FROM THE DESK OF SENATOR DAVID LONG

1982 File Photo courtesy of Fort Wayne Journal Gazette President Reagan helping kids sandbag in Fort Wayne during the flood of ‘82.  He gave residents a ‘pep talk’ convincing them that they would get past this.
1982 File Photo courtesy of Fort Wayne Journal Gazette President Reagan helping kids sandbag in Fort Wayne during the flood of ‘82. He gave residents a ‘pep talk’ convincing them that they would get past this.
As of this writing, which is Monday, June 7th, the country is in the midst of a retrospective look at the life and times of former President Ronald Reagan. He had, of course, disappeared from public view for the last decade as a result of his contracting Alzheimer’s disease. Somehow, he managed to live with the disease for ten years, but as with everyone else who contracts this cruel illness, he had long since lost the ability to recognize his friends and family, including his life’s companion, Nancy Reagan.

What is gratifying is the outpouring of praise and appreciation for the accomplishments this great man achieved during his life, especially during the eight years he served as our President. I thought I would provide my own synopsis of President Reagan’s life, which will focus mainly on his Presidency, but also, a little, on those years preceding 1980.

Ronald Reagan was a well-known presence on our television screens by the mid-1950’s, serving as the host of the long-running GE Theater, and in the early ’60s, as host of Death Valley Days. He had been a movie actor since 1937, though most of his roles were of the “B” variety. He had also been a six-term president of the Screen Actors Guild, and, at one time, a liberal Democrat. The fifties changed his politics, though he remained a member of the Democratic party officially until 1962. He supported Truman in 1948, but headed Hollywood’s Democrats for Eisenhower in both ’52 and ’56, and supported Nixon in 1960.

Reagan’s political career took off in October 1964, when he gave a televised speech in support of Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign that electrified many Republicans, especially those in southern California. By November 1964, a committee had already been formed for the California Governor’s race. Reagan handily defeated the incumbent, Pat Brown, in 1966, and won again by a landslide in 1970. While Governor, he aggressively and effectively dealt with the growing campus unrest at various venues like Cal-Berkeley, and also introduced a workable welfare reform plan, perhaps the first in the nation. He became a high profile, national star for the Republican Party, and had a brief courtship with the Presidential nomination at the 1968 Republican convention before throwing his support behind Richard Nixon.

By 1975, Reagan was ready to take on President Ford (who became President when Richard Nixon resigned in 1974) for the 1976 Presidential nomination. He turned down several overtures from Ford, including the Ambassadorship to Great Britain, as well as Secretary of Transportation and Commerce. Though he lost the nomination to Ford, the groundwork was laid for the 1980 Presidential campaign. Reagan became the 10th, and last Republican, to enter that race.

His chief competition for the 1980 Presidential nomination was George Bush, Sr., at that time the former Congressman, CIA Director, and UN Ambassador. Reagan beat Bush in a tough series of primaries, and ultimately, chose Bush to be his running mate, but not before first openly courting former President Ford.

That year saw another three-way Presidential race, between former Republican Candidate John Anderson, running as an independent, sitting President Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan. Carter’s presidency at that time carried the weight of the Iran hostage situation, as well as inflation rates of record proportions. Nevertheless, the polls were quite close coming into the fall. Carter avoided debating Reagan until mid-October, when he felt he could squash the Republican in one fell swoop. The opposite happened, as Reagan, employing the now famous line of “…well, there you go again, Mr. President”, proved himself to not only be adept on the issues, but a far better communicator and debater than the intellectual but aloof Carter. That debate sealed the Presidency for Reagan, leading to a much larger margin of victory than any had thought possible.

The Reagan presidency meant many things to many people. He came into office at a time of unprecedented low self-esteem for Americans. The post-Vietnam hangover had been exacerbated by the Iran hostage situation, and the economy was a mess, being devastated by interest rates as high as 19%, and runaway inflation. Reagan’s impact was immediate, helped immensely by the failed assassination attempt upon his life that placed his courage and positive, humorous outlook on full display for the American people.

