Ronald Reagan's wonderful life

Posted: Jun 07, 2004 12:00 AM

He lingered too long for his own good, but not long enough for his beloved Nancy and the many others who loved and admired him.

He was hated for precisely the same reasons he was loved. He had convictions and made those without them look weak.

Ronald Wilson Reagan was a colossus of the 20th century. Bobby Kennedy's brother, Ted, said RFK saw wrong and tried to right it. Ronald Reagan saw the evil of communism and did not try to contain or oppose it. He aimed to defeat it, and did, at least the Soviet brand. Millions breathe free today because of him. It is altogether fitting that the Berlin Wall stands no longer as a monument to slavery but in its deconstructed state as a testimony to freedom at his library in Simi Valley, Calif.

Freedom was what Reagan was about. He had seen too many people and governments that would limit human freedom to have anything but the highest regard for individual liberty as a God-given right.

Reagan was consistently kind, even to his political adversaries, unlike many in the partisan smack-downs of today. He knew who he was before he came to office; he did not need the office to complete him. It was a perfect fit, especially following the Jimmy Carter years during which some historians argued that the office of the presidency, like America, had seen its best days.

Reagan was an eternal optimistic, and his optimism was catching. His leadership style was about optimism. If people are confident a leader knows where he is going, they are more likely to follow him.

He proved he was right about the big things. Faced with editorial denunciations at home and massive demonstrations in Europe against his plan to put missiles there to offset a Soviet threat, Reagan went ahead and did it anyway. The Soviets could not keep pace with the buildup or Reagan's proposed missile defense system (derided by critics as "Star Wars"). When those critics could not bring themselves to admit they were wrong, they unpersuasively claimed the Soviet Union fell under its own weight. More accurately, Reagan pushed it onto "the ash heap of history," with the able assistance of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II.

Critics were apoplectic when he cut taxes. They complained about deficits that never seemed to bother them when they were driving up the deficit with profligate spending and ever-higher taxes. He cut them anyway and ignited two decades of prosperity, which continues today.

What Reagan did more than anything else - and it will be his lasting legacy - is replace despair with hope. Most people, even his detractors, felt a glow from being in his presence. He was the kindest, most gracious president I have met, and I have met them all since JFK. In his presence you felt he was interested in you and not himself. He was a good man.

Mistakes? He made a few, but then again, too few to mention. He was the right man in the right job at the right time. The world is different because Ronald Reagan came our way.

Following the assassination attempt in 1981, Reagan said he felt God had spared him for a purpose, and he intended to devote the rest of his life in dedication to his God and to that purpose.

He has now - as he noted in his eulogy for the Challenger astronauts who died in 1986, a quote from John Gillespie Magee - "slipped the surly bonds of earth . . . put out (his) hand and touched the face of God."

Reagan used to say that America's greatest days are ahead of it. Now it can be said, so are his.