Ronald Reagan taught us love for our country

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 9, 2004

Ronald Wilson Reagan found the role of a lifetime in the presidency and he should get an Oscar for

Best Actor for it.

As president, Reagan made Americans proud to be Americans again.

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He set the tone that it was okay to like our country.

He made patriotism popular following the 1970s when we didn't have too much to be happy about.

To Reagan, his vision was a simple one.

America was the bright, shining city on the hill and the sun never set there.

In his ideal America, the flag flew always.

During his two terms, American politics underwent a tectonic shift. Four years after Reagan left the White House, the next Democrat to occupy it still took as a given the primacy of the free market, the need to reduce the welfare rolls, the importance of courting business, the return of power back to the states. More than a decade later, President George W. Bush and many other Republicans still mold themselves in Reagan’s image.

Was he a great president? He was a masterful one. No one could be more eloquent when Americans needed comforting or uplifting. No one had a greater gift for the symbolic phrase or gesture, whether he was taking back the microphone he paid for or challenging Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the wall.

He started with a set of simple, even simplistic, ideas — to get government off people’s backs, to accelerate the arms race until the Soviet Union collapsed from the stress. When he was done, America had won the Cold War, government had undergone a titanic reversal of priorities, and he walked out of the White House with the highest approval rating for an outgoing president this country had ever seen.

The strength of his presidency lay in his simplicity, his optimism and his unwavering belief in America’s mythic greatness and goodness. Its weakness lay in his refusal to accept that the reality fell short of the myth, or that government had any responsibility to change that.

People will argue for years over whether the 1980s were the era of greed or the years in which America rediscovered its confidence and power. But no one will ever dispute that for good or ill, the decade belonged to Ronald Wilson Reagan.

Rest in peace Mr. President.