quote by Flaubert,

“Language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat our tunes to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity.”

How do you explain the totality of Ronald Reagan to people who were too young to remember him, disinterested in politics, or even to those who just can’t understand the depth of feeling that so many people in this country have for the man?

It’s a difficult task, one that is perhaps beyond my abilities, but for Reagan’s sake, I must make the attempt.

Certain figures in history, like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, or Winston Churchill, were not simply titans among men, but came along at a particular point in history where their talents were most needed.

So it was with Reagan.

Before Dutch came into office, this country was in real trouble. Back then, it really was the “worst economy since the depression”, Vietnam and Watergate were still fresh in the public’s minds, and the Soviet Union was viewed as the stronger of the two super powers by many people. In those days, some people genuinely wondered if America’s best days were behind her and school children, myself included, feared that a nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States would end all life on this planet. Those were dark days for our country.

Then along came Reagan.

While many people believed America’s day in the sun had passed, Ron Reagan said the best was yet to come — and he was right. In his eight years in office, Ronald Reagan rebuilt our military, turned America’s economy around, slashed taxes, helped create 19 million jobs, and perhaps most importantly, broke the Soviet Union.

In a break from the policies of his predecessors, The Great Communicator spoke openly of the Soviets as an evil empire, launched a massive military build-up, including the “Star Wars” program that the Soviet Union feared it could not match, freed Grenada from Soviet rule, supported anti-Communist freedom fighters around the world, spent billions to bleed the Kremlin dry in Afghanistan, and did everything he could to create enormous financial pressure on the red menace.

In 1991, after Reagan had left office, his efforts paid off and the Soviet Union fell, freeing hundreds of millions of Eastern Europeans from the grip of the Russian Bear. That would have been thought to be beyond belief before 1981, but Reagan’s policies made it possible.

However, merely noting Reagan’s accomplishments is not enough to convey why Reagan was so beloved. How do you explain to people Reagan’s patriotism, his infectious optimism, his abiding faith in God, or the confidence he had in the people of America in a time when so many others were apprehensive and uncertain about our future?

Reagan was like a bigger than life hero from one of his movies. He showed up when America, and yes, even the rest of the world, needed him most. Then he saved the day, rode off into the sunset, and left all of us with a debt of gratitude that we could never fully repay.

Hopefully, what I’ve written will help people who don’t know Ronald Reagan as we felt we knew him, understand what he meant to people. He was a man like no other and losing him for a second time after Alzheimer’s robbed him from us long ago, has been a grievous experience. I can only hope that the Gipper’s family and friends take comfort in the warm appreciation that he’s receiving from the public and that somewhere up there, there’s somebody shepherding our “thank-yous” and “goodbyes” to Ronald Reagan’s ears.

Godspeed Gipper! We’ll miss you and we’ll never forget what you did for us.

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