Being here in Simi Valley this weekend at the Reagan Library, looking at all the displays, all the history, all the memorabilia, all the testimonies and all the thousands of people who travel off the beaten path to journey to this, his last resting place, it suddenly dawned on me.
There is no one Reagan legacy.
Going to the Reagan Ranch---his "Ranch in the Sky"---and breathing the cold, crisp air, immersing one's self in some of the most beautiful countryside in the world, looking out in the distance at the blue Pacific as Reagan did, it suddenly dawned on me.
There are many Reagan legacies. The good ones are based in fact. The bad ones in fallacies.
The bad ones involve others now attempting to put a spin on it and reinterpret his philosophy, or heritage, or contributions. Some on the right are puffing him too high and many on the left are either contemptuous, silent or prevaricating, trying to drag him down low.
The good legacies involve the facts about Ronald Reagan. And it is a very good legacy indeed.
Somewhere, Ronald Reagan is looking down and having a good laugh. Even he said, I am not a great man, but I have tried to communicate great ideas. He was modest. Yet also proud. And self-confident. During the 1980 campaign, he let this confidence slip when he told reporters that maybe it wasn't so much that one wanted to be president but rather "maybe one should be president." He was appalled at what Jimmy Carter had done to the country.
Let's review the bidding, circa 1980. Since 1963, America had lost two presidents, one via assassination, one via resignation. A third, LBJ, was hounded out of office. We'd lost a war to a nasty little communist thug in Southeast Asia. The Soviets were on the march, in Afghanistan, Central America, Western Europe, the United Nations and the Soviet Embassy in Washington was widely regarded as a forward operating post for the KGB. In the late 70's, the American Embassy in Moscow was planning on showing several movies the Soviets didn't like. All embassies are considered territory of their sponsoring country, not the host country. So what? Carter's Ambassador to Moscow cancelled the movies.But Gerald Ford had acquiesced to the Soviets when Alexandr Solzhenitsyn was expelled, came to America, but the president refused to meet with him, fearing to offend Moscow.
These are all matters of historical facts. Until Reagan came to office, we were losing the Cold War. Until Reagan came to office, a malaise had descended upon America. The citizenry, after years of high inflation, high interest rates, long gas lines, unemployment, and being told of a future of scarcity, had had their can-do spirit bashed into the ground.
By 1980, the country of America still existed, but the idea of America no longer did.
Reagan changed all that. The facts are undeniable. American Exceptionalism restored. American military restored. So too the value of a hard-earned buck, millions of jobs created, inflation and high interest eradicated.
No more talk of malaise. No more talk of "The Domino Theory." No more talk that the presidency is just too big for one man.
I see some of the critics from the left, making up things, accusing Reagan of not being perfect like, say, Barack Obama, and I try to step back and see if they have a point.
They don't. The deconstructionists of America will always be with us. And you know what Reagan said about them?
Testifying before the Committee on Un-American Activities, he did not call for the expulsion of communists from America, as so many conservatives did at the time. He said rather that America was strong enough to tolerate all peaceful points of view.
All his life he showed a generosity of spirit towards people with whom he disagreed. Even toward those who tried to kill him.
A lesson to be learned by the Reagan haters who still walk among us. But at the Reagan Library and at the Reagan Center in Santa Barbara, the outpouring of thousands and thousands of oldsters and youngsters not just this weekend, but every day, every year, gives testament to another point of view about our 40th president.
The Gipper was wrong about one thing though. And these people know it.
Ronald Reagan was a great man.