He was so good at putting things into words. Even better at transforming words into actions.
The sense of soaring possibility for us and for America that a previous generation found in John F. Kennedy people my age experienced for the first time through Ronald Reagan.
I was 20 when Reagan took office. My earliest political memories are of an almost constant degrading crisis: stagflation, Watergate, defeat in Vietnam, merged with the social unrest of the sexual revolution and the constant, ominous overhanging cloud of the Soviet empire. Every thinking person claimed to see in Europe the only rational alternatives to the Soviet system: communism or democratic socialism.
JFK was among the youngest men ever to be president. Ronald Reagan was the oldest. But they were, for all practical purposes, of the same generation: Each had lived through the dark days of the Depression and World War II. Each emerged from the crucible with enthusiasm for the future intact. Our "tradition of progress," Reagan once put it, which includes both a bountiful faith in the goodness (as well as the necessity) of change, balanced with a faith in the truths that cannot ever change: "So much is changing and will change, but so much endures and transcends time," he promised us. Reagan's faith comforted because it was not a child's optimism, but the idealism of a man who has seen the worst and still believes.
The first miracle Reagan wrought was to bring in, for the first time in a quarter-century, a Republican senate. At the time, no one imagined that such a thing was possible. The legislative dominance of the Democrats was unquestioned, absolute and (in the end) unhealthy for a democracy.The next two miracles: an explosion in economic creativity, spurred by large cuts in tax rates, that revived elites' faith in free markets, and the fall of communism without a shot. These were consequences of Reagan's own vision.
How did he dare to dream such dreams? How did the old man become for us a symbol of vigor, of courage, of faith in the future?
For President Reagan, as for President Bush, the deepest roots of his faith were his Faith. Reagan's optimism and his courage were rooted in his idea of Providence, of an America set aside by God as a beacon of hope and light to the rest of the word.
It was always thus. In 1775, Patrick Henry urged his fellow Virginians to fight the might of the British empire: "Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave."
In his farewell address, President Reagan addressed those who drew the wrong lesson from his presidency, his influence and the affection he won from the American people:
"And in all of that time I won a nickname, 'The Great Communicator.' But I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: It was the content. I wasn't a great communicator, but I communicated great things."
Great things. Beautiful things. True things. May he rest in peace.