On the centenary of Ronald Reagan's birth, I pause for another historic event: agreement with President Obama, who says of his predecessor in USA Today, "Ronald Wilson Reagan was a believer ... he recognized that each of us has the power -- as individuals and as a nation -- to shape our own destiny. He had faith in the American promise; in the importance of reaffirming values like hard work and personal responsibility; and in his own unique ability to inspire others to greatness."
I suspect Reagan would be embarrassed by the attempts to elevate him to political sainthood. Even conservatives who now long for another Reagan were sometimes critical of him during his presidency and of those around him they believed were holding him back. "Let Reagan be Reagan" they cried, as if he wasn't who he was.
What made Reagan a great president was that he understood America and his countrymen better than any politician of his time, or perhaps any time. He saw that the greatness of the country is not found in Washington, no matter which party or personality is in power. Rather, it is to be found in the people. Reagan awakened that dormant truth from hibernation.
Ronald Reagan didn't need to be president to complete himself as a man. He knew who he was before seeking the job. Self-awareness is an essential quality in a leader if he or she is to avoid the siren call of narcissism and the temptations that go with the preoccupation about "legacy."
Reagan awakened in many Americans the belief that no matter what the challenge, Americans can meet it. His opponents mocked him for what they regarded as an "old-fashioned" concept. In a time of growing dependency on government, based on the fallacy that we can't do much on our own (and if we do we must be punished with higher taxes and more regulation), such a notion was offensive to the dominant political culture. Reagan tapped into a principle that is as much a part of our DNA as motherhood and the American flag.
Reagan's "vision for America" mirrored our vision of ourselves: strong internationally, economically sound at home. He restored our self-confidence at a time when his predecessor, Jimmy Carter, was suggesting America had seen its best days and we should trim our expectations and become "realists."
Reagan, the eternal optimist, even after discovering he had Alzheimer's disease, was always thinking about the future. Bill Clinton made the future his theme when he adopted Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow)" as his 1992 campaign song. After reading a book about Reagan, President Obama tried to channel him in his State of the Union address. It fell flat.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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