 

The Domestic Accomplishments.

The Reagan tax cuts were revolutionary in their scope, especially in light of their being run through a largely hostile Democratic Congress. They led to an initial recession, but ultimately caused a great economic turnaround. In the process, the terrible inflationary problems of the past were eliminated, and the incentives provided to the average taxpayer and to businesses proved the right medicine for the economy.

The Reagan Supreme Court appointments also had tremendous impact upon the national political landscape, most importantly because the justices Reagan chose believed the Supreme Court’s job was to interpret the Constitution, not legislate from the bench. His selections made the Court conservative for the first time in decades, which still impacts the court’s decision-making today. Justices Rehnquist, Scalia, O’Connor and Kennedy were all Reagan appointments.

The handling of the air traffic controller’s strike was also a landmark decision that led to the termination of all striking air traffic controllers (who were striking illegally, but who assumed the President didn’t have the “chops” to do anything about it) and to control over the potentially devastating ability of federal employees to shut down the federal government. After this moment, no federal unions ever tried such a tactic again. Not only did the President show decisive leadership at home, but his actions were closely watched overseas, and totally amazed the European nations who were themselves regular victims of such strikes.

 

The Foreign Policy Accomplishments.

The fall of the Soviet Union is unquestionably President Reagan’s greatest achievement. I have no doubt that but for Reagan’s focus on winning the Cold War, it would not have occurred. What it meant was a record amount of dollars spent on defense at a time when the Soviet economy was beginning to teeter. What it meant was forcing the Soviets to attempt to keep up, which ultimately ruined their fragile economy. What it also meant was keeping Congress, and the American people, focused on the need for such a defense buildup.

The Berlin Wall speech is perhaps the most famous of all. His calling for “…Mr. Gorbachav, tear down this wall!” was absolutely electrifying. It symbolized our commitment to freedom in the world, and had a huge impact upon the ongoing, increasingly aggressive movements for democracy in Eastern Europe.

At the same time, President Reagan reached out to Mikael Gorbachav, and near the end of his Presidency, signed a nuclear arms reduction treaty. He also signed one with China.

President Reagan reestablished the United States as the preeminent power in the world. By 1980, many had questioned whether the US had reached its zenith, and was now in an inevitable tailspin. Reagan’s policies proved that to be dead wrong, and the US emerged at the end of his Presidency as the one true superpower on the globe, both economically and militarily. Those policies not only included the ones mentioned above, but also included an aggressive military intervention program that included the bombing of Lybia after proof of their involvement in the airline bombing disaster over Scotland. It also included military escorts of oil tankers in the Arabian Sea during the Iran-Iraq war, thereby ensuring a safe, certain supply of oil for the global economy. And it meant small incursions like Grenada, where an attempt to create a Marxist, Cuba style government was quickly smashed. Such a move would never have been attempted by Jimmy Carter, and it prevented the proliferation of left wing Marxist governments throughout the Caribbean and Central America. Today, many Central and South American nations owe their young democratic institutions to the strong, steady support of Ronald Reagan’s policies.

We will probably never again see a Presidency like Ronald Reagan’s. He brought the United States back to an economic and military super-power. He brought back the US economy, which ran like a juggernaut for an additional 12 years after his Presidency ended. His policies led to the end of the Cold War, and the collapse of the Soviet Union, while also spring-boarding democracies throughout Eastern Europe, and Central and South America. And, most importantly, he brought Americans back to believing in our nation again, in believing in the global, human right to live in freedom, and in believing in the American dream. He was absolutely the right man at the right time.

Ronald Reagan influenced this nation, and this world, in a positive, enduring way. He and FDR will go down as the two great American leaders of the 20th Century. In fact, one can make the argument that they were the two greatest global leaders of the 20th Century.

Our nation owes Ronald Reagan a permanent debt of gratitude. We were truly lucky to have had him as our leader. There will never be another like him in our lifetime.

The Waynedale News Staff

Sen. David Long

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