Even worse times were ahead, with the Iranian hostage crisis looming and Carter’s befuddlement growing by the day.
But help was on the way, even though America didn’t believe it at the time. In the summer of 1979 Reagan was hardly the obvious choice for the GOP nomination and few thought he could both get the nod and then go on to beat the incumbent president. Former Texas Governor John Connally, Tennessee Senator Howard Baker and former CIA Director and Ambassador to China George H.W. Bush were all rising forces with strong supporters and clear advantages over the aging and out-of-office former California governor who was thought by many to be too old and too conservative to win the right to lose to the sitting president. Reagan had, after all, lost his match-up with Gerald Ford in 1976, and if Reagan couldn't beat Ford who then lost the White House, how could Reagan get the nomination must less a win in November of 1980?
Of course Reagan triumphed, and brought with him a commitment to strong defense, individual liberty and a private-sector first agenda as well as an extraordinary array of talented individuals to Washington, D.C., including a core of Californians like Ed Meese, Michael Deaver, William French Smith and Cap Weinberger even as he reached out to stock the GOP bench with rising young talents like William Bennett and John Roberts. Reagan's not-so-secret weapon was Nancy Reagan, whose style and shining support transformed and uplifted inner Washington with a breathtaking rapidity.
Leaders matter. National moods can change over night. Course shift and trajectories change. These are important things to recall in 2011.
Michael Reagan, the child of Reagan most like his father when it comes to a vision of government, was asked to keynote the Anaheim park’s dedication and as Michael always does, he triggered everyone’s recollection of their best memories of his father –happy, upbeat, telling a joke and everyone’s friend.
But far more than memories, Michael and Tait and the park itself reminds us all that America is never obliged to stay on its back when knocked down. Time and time again in its history it has risen up, powerful and purposeful, renewed in its commitment to liberty and leadership, and capable of great things made manifest in the words of great leaders.
2011, like 1979, will hopefully be remembered as the time of the beginning of a renaissance, and a generation from now a park will be dedicated to a yet-unknown 45th president who once again, turned American around.