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Ronald Reagan - THE COMMENTARY

By Joseph Planta

VANCOUVER - When it was announced that President Bush would travel to France to join other world leaders in marking the 60th anniversary of D-Day, one naturally thought of Ronald Reagan's poignant and wonderful tributes at Omaha Beach and at Pointe du Hoc 20 years ago at the 40th anniversary observances. The confluence of history on this day, with both the marking of the 60th anniversary of the Allied invasion on the shores of France, as well as the passing of President Reagan reminds us again the weight of history and the timing that remarkable events have in our collective consciousness.

Remembering Ronald Reagan's remarks at the 40th anniversary of D-Day reminds us the effortless manner that Reagan had in communicating. 'The Great Communicator's' speech at Pointe du Hoc, though filled with the pomp and circumstance of a speech as delivered by the holder of the office of President of the United States, was humble in the face of the valour and courage of those who did risk their lives, who lived and died on that "lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France," June 6, 1944. In recounting the events of that day and paying tribute to the soldier's willingness to fight for liberty against tyranny, Reagan spoke for generations before and since, who properly pay their allegiance to what has been described as 'The Greatest Generation'.

Ronald Reagan's death - though expected and imminent - still saddened many. It had been ten years since he made his last public appearance at the funeral of Richard Nixon, where shortly thereafter he wrote his farewell letter to Americans disclosing that he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. It has been commented upon since, that it was curious the method to which Reagan announced his condition. Having been a radio announcer, a motion picture star and President, he may have chosen another medium to which to tell his fellow Americans his condition, yet through his letter he has solidified his record as being arguably, the most prolific correspondent to have ever occupied the presidency since Thomas Jefferson.

In his letter, Reagan did not fail to invoke colourful and active metaphors. He wrote that he knew that for America "there will always be a bright dawn ahead." And that Alzheimer's would usher a journey that would lead him into the sunset of his life. President Bush, in France for the D-Day commemorations, invoked the same metaphor, that now a shining city would await him. Ronald Reagan's achievements may not, as George Will writes this morning, be monuments of tangible accomplishment. Rather those who seek Reagan's achievements should look to what they do not see. The Cold War was ended not with force of military but of capitalism.

Reagan instilled dignity in the office of President, after many years of disarray and disenchantment. And Reagan more importantly instilled hope and promise in America, after those years of darkness and weariness. The metaphor of the Reagan era - the 1980s - was put best by his speechwriter Peggy Noonan, that with the Reagan Revolution so came "morning again in America."

The idea that it was 'morning again in America' is an important idea to ponder. From November 22, 1963 and John F. Kennedy's assassination, through to the ignominious defeats of Vietnam, to Watergate, and inflation, and of course the Iran hostage crisis which destroyed Jimmy Carter's presidency and led to Ronald Reagan's victory in 1980, the United States of America was back on the map as a world power, and through to the end of the Reagan presidency ensured that America was the only world power. After the debauchery and disdain for authority that filled the 1970s, the 1980s instilled new values and new realities. It was morning again, and Ronald Reagan, the oldest man to enter the presidency, was at the helm. It was revolutionary and he was its figurehead. Some say he was just a figurehead, but as is clear from the historical record, he was very much a part of it, not just its communicator.

With the disclosure of his Alzheimer's disease a decade ago, it has been a long goodbye between the American people and its former President. Even when it was expected however, the death of Ronald Reagan still hit, and perhaps not so much at the passing of a man, but perhaps for what the career of the man embodied. Whether one agreed with Reagan or not, he very much embodied the times in which he lived. I think of the television program Dallas, though it does not have much profundity in terms of its literacy, it does embody so much in terms of the symbolism it thrust on the cultural consciousness. Dallas embodied the 1980s with its glut orgy of class and crass, and when it bowed off the air in 1991, it was clear that the ride was over, as it was too that Ronald Reagan was no longer President. Ronald Reagan personified the 1980s and the United States at its most powerful, and hopeful.

A word about Nancy Reagan is in order, as it would do no justice to Ronald Reagan if there was no discussion of Mrs. Reagan and the role the former first lady played in the life of Reagan, personal and political. Mrs. Reagan's role as first lady in California, and then to the President of the United States, made her an instrumental influence and fundamental support in her husband's career. Perhaps were there no Nancy Reagan, there may have not been Ronald Reagan, yet Mrs. Reagan would probably deny that. Obviously, Nancy Reagan only enhanced Ronald Reagan and forever raised the bar for political wives, and or consorts to political leaders. Mrs. Reagan's tremendous work in advancing the awareness of Alzheimer's is also to her credit, as much as her guardianship of the Reagan political legacy.

Ones thoughts of Ronald Reagan and his political legacy, immediately give way to thought about the current President, George W. Bush. One need only read the telling passage in Bob Woodward's current bestseller, Plan of Attack, and read the odd view President Bush has about his father, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan's Vice-President and successor. When the current President Bush is asked by Woodward if he consulted with his father regarding going into Iraq, he says bluntly: "He is the wrong father to appeal to in terms of strength. There is a higher father that I appeal to." It is plainly obvious yet again that George W. Bush is not the president that his father was, and if George W. Bush has a political spiritual father, besides Christ, it would probably be Ronald Reagan. George W. Bush is the true political successor of Ronald Reagan.

Candidates for political life since Reagan, especially on the Republican side (but not exclusively); have appropriated the mantras that Ronald Reagan and his acolytes chanted long ago. Think of Newt Gingrich and his 1994 Contract with America. They were all spouting that these were the remnants of the Reagan Revolution, or the second phase of Reagan's work. Ditto Bob Dole in 1996 and George W. Bush's talk of compassionate conservatism in 2000 and doubtless the ideas that will be espoused in this re-election campaign. Even the Democrat Bill Clinton took up the chant of government being too big during his presidency.

Ronald Reagan embodied for many the idea of the 1980s and the United States at its pinnacle. The notion that the future of the United States is forever bathed in the light of a bright dawn is the hope that envelops Ronald Reagan's legacy since his departure from public life a decade ago, and from the moral earth yesterday. It also bears on the United States today, and its leaders, especially those that seek office in November. The United States, for decades to come, bears Ronald Reagan's mark, and even his opponents will regard in hindsight, it was not all so bad. Ronald Reagan allowed those of his era the vigour to reassure themselves in their abilities, with a sense of humour and a sense of responsibility and patriotism that was seemingly lost. That's Ronald Reagan's legacy.


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